Since 1981, Claudia Mills has written more than 50 books for children. But it wasn’t until 2002 that she found her true passion.
“I’ve totally fallen in love with writing for the chapter-book audience: newly independent readers in second, third, or fourth grade,” Claudia told Cracking the Cover.
“My early books were all middle-grade novels, and I still love to write for that age group, too — and I published a ten-book easy-reader series as well, the Gus and Grandpa books. But once I wrote my first third-grade-level chapter book, 7 x 9 = Trouble!, I found I adored this format for its peppy pacing and just for the adorableness of how the finished book looks.”
Claudia’s latest book geared for 7- to 10-year-olds is Nixie Ness, Cooking Star. The book follows Nixie as she starts an after-school program without her best friend. It’s the first book in Claudia’s After-School Superstars series published by Holiday House.
Claudia loved school as a child, and she’s written numerous school stories, but this time around, she thought it would be fun to explore what happens after the final bell rings. “Millions of kids attend after-school programs, and that would give me a chance to show kids engaged in a wide range of activities that go beyond the standard school curriculum,” she said.
With so many activities to choose from, Claudia thought cooking would be a fun topic to explore. Cooking, she says, is generally more of a middle- and high-school focus. Nixie Ness, Cooking Star turns it into an elementary-school experience.
Writing about cooking was new for Claudia, who admits she doesn’t enjoy the culinary arts herself. For this project, the author found herself searching out recipes that would be enjoyable for her characters to make and for her audience to read about.
In the end, writing Nixie Ness, Cooking Star pushed Claudia into her own kitchen. “My family was so pleased when I had to try out the recipes for Nixie’s camp and so finally made them something tasty to eat!” she said.
Claudia thinks she might have learned to like cooking if she had gotten an early start on cooking like Nixie. “Kids today cook so much more than I did as a child, so I hope they’ll want to see what kinds of things Nixie is cooking and get ideas for their own adventures in the kitchen.”
But Nixie Ness, Cooking Star isn’t just about cooking. As a writer, Claudia likes to explore questions that have some deeper ethical resonance. “In Nixie’s story I found myself asking: What does it mean to be a friend? If you have many friends, does this diminish the significance of each friendship? If you hurt a friend, how do you restore the friendship?”
Most of Claudia’s characters start to develop only when she sits down and starts writing about them. Still, Claudia admits all her characters, in one way or another, draw on some part of who she is. “As a child, I was heartbroken if I thought one friend liked another friend better than she liked me — what a betrayal! Like Nixie, I’ve always been a planner — trying to think up ways to make my dreams come true. And like Nixie, some of my plans turn out better than others….”
Claudia worked with a teacher/librarian friend who has run many after-school programs to make sure the programs in her series would be plausible. After all, there are more After-School Superstars books currently in the works.
Claudia’s already finished Vera Vance, Comics Star, set in a comic-book camp, and is currently working on Lucy Lopez, Coding Star, set in computer-coding camp.
“[Lucy Lopez, Coding Star] is the most challenging of the three books so far for me,” Claudia said. “I said I’m not a good cook — you should see how bad I am at coding!! I even hired a sixth-grader to serve as my coding coach — I kid you not! But by trying to write about something I’m NOT good at, I hope I can connect with kids who struggle to learn — and show the joy of finally coming to master something that initially seemed impossible.”