Sample Chapter – Phineas L. MacGuire . . . Gets Cooking!

My name is Phineas L. MacGuire. A few people call me Phineas, but most people call me Mac. Yesterday, when I was riding the bus to school, I came up with a bunch of cool things the L in my name could stand for. My list included:

1. Lithosphere (the outmost shell of a rocky planet)

2. Lunar Eclipse

3. Light-Year

4. Labrador Whisperer

Unfortunately, the L in my name does not stand for any of those things. It stands for Listerman, which was, like, my mom’s great-aunt Tulip’s last name or something. My mom is very big on family traditions, but even she’s not allowed to call me Listerman.

I mean, ever.

You can probably tell by the first three things on my list of L names that I am a scientist. In fact, I’m the best fourth-grade scientist at Woodbrook Elementary School. Or at least sort of the best. There’s this girl in my class named Aretha Timmons who might be kind of as good at science as I am, but her goal is not to be the greatest scientist in the whole world one day, which mine is. I think that gives me the edge.

The last thing on my list has to do with a certain Labrador retriever named Lemon Drop. I walk Lemon Drop every day after school, and earlier this year I did a major dog slobber experiment inspired by Lemon Drop’s natural dog slobberiness. It was awesome.

The fourth grade has been my best year as a scientist ever. So far I have:

1. Gotten an honorable mention in the fourth-grade science fair.

2. Grown my own slime and established the Phineas L. MacGuire Mold Museum in my bedroom.

3. Performed important dog slobber experiments that prove, when you get down to it, slobber is alive.

4. Attended Space Camp and ridden the Mars roller coaster without throwing up.

For most people, that would be enough for one year, but when you’re a scientist like me, you want to do scientific stuff all the time.

The problem is, sometimes you run out of good ideas.

I’ve been in the middle of a serious dry spell that has lasted over two weeks, and I’ve been feeling pretty grumpy about it. Usually I’m in a good mood, so people notice when I’m not. Yesterday my teacher, Mrs. Tuttle, put one of the rubber frogs from the jar she keeps on her desk on top of my head. She was trying to make me laugh.

Everybody else laughed, but I didn’t.

At lunch my best friend, Ben Robbins, who is a genius artist, drew a bunch of pictures of me as a superhero scientist. There was one where I was wearing a lab coat and holding up an exploding beaker of chemicals. It was really cool-looking, but it didn’t cheer me up.

During recess Aretha went out and found three dried worms to give me for my dried worm collection. This should have made me extremely happy, since this hasn’t been a good spring for dried worms, and I’m behind on my monthly quota. And it sort of did make me happy, but only for about ten minutes.

Then I went back to feeling grumpy because I didn’t have a good science project to do.

My mom has been grumpy a lot lately too. She’s a naturally irritable person, but that’s not the same thing as being grumpy. Being irritated is a reaction to a situation. Being grumpy is a state of mind.

“I don’t know why I can’t lose this last five pounds,” she complained at dinner last night. She took another bite of pizza before saying, “Phyllis and I walk two miles every day on our lunch break. You’d think the pounds would just fall off.”

My stepdad, Lyle, reached across the table and grabbed a slice from the box. “You look great, Liz. I’m glad you’re exercising, but you don’t need to do it to lose weight.”

“We could stop eating pizza all the time,” I said. “That might help.”

I should point out that I wasn’t actually eating pizza. Pizza is pretty much my favorite food group, but I’ve learned you can get tired of even stuff you love a lot if you have to eat it three nights a week. So for the second night in a row I was eating a bowl of Cheerios for dinner.

My mom’s expression was 50 percent grumpy and 50 percent irritated. “Mac, we’ve been through this. I’m tired when I get home after a long day at work. So’s Lyle. Cooking takes time, and it takes energy, two things I really don’t have a lot of at the end of the day.”

I shrugged. “I’m just saying that scientifically speaking, it’s hard to lose weight when all you eat is pizza. I’m not complaining or anything.”

“You might be complaining just a little bit, and I guess I don’t blame you,” my mom said, and then she smiled a grumpy sort of smile. “I can’t tell you how often I wished the workday was like a school day—you know, home by three, plenty of time to get everything done. If I got home at three every day, I’d be able to—”

She paused. She looked at me for what seemed like a really long time. And then she got this smile on her face. A very scary kind of smile.

“I know just what to do about it,” my mom said, picking up her phone and tapping on the keyboard. After she was done, she said, “There! Problem solved!”

Lyle and I looked at each other like, What’s going on?

My mom lost her grumpy expression. In fact, she looked downright happy. That sort of scared me, if you want to know the truth.

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“I’ve just texted Sarah that tomorrow when you get home from school, she’s to take you to the grocery store.”

By Sarah, she means my babysitter from outer space. Going anywhere with Sarah was not high on my list of things to do.

“Why?” I asked.

My mom smiled. “Because from now on, you’re going to cook dinner, Mac. And I know you’ll do an amazing job.”