By Shawn Amos
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 5, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
It's a summer of family, friendship, and fun fiascos in this acclaimed novel that's as irresistible as a fresh-baked cookie.
Ellis Bailey Johnson has the summertime blues. Instead of hanging out with friends, listening to music, and playing his harmonica, Ellis has to help bring his dad’s latest farfetched, sure-to-fail idea to life: open the world’s first chocolate chip cookie store.
They have six weeks to perfect their recipe, get a run-down A-frame storefront on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard into tip-top shape, and bring in customers. But nothing goes according to plan, especially when family secrets start to surface. Can Ellis bake up a happy ending?
Partially based on Shawn Amos’s own experiences growing up the son of Wally “Famous” Amos, and packed with humor, heart, and fun illustrations, this debut novel sings with the joy of self-discovery, unconditional love, and community.
“Shawn Amos has written a beautiful story of family and music, of growing up and having adventures, of business building and character building, that is at once very specific and universal. I love Cookies and Milk as much as I love cookies and milk.” –Lisa See, New York Times bestselling and award winning author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls
**Don't miss Ellis's next adventure: Ellis Johnson Might Be Famous
The Final Countdown
Sometimes you gotta take a chance.
This is it. My last moment to go out on top. Summer is one minute away. All eyes are on me. I slowly rip a small piece of paper from the corner of my notebook. I slip it into my mouth and start chewing. Next, I pull out the plastic straw I saved from lunch.
“Do it, Ellis,” Alex whispers from his seat behind me.
Our math teacher, Mrs. Cook, is wiping the board, but she could turn around at any second. Her twisted gray hair is pulled on top of her head like a bird’s nest sitting on a storm cloud. I quickly put the straw in my mouth. Using my tongue, I push the paper wad into the end of the straw. Showtime. The skinny red second hand on the clock moves up.
“Ten, nine, eight…” The class starts the countdown.
“Seven, six, five…” I aim at the center of Mrs. Cook’s bird’s nest.
“Four, three, two…” I blow as hard as I can.
The spit wad flies through the air, rolling and tumbling. It’s a perfect arc. Bullseye! It lands squarely on the back of Mrs. Cook’s head—a lonely spit wad trapped in a tangled gray mess of hair. She doesn’t suspect a thing. The bell rings and the class cheers.
“El-lis! El-lis! El-lis!” they chant.
My work here is done. That’s it. Fifth grade is over. Years from now, students will still be talking about this moment. They might even rename the classroom after me: “The Ellis Bailey Johnson 1976 Memorial Spit Wad Classroom.”
Everyone runs for the door, high-fiving me on the way out. Some of my friends whisper so Mrs. Cook doesn’t hear.
“That was awesome, Ellis. Best one yet,” Alex congratulates me. We immediately give each other our secret handshake—one palm slap, two fist bumps, then hook pinky fingers.
As I lift one foot over the classroom doorway for the last time, I feel a familiar tug on my backpack. Alex gives me a cringe look before slipping out of class. I turn around to see Mrs. Cook’s stink eye looking down on me.
“Young man, I want to remind you that Hollywood Middle School will be receiving a long list of your…” She clears her throat. “… extracurricular activities.”
“Yes, Mrs. Cook.” I’m careful to avoid her glare and not inhale too deeply. Mrs. Cook’s breath stinks almost as much as her eye.
“They will not be as tolerant as we have been here at Curtis Elementary School.”
“Yes, Mrs. Cook.” Her breath is choking me. I’m trying so hard to keep a straight face.
“It’s a shame that such a smart boy wants to waste his time being a class clown.” Mrs. Cook is always calling me a class clown. Can I help it if I think of funny stuff to do? “Enjoy your summer, young man.” She releases my backpack. I watch Mrs. Cook return to the board with my spit wad in her hair. Then I get out of that classroom fast. Free at last.
Outside in the carpool line, summer vacation talk goes into overdrive as Alex hops in his dad’s car.
“See you tonight at dinner, Ellis,” Alex says as he closes the car door. They drive away, leaving me alone with Amanda Freeman. I am so glad Amanda is going to a different middle school next year. She’s the worst. Always showing off. Amanda starts bragging about her trip to Hawaii before I can escape.
“So, my parents are letting me have my own hotel room. Now that I’m in middle school, they say I deserve to be treated like an adult.” Amanda twists her hair as she brags a mile a minute. “Did you know Hawaii is called ‘the Aloha State’ and that the word aloha means ‘love,’ ‘hello,’ and ‘goodbye’? I wrote my geography report on Hawaii. I got an A. What grade did you get?”
“I dunno, Amanda.” I failed that report. I hate geography.
