It was a blustery, wintry afternoon on 141st Street. A blizzard was ripping up the East Coast, and the center of the storm had decided to stay on top of Harlem and hang out for a while. Meanwhile, the brownstones along the street stood strong and steady, protecting their inhabitants the same way they had for over a hundred years. While plows rumbled up and down the avenues, snow inched up the windowsills and dusted the bricks, engulfing parked cars and piling up on sidewalks.
In the exact middle of 141st Street sat a humble red brownstone with a weathervane currently covered in snow. The Vanderbeeker family lived on the ground and first floors of this brownstone, and at the moment they were all in the living room. Thirteen-year-old twins Jessie and Isa, ten-year-old Oliver, and eight-year-old Hyacinth were regretting that they had let Laney, newly turned six, choose the board game. She had selected the very one that could go on for hours. As they waited their turn to roll the dice, each yearned for warmer weather, spring bulbs peeking up through the earth, and getting dirty in the community garden they had created for their upstairs neighbors the year before.
When her phone rang, Mama weaved through kids, pets, and stacks of books to grab it from the side table by the door. The Vanderbeekers heard her say “Really?” and “Of course!” and “That would be wonderful!” As her voice grew in volume and enthusiasm, the Vanderbeeker kids paused from their game.
Papa, who was wearing his favorite pair of forest-green coveralls and attempting to fix a leak in the kitchen sink, put down his wrench and made his way toward Mama to see what was going on. When she hung up, her whole family was surrounding her. Her eyes were bright with a mixture of excitement and astonishment.
“That was Perch Magazine,” Mama said. “They want to feature me and my business in their October issue.”
“What?” screeched Isa, Jessie, and Hyacinth at the same time. Oliver, Papa, and Laney looked at one another in confusion.
“What’s Birch Magazine?” Oliver said.
“Perch Magazine,” Isa clarified. “And it’s only the most amazing magazine ever. They do interviews with awesome women, like Hope Jahren—”
“She’s a geobiologist known for her work on stable isotope analysis to analyze fossil forests!” Jessie interrupted.
“—and Jacqueline Woodson—”
“I know her books!” Oliver exclaimed. “I love her books!”
“—and Sonia Sotomayor,” Isa finished, her face flushed.
“Supreme Court justice!” Hyacinth squeaked.
“You’re going to be on the cover?” Laney asked. “What are you going to wear? Can I be in the picture too?”
Mama looked dazed. “I’m definitely not going to be on the cover. They have a section about small-business owners, and they want to feature me. I have no idea how they even know me! Someone from the magazine must have gone to an event where my desserts were served. There will be a whole magazine spread about my cookies! They’re going to send a photographer to the brownstone!”
Papa pulled Mama into a hug and started doing a little dance with her at the bottom of the stairs. “I’m so proud of you.”
Jessie took out her phone, opened the web browser, and typed madly with her thumbs. “Holy smokes, listen to these circulation numbers. Eight hundred thousand print copies and over two million unique views on their website every month!”
“You’re going to be famous!” Laney yelled, hopping around them.
“Now everyone is going to want your cookies,” Oliver said, mentally calculating how Mama’s increased business might positively affect his weekly allowance.
“You’re going to need a website and a wholesale list,” Isa said wisely.
“How do you know that?” Jessie asked.
“Benny has to do it for Castleman’s Bakery,” Isa said.
“When is the photo shoot?” Papa asked.
“The first week in April,” Mama said.
“That’s when your birthday is!” Laney yelled. “On April sixth!”
Mama’s hands flew to her cheeks as she looked around the brownstone. The Vanderbeekers followed her gaze, and suddenly they saw their home as a fancy magazine photographer might. Franz, their basset hound, was methodically removing toys from his basket and strategically placing them in areas with the most foot traffic. Hay was strewn on the floor from Paganini, Laney’s rabbit, who kicked as much of it as possible when jumping out of his box. George Washington, their orange-and-white tabby, was batting at the loose threads from the fabric of their couch, which was fraying because he used the furniture to sharpen his claws (even though there were two scratching posts in the living room).
And then there were the piles of books, the odds and ends of Jessie’s science experiments, and Isa’s sheet music tossed on various surfaces. Oliver’s basketball was wedged under an armchair, and Hyacinth’s treasure box gaped open, yarn in a dozen colors spilling out in every direction.
Jessie spoke first. “We can totally make this brownstone magazine-worthy.”
Oliver was skeptical. “We can?”
Isa stood up straighter. “Of course we can!”
Papa touched the living room walls. “I’ve been meaning to patch and paint the walls. And refinish the floors. And build some more bookcases, because obviously five huge bookcases aren’t enough for us. I can do that by April.”
Mama’s jaw began to relax.
“Mama, trust us,” Isa told her. “We’ve got this.”
The family gathered around her and did a communal Vanderbeeker fist bump.
“Fame and fortune, here we come!” Oliver yelled.