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About The Book

In the fifth book in Karen Kingsbury and Tyler Russell’s beloved series about the Baxter children, when things don’t turn out according to plan, the siblings must stick together and remember who they are.

Things are changing in Bloomington for the Baxters. When Ashley’s teacher, Mr. Garrett, takes a month off work for the birth of his baby, the intimidating Ms. Stritch takes his place. Ashley tries but can’t seem to crack the new teacher’s tough exterior. Meanwhile, Brooke struggles when a popular girl excludes her at lunch, Erin adjusts to getting glasses, and when Kari is given a dance solo for the upcoming recital, she takes her success a little too seriously.

When Principal Bond announces a new Character Awards initiative, competition breaks out between siblings and friends, until the students forget the point of the awards. Through it all, the town prepares for a major blizzard that Luke worries will cancel his class’s field trip to see the Harlem Globetrotters.

With so many obstacles in their lives, the Baxter Children have the opportunity to remember what being Baxters really means.

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Back to the Rock 1 Back to the Rock ASHLEY
The Baxter family children needed a meeting.

That’s what Ashley Baxter figured. She sat with her four siblings at the dining room table that Saturday morning, hands cupped around a mug of orange juice. She leaned close to the drink and blew over the top of it. The orange juice rippled just below the rim and splashed over the sides.

Luke stared at her. He was the youngest. “Why do you blow on it?” Luke kneeled on the chair and leaned nearly all the way across the table, using his elbows as supports. “It’s not hot.”

“It is to me, Luke.” Ashley remembered to smile. “It’s my own personal almost-coffee. Because I’m in a thinking mood.” She patted Luke’s head. “You’ll understand when you’re my age.”

Ashley was in fifth grade. Luke was in second. He wouldn’t know anything about hard mornings or remembering to smile. But today was especially hard for Ashley for one reason. The same reason they needed a meeting. Two words:

Character and awards.

“Ashley.” Brooke smiled at her from the kitchen, where she was helping Mom make French toast. “If you think life is hard now, just wait. Middle school is right around the corner.”

“No, thank you.” Ashley swapped a look with Kari. “We’re never growing up, right, Kari?” Kari was in sixth grade, and she and Ashley shared a room. Next year Kari would be in middle school, too.

“That’s the deal.” Kari nodded. “Never grow up.”

Dad walked into the kitchen. “Something smells great!” He hugged Mom and grinned at Brooke. “Another perfect winter Saturday for the Baxter family.”

Ashley blew at a wisp of her brown hair. “I’m not sure about that, Dad.” She looked at Erin, their younger sister, and then at Brooke and Kari and Luke. “The Baxter kids need a meeting. At the rock. As soon as we finish breakfast.”

“As soon as you finish dishes.” Mom’s eyes smiled at her.

“Right.” Ashley gave her mother a thumbs-up. “As soon as we finish dishes.”

When the French toast was ready, the whole family sat around the table and Dad prayed. “Thank You, God, for Brooke, Kari, Ashley, Erin, and Luke. They are the kindest, most brave and considerate children I know.”

Ashley opened one eyeball and stared at her father. Perhaps he could be their spokesperson to the Bloomington Elementary School character award team.

Her dad was still praying. “Thank You, God, because these kids of ours work together and play together and they do something most siblings don’t often do. They have fun together. Thank You for that, and for this food, in Jesus’s name, amen.”

Ashley jumped to her feet and started to clap. “Bravo, Dad! Bravo.” She looked at her siblings, encouraging them to join her until all five of them were standing and giving their father a rowdy round of applause.

“Why are we clapping?” Brooke looked from Ashley to her parents and back again.

“Because, Brooke.” Ashley finally sat back down. Her hands were sore. “At least one person sees who we really are. Did you hear his prayer? If that’s true, we each should’ve won a character award at school by now.”

Mom raised her eyebrows at Ashley. “We’ve talked about this.”

Kari nodded. “It’s true. We have talked about it.”

“But…” Ashley’s next words came very fast. “Maybe we should talk about it again. Maybe Dad should talk about it. To the principal. Because zero character awards for the Baxter children is a tragedy, I tell you. An absolute tragedy.”

Her father started to laugh, but he covered his mouth. Because this was no laughing matter, clearly. He reached out and put his hand over hers. “As long as you’re winning at home, that’s what matters.” He looked around. “Speaking of being at home… the Farmer’s Almanac says there’s a massive blizzard headed our way.”