“Where are you going this summer, Ellis?”
Amanda actually asked me a question instead of talking more about herself? I’m so shocked that I start blabbing nonstop. “Nowhere. My parents just got divorced so my mom’s gone for the summer. She’s staying with her best friend in upstate New York. She says she needs to put herself first for a change. Well, first she said something I couldn’t follow about being in a plane and putting on her oxygen mask first. Anyway, she’s gone and it sucks. She’s never left for more than a weekend. So I’m staying with my dad. That sucks even more.”
Amanda looks at me and twists her hair. A piece of today’s cafeteria lunch is wedged under her braces. Her eyes turn sad. Why did I say all that? I’ve only told Alex so far, and everyone knows that Amanda can’t keep a secret.
“Oh, Ellis, I’m so sorry. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Amanda says. She seems like she actually cares. For a split second, I think maybe it’s okay that I told her. Then she keeps talking. “You know, I think it’s really cute how you always make everyone laugh and how you play your harmonica all the time. And your hair is so funny and lumpy! All scrunchy-like. You remind me of my little brother. He’s short and skinny like you.”
Did I say how glad I am that Amanda is going to a different middle school next year?
“My dad’s here. Look at his new car. Isn’t it cool? Gotta go, Ellis. Aloha!” Amanda gives me a pat on my head then runs off.
Your hair is so funny and scrunchy. And a pat on my head? What is wrong with her? Please, please do not let me be the only Black kid in middle school next year. And please let me grow.
As the last of us wait for our rides, I pull my harmonica from my pocket and blow a few farewell notes. The harmonica is the best company you can keep. Blow into one of its ten holes and you get a note. Suck in the same hole and you get a totally different note. You can suck in and blow in all sorts of combinations. Suck or blow a bunch of holes at the same time and it sounds like a huge wall of notes. The harmonica is like an orchestra in your pocket.
Amanda drives away in her dad’s new silver sports car, revealing my dad’s brown Rambler next in the carpool line. My dad’s Rambler is the total opposite of a sports car. It’s old. Really old. Dad says it’s got a “vibe.” I’d rather have the vibe of a school bus taking me home. It’d be less embarrassing.
Dad leans over and opens the car door from the inside. The outside handle doesn’t work anymore. “What’s up, Little Man?” he says.
“Don’t call me that,” I say for the millionth time.
Dad’s Rambler is beat-up, but it sure smells good—like brown sugar and cocoa. I toss my backpack on the floor, stuff my harmonica in my pocket, then slide across the big bench seat. The front dashboard is covered in pins, buttons, and a few decals. The KEEP ON TRUCKIN’ button used to be on my backpack. My DYN-O-MITE! button is also there. It’s from my favorite TV show, Good Times. A guy named J.J. always says “Dyn-o-mite!” when he’s excited. All of the other buttons are Dad’s. There’s a big yellow one with a happy face. It stares at me while we’re driving. Some of the other buttons have phrases like SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FEMINIST. The strangest one has a picture of a smiling peanut with the words CARTER FOR PRESIDENT. A peanut for president?
Dad slides that familiar wrinkled paper bag across the bench seat toward me. The sugary smell has fully invaded my nose. It’s hard to believe a smell can make you forget your troubles, but sometimes it’s true. Right now, the smell in that bag is quickly making me forget about my summer.
My Dad, the Cookie Man
I made a fresh batch,” Dad says as he hands me the bag. It’s warm in my hands. I open it and pull out one of Dad’s chocolate chip cookies. He’s been making them for as long as I can remember. He says it relaxes him and helps him think.
And his cookies taste good. I mean really, REALLY good. They’re like bite-sized crunchy golden cookie nuggets. Each one is packed with gooey chocolate chips and sweet pecans.
I could eat his cookies and nothing else.
Before the divorce, we baked cookies all the time. I’m trying to remember the last time we made them, but I can’t. Since the divorce, everything is screwed up.
“Well?” Dad asks. He always wants my opinion. It’s kinda pitiful.
“Pretty good,” I say.
“What’s that?” he says as he pokes me in the rib. “You’re mumbling, Little Man. I can’t hear you.”
“They taste pretty good.” I make sure to pronounce every word clearly. Both of my parents tell me that I mumble. All I know is that sometimes it’s hard for me to speak when I get nervous or mad.
Dad steals a cookie from my bag. He pops it in his mouth. “Not bad?!” he says while crunching the cookie. “Man, these are fantastic.”
“Don’t talk with cookies in your mouth. It’s rude,” I scold him. After all, that’s what he and Mom are always telling me.
