Goodreads: Cookies & Milk
Age Category: Middle Grade
Publication Date: 2022
Eleven-year-old Ellis Johnson just knows his summer is going to be terrible when he learns that his recently divorced dad expects him to help open a new chocolate chip cookie store. Who ever heard of store that sells just chocolate chip cookies? And they only have six weeks to do it, right in the middle of Sunset Boulevard. Despite Ellis’ reservations, however, he soon begins making friends and learning that a little bit of kindness–and some really great cookies–just might be able to transform a neighborhood. Set in 1976, this middle grade historical fiction is loosely based on the author’s own experiences growing up with Wally Amos, founder of the Famous Amos cookies.
Cookies & Milk is a fun historical fiction based on the author’s experiences growing up with the founder of the Famous Amos cookies. Though at time the writing lacks fluidity and the structure is not entirely cohesive, younger readers will likely find the story humorous while some older readers will delight in the nostalgia of reliving the 1970s. One thing is for sure, though: this book will leave readers wanting chocolate chip cookies!
The premise of Cookies & Milk initially drew me in, promising me a cute coming-of-age story complete with one of my favorite things–dessert. However, the book is about much more than opening a storefront. It also deals with Ellis and his dad’s attempts to navigate through divorce; the revelation of family secrets and heartbreak; Ellis’ journey to finding his identity as he meets Black musicians, works on his Afro, and is inspired to wear a dashiki; the experience of being one of the few Black kids in a predominantly white neighborhood; and the power of kindness to create a community. In other words, there’s a lot!
Unfortunately, though I loved all these elements, sometimes the book showed itself to be a debut effort as the elements do not all seamlessly come together. The story feels like it skips and jumps a bit, moving from Ellis’ childish antics that result in ruined cookie ingredients, to his admiration of the mysterious DJ Wishbone, to his serendipitous meetings with a down-on-his-luck homeless man, a surfer dude who is all about the love, and a motherly neighborhood lady (all of whom, of course, turn out in the end to help make the cookie business a success). It felt a bit like the author knows the ingredients to a heartwarming middle grade story, but just needs a bit more practice to blend them all together.
The most joyful part of this story for me, though, was all the great 1970s references, and Ellis’ exuberant embrace of them all. Watching him discover the “funk” at a local radio station, make his Afro fabulous, and delve into his family history to decide who he wants to be was all a delight. It seems like the author thinks of the 1970s very fondly, even as the book does not shy away from depicting how difficult it could be to live in a mostly white neighborhood. The end message is positive, though: spreading kindness can make a world of difference.
Cookies & Milk admittedly does read rather like a debut book, one that could use a little polishing. However, the premise is fun and I think the humor will still appeal to younger readers. Pick this one up if you are looking for a historical fiction with a sweet twist!