Ashley set her fork down. Again, she stood up. “A massive blizzard?” She ran to the window and looked out. The entire sky was bright blue. She looked back at her dad. “Today?”

“No.” Dad shook his head. This time he didn’t try to cover his laugh. “They’re predicting it will hit in early February… a few weeks from now.”

“Whew.” Ashley returned to the table and sat down once more. She looked around. “I can honestly tell you, my fellow family members, that I am not ready for a blizzard.”

“Biggest blizzard in a hundred years.” Dad took a bite of his French toast. He raised his fork in the air. “That’s what the Farmer’s Almanac says.”

Ashley studied the little bites of French toast swimming in the lake of syrup on her plate. A Farmer’s Almond Hat. “Does the hat help the farmers know when it’s going to snow?”

“The hat?” Brooke wrinkled her nose. “What hat?”

“The almond hat.” Ashley looked at her mother, then back to Dad. “Isn’t that what you said? The farmer’s almond hat?”

“Almanac.” Her father laughed again.

Ashley did a slight bow. Because apparently she was providing a great deal of humor this morning.

Dad cleared his throat. “The Farmer’s Almanac has been printed every year for more than two centuries. Since the late seventeen hundreds. Every year the editors make predictions about weather.” He smiled at Mom.

“Yes.” Their mother turned to Ashley. “The editors use a secret formula based on solar patterns and historical weather conditions. It’s somewhat scientific.”

Ashley’s entire head was swimming with this new information. “And they think we’re having a gigantic blizzard? This year?”

“They do.” Dad took another bite of French toast. “Of course, only God knows whether a storm like that will actually happen.”

“God doesn’t need an almanac for that!” Luke took his plate to the kitchen. “I’ll start the dishes.”

Everyone was finished eating, so the children sprang into action. Once the dishes were done, they slid into their boots, zipped up their coats and slapped on beanies. Because mid-January in Bloomington, Indiana, was cold as an icebox outside.

When they were ready, all five Baxter kids hurried out the back door. Ashley was the last one.

“Come on, Bo!” Ashley called for their dog. He ran up, his ears flopping and tail wagging. “It’s meeting time.” She patted his head and ushered him along. Then she shut the door behind her.

There was no snow on the ground today, so Brooke led the way through the forever-long grassy field to the big rock at the far side of their backyard. They pushed past a line of trees and there it was—the stream that ran behind the house. And the rock, of course.

Their own private rock.

Ashley and the others scrambled up onto the top of it. There was room for each of them to sit down. Painted on the top were all of their handprints from when they moved in last summer. Beneath the painted hands were their names.

“Look at this.” Luke tried to match his hand to his handprint. “It doesn’t line up.” He lifted his face to Brooke. “I think the paint is shrinking.”

“No.” Brooke’s smile was a little sad. “Your hand is getting bigger, Luke.” She tried to match hers and Ashley could see the same thing. “See? My hand is bigger now, too.”

Ashley felt her heart drop. She found her handprint and tried to line up her hand over it. Brooke was right. Her hand didn’t fit there now, either. It was happening.

They were growing up. Despite their promise.

A chilly quiet came over the five of them. Ashley lifted her hand from the painted one on the rock. It was time to think about something else.

From a nearby tree, an owl let out a long hooo-hoo. The wind whistled through the bare branches above them. Bo panted and a flock of birds flew by overhead.

“Do you hear that?” Ashley smiled at her siblings. “It’s a beautiful winter symphony.” She raised her ear toward the sky. “And it’s saying not to worry about growing up. Not today.”

The others nodded. “I like that.” Brooke settled into her spot. “Let’s have our meeting. It’s freezing out here.”

“You have a point.” Ashley’s teeth were starting to chatter. “Okay. The meeting is about the failed character awards.”

Luke shrugged. “It wasn’t a fail for everyone. Lots of kids have won certificates.”

“Well, it’s been a fail for us.” Ashley scooted next to Kari. “Get closer. Everyone. So we don’t fall to hyperthermia.”

“Hypothermia. Hyperthermia is when you’re too hot.” Brooke slid closer to Erin and Luke. “Ashley’s right. Shoulder to shoulder, people.”

When they were huddled together, Ashley took a deep breath. “The thing is, we need a plan if we’re going to win a character award.”

“Like a strategy?” Kari blinked. She was shivering a little.