“Some things, Ellis, cannot wait to be said.” He pulls out another one of MY cookies. Dad stretches his right arm up and out in front of him toward the front windshield. It’s like his arm is a telescope and at the end is a small, crunchy chocolate chip asteroid suspended against the clear blue California sky.
“Look at you,” Dad says admiringly to the cookie. Dad doesn’t just eat cookies. He talks to them like they’re pets or friends. My dad is like that Willy Wonka chocolate factory guy. I don’t remember everything about the book, but I do know that if Willy Wonka was tall, skinny, Black, and had a salt-and-pepper beard, he would be my dad. I really think Dad believes that chocolate chip cookies have some kind of magical power.
Dad continues talking to the cookie in his hand. “You are perfect. Just the right amount of chips. And look at that lightly toasted pecan poking through. YOU are a good cookie!” Then he retracts his telescope arm and pops the cookie in his mouth.
“Isn’t it kind of weird to eat something you love so much?” I ask.
“No, no,” Dad says. “Chocolate chip cookies are meant to be eaten. It’s their life’s purpose to bring joy.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. What if I was born just to be eaten?”
“Then you’d be a chocolate chip cookie.”
Dad steers his Rambler through the traffic on Sunset Boulevard. Some people call it “the Sunset Strip.” It’s full of famous nightclubs and shops. I don’t come down here all that often. Sunset Boulevard is full of strange characters. Mom always says, “Sunset Strip is no place for little boys.”
I see our street corner approaching. Usually, Dad would turn left off Sunset and drop me off at Mom’s house. Not today. Dad drives farther east into Sunset Boulevard. I’ve never been this far down Sunset. We approach Ralphs supermarket. People in the neighborhood call it “Rock and Roll Ralphs” because lots of famous singers and bands go there late at night. Rock and Roll Ralphs is huge. It’s a whole other world inside. The grocery store takes up the entire block, and it never closes. Out front there’s always a weird mix of little kids on kiddie rides, teenagers smoking, and old men feeding pigeons.
A few blocks from the Rock and Roll Ralphs, Dad stops the car at the corner of Sunset and Formosa. We’re parked in front of a small empty building. It’s funny looking, shaped like a triangle and with a door at the bottom, a window in each corner, and a chimney sticking out of the pointy top. It’s seriously run-down. The stucco white paint is peeling above the front glass doors. A family of pigeons have pooped all over the roof.
This is not the glamorous part of Sunset. This block is on the edge of Hollywood. It feels a world away from our house a few miles behind us. This block looks creepy. And sad. Most of the stores are abandoned. Trash is blowing down the sidewalk. This empty store looks like an abandoned house in the middle of a bad fairy tale. Weeds surround it. A paper sign saying RENTED is taped over another paper sign that says FOR RENT.
I roll down the car window. It gets stuck halfway like it always does. I sit up on my knees so I can speak over the glass. “Dad, what is this?”
“You’re mumbling, Little Man,” Dad says with his back to me. He’s looking at the top of the pointy roof.
“Stop calling me Little Man! I’m eleven years old,” I yell in my head.
Dad whips around. “What did you say to me?”
Oops. I yelled that out loud.
“You don’t listen. Just like Mom says.” I definitely said that out loud.
“Get out of the car, Ellis,” my dad orders.
I open the car door and get out. Dad and I face each other like in one of those cowboy movies. He leans over me. He runs his hand across his beard then speaks in his most serious voice. “Now, you listen to me, Little Man. I am still your father, divorce or no divorce. You want to know what this is? This A-frame is our home for the summer.”
“Home?” I squeeze my eyes shut to keep my tears in. There’s no way I want Dad to see me cry.
“Yep. Our new home for our new cookies. Six weeks from now we’re gonna open the world’s first chocolate chip cookie store.” Dad looks up at the building. He’s grinning ear to ear. My eyes go dry. Now I’m just confused.
“The world’s what?” A store that only sells cookies? Chocolate chip cookies? How is that even a thing? How can anyone make money just selling chocolate chip cookies? No one has EVER opened a store selling just chocolate chip cookies. That’s totally crazy.
Dad looks up at the front of the building. He’s starry-eyed like he’s sitting in the first row of a movie theater. “A cookie store,” he repeats. “And you and I are gonna build it together.”
“Great,” I say sarcastically while I roll my eyes. “Happy birthday to me.”
Dad opens the front door. “What’s that about your birthday? It’s only June. Now get inside. We’ve got work to do.”
I’m stuck in place. This cannot be my summer.
“Did you hear me?” Dad thumps the back of my head.
“Uh-huh,” I mumble as I walk inside.
