Close to Famous

     Foster McFee wants to make the world a better place one cupcake at a time, but first she has to face the thing that makes her feel like an all-out loser.

“{A} heartwarming novel about a determined girl who faces adversity with humor, heart — and cupcakes.”

                                                           — Publishers Weekly

“Tastier than a batch of Foster’s triple chocolate cupcakes.”

                                                           — School Library Journal

  •  Winner of the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award
  •  Winner of the Christopher Award
  •  Winner of the Judy Lopez Memorial Prize
  •  Nominated for 14 state awards
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  • It's a feel-good tale with life-affirming lessons laid on like the frosting on Foster's cupcakes, and as expertly wrought. Foster's engaging first-person voice and interior monologue, the solid characterization, and the nimble, fast-paced prose are the quality ingredients of this tale cooked to perfection. The ending is best read with a cupcake in hand...but don't let tears spoil the frosting.
    - Horn Book

The Story

     Foster’s dream is huge — one day she hopes to have her own TV cooking show like her idol, Sonny Kroll.  But it’s hard to hold onto a big dream when you’ve been chased out of Memphis by an Elvis impersonator and end up in the tiny town of Culpepper, WV where nothing much seems to happen.  Still, Foster has learned, no matter what, you’ve got to keep baking.

     Soon she discovers she’s not the only one in Culpepper with a dream of fame.  Macon desperately wants to make documentary films.  Miss Charleena longs to return in triumph to Hollywood, and Foster’s mother hopes to be a headliner instead of a backup singer.  Culpepper seems to be a safe haven for now, but Foster and Mama can’t hide forever.

  • "All we can say is order it now. We are way over the age of 10 and we truly loved this sweet book."
    - CupcakeMag

  • Bauer skillfully brings readers to the heart of Culpepper with rich descriptions of a contemporary small town and its residents and rhythms. The characters' eventual triumphs are the type that ... fans eat up.
    - Publishers Weekly

  • Bauer gently and effortlessly incorporates race (Foster's mother is black; her father was white), religion, social justice, and class issues into a guaranteed feel-good story that dodges sentimentality with humor. Readers who want contemporary fiction with a happy ending will find it here.
    - Booklist

QUESTIONS. ANSWERED.

FOOD AND COOKING PLAY A BIG PART IN THIS NOVEL. WHY DID YOU MAKE FOSTER A YOUNG BAKER WHO DREAMS OF HAVING HER OWN COOKING SHOW?

     Oh, that’s my love of baking coming through — I baked when I was little, I bake now — it’s something that has always given me joy. When I was young I watched Julia Child on TV — I wanted to go to her house and have a meal. And today’s TV chefs are wonderful to watch and learn from. There’s an intimacy in a kitchen, a warmth when people are making food for others. So many young people love to bake and watch TV chefs, so it seemed like a perfect connection.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER IN CLOSE TO FAMOUS AND WHY?

     Miss Charleena, the award winning actress who left Hollywood and came back to her hometown of Culpepper to live after her husband took up with a super model, causing a media frenzy. She’s just bigger than life. I could hear her voice and feel her presence in the scenes. She kept surprising me, too, with what she had inside. I had great fun writing her evolution from an imperious actress who snapped her fingers and people jumped, to an honest, loving human being.

WHAT WAS YOU FAVORITE PART ABOUT WRITING THIS NOVEL?

     Exploring baking as a survival skill for life. I thought I knew all about cupcakes when I began this story — there’s more power packed in them than I ever knew. A fine cupcake can take you places you can’t imagine.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BAKED GOOD? FAVORITE CUPCAKE?

     I adore coconut. If anyone hands me a large piece of coconut layer cake with an embarrassment of frosting, I’m in heaven.

     My all-time favorite cupcake is maple pecan piled so high with maple frosting it almost tips over. You must have a moment of silence before biting into this cupcake.

Discussion Questions

From Penguin Young Readers Group

  • Foster idolizes Sonny Kroll, a well-known Food Network cook, and dreams of having her own Food Network show.  Sonny teaches his viewers “to go with what you’ve got” when making a meal.  How is his advice a metaphor for Foster’s bravery?  Why do you think Foster idolizes Sonny?
  • In what ways are Foster and Miss Charleena alike?  How do these similarities contribute to their ability to work together?
  • Foster has lost her father and is convinced she cannot learn to read or write.  Why is she able to tackle reading in Culpepper, given her fear and negative experiences in former schools?
  • One can argue that perseverance is a recurring theme in Close to Famous.  Find several passages that support this argument.  How does the concept of perseverance weave the story together?

Recipes

Foster’s Famous Vanilla Cupcakes

1 & 1/2 cup cake flour
1 cup sugar
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter softened (one stick)
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup coconut (for moistness)
1/2 cup milk

In one bowl, sift cake flour with baking powder and salt. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar with mixer. Beat in eggs and vanilla until creamy. Add cake flour mixture a little at a time with the milk until well blended and fluffy. Fold in coconut. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Makes around 15.

Bake at 350 for 20 – 25 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on rack. Pile on the vanilla frosting.

 

Vanilla Frosting

1 box confectioners sugar
1/2 cup butter softened (1 stick)
3-4 tbsp milk or, if you want it extra special, instead of milk add 3 & 1/2 tbsp half and half
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all in a bowl, and beat with your mixer for two minutes until creamy.

 

Sonny’s Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcakes

2 cups cake flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I use Hershey’s)
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup mayonnaise plus 1 tblsp mayo
1 egg
1 cup sugar plus 1 tblsp sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Sift in bowl — cake flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Stir well to blend.
In another bowl, cream sugar, mayonnaise, egg, water and vanilla together in mixer on low at first, then high to blend.
Add dry ingredients to wet 1/3 at a time until well blended.

Bake at 350 for 18 minutes, then check for doneness. Can go 20 – 25 minutes depending on your stove.

Makes 16-18 regular cupcakes. Frost high and deep with chocolate or vanilla frosting. Grate chocolate over the frosting if you really want to show off.

 

Serious Chocolate Frosting

1 stick butter
1/2 cup cocoa (I use Hershey’s)
1/3 cup milk — if you add a little cream, it’s heaven
3 cups powdered sugar
1tsp vanilla

Combine powdered sugar, vanilla in bowl with milk and mix on low.

Melt butter, add cocoa. Add to sugar mixture, beating till fluffy. I whip this on high at the end.