“Exactly.” Ashley put her arm around Kari’s shoulders. “A strategy. Which is why I’m thinking I should coach us. You know, like lessons where we meet each week and practice some new skills. Like training for the basketball team. Or the Army.”

“Training?” Erin shook her head. “I think Mom is right. We just have to keep doing our best.”

“At least you have character awards.” Brooke leaned in closer to the others. “In middle school you just do your work and stay quiet.”

Ashley shuddered. That sounded terrible. “We only have this one chance.” She swapped looks with Kari and Erin and Luke. And suddenly she felt a stirring inside her. Beneath her ribs. Or maybe that was the French toast.

Either way, before she could stop herself, she jumped up and threw her hands in the air. “Training! Yes, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” Ashley dropped back down to the rock and squeezed in tight with the others. “We will train. We will strategize. We will learn how to be the kinds of students Principal Bond wants.” She snapped her fingers a few times. “What was it Principal Bond wanted? Do you remember?”

“Honesty.” Kari nodded. “I remember that.”

“And respect.” Luke pointed at Ashley. “Always be respectful.”

“Okay.” Ashley felt her heart beat faster. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“What about cooperation?” Erin looked from Luke to Ashley. “He talks about that a lot.”

“Good job, Erin!” Ashley high-fived her youngest sister. “Definitely cooperation.”

“So how will we train for that?” Luke seemed ready to start the program.

Ashley’s mind raced. “Well… how about this: I will develop a strategy, lessons. Ways we can practice.” She tapped her chin. “It’ll be a Baxter playbook.”

“I don’t know, Ashley.” Kari shook her head. “This feels like the wrong way to do it.”

“Have I ever led you wrong?” Ashley held her hands open. “I’m as reliable as the farmer’s almond hat.”

“Almanac.” Brooke giggled.

“Right. That.” Ashley helped her siblings to their feet. “Trust me. If we do this right, each of us could win a character award before spring break. That gives us two months.” Ashley held out her hands. “Come on. Make a circle.”

They all held hands.

“I’m freezing.” Erin shivered hard. “Fine, Ashley. You can be our coach.”

“We’ll meet in Luke’s room and start this afternoon.” A sharp breeze cut through Ashley’s winter coat. “But first… hot chocolate!”

They put their hands in the middle then and Brooke counted them out. “One-two-three…”

And all together—like they’d done every time they came to the rock lately—the Baxter children shouted out loud, “Baxters!”

Ashley led the way as they scrambled off the rock. The chilly air poked pins at their cheeks, but once they were back inside Mom had five mugs of steaming hot chocolate lined up in a row.

“What’s a winter rock meeting without hot chocolate?” Mom grinned at them. “How did it go?”

Ashley raised her eyebrows. “We shall see, Mother. We shall see.”

Long after they had finished their drinks, Ashley sat by the fireplace drawing. She placed herself in front of her four siblings, whistle around her neck. Very soon, training would begin. Brooke might as well join them. She wouldn’t win any awards, but at least she’d impress her teachers. That had to count for something.

Yes, Ashley would come up with a list of drills and exercises to help them win a character award. Each of them, if she had anything to do with it.

Because the Baxters had what it took to be winners.

Ashley was sure.


About The Authors

Photograph © Dean Dixon

Karen Kingsbury, #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, is America’s favorite inspirational storyteller, with more than twenty-five million copies of her award-winning books in print. Her last dozen titles have topped bestseller lists and many of her novels are under development as major motion pictures. Karen recently opened her own film company called Kingsbury Productions. The company’s first theatrical movie, Someone Like You, is considered one of the most anticipated movies of the year. For more information visit SomeoneLikeYou.movie. Also, the first three seasons of Karen’s Baxter Family books are now an original series called The Baxters on Prime Video. Karen and her husband, Donald, live in Tennessee near their children and grandchildren.

Tyler Russell has been telling stories his whole life. In elementary school, he won a national award for a children’s book he wrote, and he has been writing ever since. In 2015, he graduated with a BFA from Lipscomb University. Soon after, he sold his first screenplay, Karen Kingsbury’s Maggie’s Christmas Miracle, which premiered in December of 2017 on Hallmark. Along with screenplays and novels, Tyler is a songwriter, singer, actor, and creative who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he enjoys serving his church, adventuring around the city, and spending time with his family.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (February 14, 2024)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665908061
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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