“Ellis, you dropped something getting out of the car.” Dad hands me my harmonica. “You don’t wanna lose this. We’re going to need some music.”
I’m gonna need more than music to get through this nightmare. I wish Mom would come home. What the heck are Dad and I going to talk about for six weeks? Alone. In an abandoned store on Sunset Boulevard. This was supposed to be my epic twelfth-birthday summer. I can’t believe this is my life.
Another Bad Idea
I immediately hold my nose as I enter. “It smells like old cigarettes in here.”
“How do you know what old cigarettes smell like?” Dad asks.
“I know from looking at this carpet.” The sea of neon orange shag carpet is littered with cigarette butts. It looks like an old, faded itchy sweater exploded all over the floor. It also stinks. Actually, the more I get a whiff of it, this carpet looks and smells like a wet, itchy sweater that a shaggy dog wore in the rain. A dog that smokes but never bathes. And whose sweater exploded all over this floor. Okay, maybe that was too much. But you get the point.
“Dad, this place is gross. You can’t sell cookies here,” I say, trying to plug my nose and speak at the same time. “And who sells nothing but chocolate chip cookies anyway? Ice cream store? I get it. Doughnuts? Yes. But cookies? And just one kind of cookie?”
Now I’m remembering all of Dad’s old dumb ideas. There was Stone Fruit Jewels, Dad’s idea to sell handmade jewelry made of polished cherry, peach, and apricot pits. Then there was Dapper Dogs. Dad was going to sell designer footwear for… you guessed it… dogs. One time, he was going to open a store called American Dashiki. A dashiki is a super colorful shirt that people wear in West Africa. I had a hard time remembering the word when I first heard it, so I made a rhyme to help me: My dashiki looks freaky. American Dashiki was one of Dad’s dumbest ideas. Mom told him there were three problems with it:
1. We live in Hollywood, California, not West Africa.
2. We are basically the only Black people in Hollywood, California.
3. White people don’t wear dashikis.
“Everybody loves chocolate chip cookies, Ellis. Everybody!” Dad says. “This place will make us—”
Dad and I jump. Grandma Ruby is at the front door, whacking the glass with her cane.
“Junior!” she yells. Grandma’s cane isn’t just to help her walk on her bad knees. Her cane is a weapon. I’ve seen her swing that cane at pigeons, paperboys, and park benches. When something upsets Grandma, she swings first and asks questions later. Luckily, her aim is really bad. So is her vision. She shouldn’t be driving, but I see her white Cadillac parked behind Dad’s Rambler.
Dad runs to open the door. Grandma enters, and swats her cane at Dad like he’s a mosquito. “What you doin’ bringing that boy here?” she demands. Grandma is tough but also protective. I know she loves me. But, man, she scares me.
“Mama, I’m a forty-four-year-old man. Stop calling me Junior. And put that cane down before you hurt somebody.” Dad laughs as he closes and locks the front door behind her. It is kind of funny seeing Grandma in her hairnet, holding her cane in one hand, her beige leather purse hanging from her other forearm, and her baggy pantyhose bunched up around her ankles like saggy skin. I would never let her see me laugh, though. I don’t want that cane anywhere near me.
“This boy ain’t got no business in all this mess! Sunset Boulevard ain’t no place for a little boy,” she scolds Dad while pulling me close. “You think you’re gonna make cookies in here?” THWACK! Grandma’s cane smashes a cigarette butt and sends a cockroach flying as if from a circus cannon. “You better call an exterminator in here.”
“Ellis and I have this all under control, Mama. Don’t we, Little Man?”
“Um-hm,” I mumble.
“Stay here, Mama,” Dad says. “I’m going back in the kitchen to make sure we have water and power running.”
Dad disappears into the back while Grandma scans her eyes around the inside of the empty store. I try and wriggle away, but she quickly pulls me back into her.
“Boy, come here,” she orders.
I hate those three words. Boy. Come. Here. Those words are not to be trusted. Let me tell you a short story so you know why.
One time—before Grandma moved to California—we visited her in Tallahassee, Florida. I knocked over her favorite candle while I was running in the house. The candle wasn’t lit or anything. It didn’t even break. I picked it up superfast, put it back on her coffee table, and quickly apologized. End of story, right?
“Boy, come here.”
Uh-oh. Those words.
“You go out back. Get me a switch,” she ordered me.
In case you don’t know, a switch is a really thin tree branch. It’s so thin that it makes a whistling sound when you wave it in the air. When Grandma Ruby asks for a switch, you know you’re in trouble. It’s worse than a belt. You can guess how the story ends. My butt still hurts thinking about it.
But I haven’t done anything wrong today. Not yet. Plus, there is nowhere to get a switch on Sunset Boulevard. I stay close to Grandma, guessing I’m safe but keeping an eye on her cane just in case.
“Boy, I’m gonna tell you something your daddy won’t never say.” Grandma looks down at me, leaning heavily on her cane.
“I can hear you, Mama!” Dad yells from the back.
“Good!” she yells back. “It means your ears are working better than that brain of yours.” Grandma continues loud enough for Dad to hear. “Your daddy don’t know one thing about openin’ up no cookie store. Just like he didn’t know nothing about selling no dashikis or opening up a disco car wash.”
Dad defends himself from the back. “The disco car wash would have worked. I just needed to figure out how to waterproof the speakers. That’s not easy.”
“Uh-hmm.” Grandma is not impressed. She then lowers her voice like she has a secret. She pulls me close and whispers in my ear, “That daddy of yours has lots of dumb ideas. But I know he loves you. More than you know. So you gonna need to—”
Did Grandma just whack me with her cane? I check my body. I check her cane. My body is intact. Her cane hasn’t moved.
“Junior!” Grandma yells. “You alright back there?”
Slippin’ in the Darkness
It’s pitch-black inside the kitchen with only a tiny sliver of light escaping from the front of the store.
“Dad? Are you okay?” I ask into the darkness.
Suddenly, Dad’s face appears. He looks like one of those faces in horror movies or slumber party ghost stories. One hand holds a flashlight. The other is grabbing his knee. Next to him, it looks like a jet engine has crashed from the sky. The shiny metal glistens as it rocks from side to side, like the last wobbly moments of a spinning top. The metal against the concrete floor makes a hollow clanking sound.
Dad winces as he explains, “The lights shut off! Strangest thing. I haven’t even gotten a bill yet, so I know it wasn’t the power company. I’m not going through that hassle again.”
“That hassle” is the time our power got turned off at the house. Mom and I sat in the dark all night. Mom was so mad—and not only because Dad forgot to pay the bill. He also left the house as soon as the lights went out. He said he couldn’t think in the dark, so he sat in his Rambler for hours. I watched the neighbors’ TV through my bedroom window.
Dad manages to stand up on his hurt knee. Now I see what fell: a big metal bowl. He pushes it upright. “I smacked right into the mixing bowl in the dark.” He shines the flashlight on a crack. “Uh-oh. Metal mixing bowls aren’t supposed to break. How am I gonna get this fixed?”
“That’s a mixing bowl? I could take a bath in there.”
Dad kind of laughs, but I can tell he’s stressed. “I guess you could, Little Man. We need something bigger than my ceramic mixing bowl. This one will make us two hundred pounds of cookie dough at a time.”
“Two hundred pounds of cookie dough? Who could even bake that many cookies?”
“We’re going to find out,” Dad assures me. Then he recites a list: “Fine-tune our recipe, get our ingredients, fix this store, and find our customers. That’s all that matters for the next six weeks. But first we’re going to need to get these lights back on. Then we need to buy all of the bags of chocolate chips that we can carry.”
Grandma yells from the front, “Buying chocolate chips ain’t the only thing you need to do.” Grandma follows Dad’s flashlight into the kitchen. “Junior, shine that light here, in my pocketbook,” she orders him. “And take my cane. Looks like you could use it.”
Grandma calls her purse a “pocketbook.” It’s something old ladies do. It rocks back and forth on her outstretched forearm like a playground swing. I can briefly see what’s inside before the purse swings away from the light. Grandma is getting frustrated. “Hold that light still, Junior. You’re giving me a headache.”
“Hold your purse still, Mama,” Dad replies.
A Junior Library Guild Selection
An NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Literary Work - Youth/Teens
"Shawn Amos has written a beautiful story of family and music, of growing up and having adventures, of business building and character building, that is at once very specific and universal. I love Cookies and Milk as much as I love cookies and milk."—Lisa See, New York Times bestselling and award winning author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls
- "Full of heart and humor….A wholesome story that bridges generations."—Kirkus
- "Offbeat and enchanting. The humorous narration is breezy and conversational …there are also exquisite descriptions of musical transcendence, an uplifting community, and a gorgeous father-son relationship that evolves and deepens throughout. A sweet treat with a warm center."—Booklist
- "Amos’s energetic prose encourages pride in one's culture. Championing interpersonal bonds, be they found family or blood relatives, the narrative also emphasizes unconditional love and one community’s impact on a boy shaping his identity."—Publishers Weekly
- "Sets a fantastic scene…. Music, family dynamics, friends, and cookies are all delivered with imagery so strong that readers will taste those cookies."—School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Sep 5, 2023
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers