About the Author

Graham Ross

Look! Look what I've done!! The words of an eight year old as he holds up the drawing of a vibrant red fire engine. Oh Graham, that's wonderful.

Really? Oh this is good. You draw a picture and you get a reaction. I could get into this! And so it began. The seed was planted, further watered by bedtime rituals of propping pillows up against his bedroom wall getting into bed to get lost in a family member's reading of The Wind in the Willows.

An unintended lesson learned through those readings that our intrepid illustrator still calls upon in his illustration work is that the viewer will take different things from the illustration and he will add elements to the illustration that may go over some heads, but others will catch them and smile. There's always something to look at.

A graduate of the illustration program at Sheridan College in Ontario, Graham thought he would stick around the big smoke and in addition to his work as a designer at Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart, he would also cultivate his Flock of Seagulls hair style and work on his dance floor moves. But alas soon follicles started to recede and shoulder pads deflated, so Graham moved back to his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario to contemplate his next career move.

It was in Ottawa that Graham began his freelance illustration and graphic design career. A career that has spawned illustrations for such publishers as Orca Book Publishers, Scholastic Canada, and Meadowside Books of the United Kingdom, as well as numerous Canadian government agencies and private design firms.

He lives in Merrickville, Ontario with a circus star family: his juggling wife, a helldriver daughter, a canine cannonball, and a fire breathing cat.

Books by this Author
Alphabetter

Alphabetter

by Dan Bar-el
illustrated by Graham Ross
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Hardcover
More Info
Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur 4 Books in 1!

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur 4 Books in 1!

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur; Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Stink Spectacular; Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Cat-Dog Translator; Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Best Test
by Luke Sharpe
illustrated by Graham Ross
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Best Test
Excerpt

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Best Test
Not-So-Sure Things, Inc.
I’M BILLY SURE. I’m twelve years old and I would say that generally, I’m a pretty happy kid. I have a great family. I love my mom and dad, though I miss my mom—she’s away a lot. My dad is great—a great painter, a great gardener—and a terrible cook. And even though my fourteen-year-old sister Emily can be a real . . . well, a real fourteen-year-old sister, lately we’ve been getting along pretty well. And then there’s my dog, Philo. We’re great buds, and he’s a really cool dog.

I do all right in school, and I have friends. My best friend, Manny Reyes, also happens to be my business partner. Okay, I know that having a business partner might sound weird for a twelve-year-old, but here’s the deal (uh-oh, I’m starting to sound like Manny).

In addition to being a seventh grader at Fillmore Middle School, I’m an inventor. The company Manny and I run is called SURE THINGS, INC. We’ve had a number of successful inventions ever since we came out with our first product, the ALL BALL—a ball that changes into different sports balls with the touch of a button. It comes in two sizes. The large All Ball transforms from soccer ball to football to volleyball to basketball and even a bowling ball. And the small All Ball can change into a baseball, a tennis ball, a golf ball, a Ping-Pong ball, and a hockey puck. As soon as it came out, the All Ball was a hit!


At Sure Things, Inc., I do the inventing, and Manny handles the marketing, numbers, planning, selling, advertising, computers . . . basically, everything necessary to take my inventions and make them hits. We are a pretty terrific team. We’ve made some money, which goes back into the company as well as into our college funds, but mostly I invent things because I love inventing things. I also love working with Manny.

I even get to pick up Philo after school each day and bring him to work with me at Sure Things, Inc. Pretty cool. For me, every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.”

So, I repeat, I’m a pretty happy kid.

Except at this particular moment. Let me explain.

Sure Things, Inc. has just had to cancel an invention that we were certain was going to be our Next Big Thing. It was called the CAT-DOG TRANSLATOR, and it did exactly what it sounds like it would do. It took the barks and meows of pets and translated those sounds into human language. Sounds great, right? That’s what Manny and I thought. But there was a problem.

The problem was not that the Cat-Dog Translator didn’t work. Quite the opposite. The invention worked well. Too well.

Think about it. Your cat or dog sees you at your best, but also at your worst. You don’t care how you look or how you’re dressed or even what you do in front of your pet. Now imagine that your pet could share anything with the whole world, including the things you’d rather nobody ever knew. Get the picture? Well, this is exactly what happened.

This morning I, or rather, the Cat-Dog Translator, was the star of a school assembly during which I demonstrated the invention. At first things went pretty well—that is until Principal Gilamon thought it would be a good idea to bring his own dog in to try out the translator.

BIG MISTAKE! The dog blurted out to the entire school that Principal Gilamon farts in his sleep—and while this was very funny, it was also very bad. Principal Gilamon was pretty angry. Make that very angry.


Other kids’ pets revealed stuff about them that they were not too pleased about either. And so, by the end of the assembly, the big problems that came along with this invention were enough to make Manny and me decide not to move forward with it.

Which brings me to the whole “not such a happy kid at the moment” thing. Manny and I put a huge amount of time and work into developing the Cat-Dog Translator. We even got a sponsor to put up money to help with the costs of production and marketing, a big chunk of which we spent, figuring that the invention was a . . . well, a sure thing.

So we had to dip into our savings to give back the money we had spent. Our company, which got so successful so quickly, is now in danger of going out of business. And I’m not sure if I even want to invent anymore.


This afternoon Manny and I are sitting in the world headquarters of Sure Things, Inc., otherwise known as the garage at Manny’s house, trying to figure out our next move.

“What about getting some money from a bank?” Manny suggests as he scans four websites at once, checking out short-term loans, interest rates, and a whole bunch of other money-type stuff I really don’t understand. “Or, like I said earlier, we could invent something new.”

“What if we just went back to being regular kids again?” I ask. “You know, like we were before the All Ball?” I feel a small sense of relief having said this aloud, after testing it out in my head about a hundred times.

Manny stays silent, his focus glued to his computer screen.

“I mean, what about that?” I continue, knowing that if I wait for Manny to speak when he’s this locked in to something, I could be waiting all day. “No more double life trying to be both seventh graders and successful inventors and businesspeople. How bad would that be to just be students again? It doesn’t mean I can’t invent stuff for fun, like I used to do.”

I pause, giving Manny another chance to respond. No such luck.

“For me, it would just mean that I wouldn’t have to live with the pressure of always coming up with the Next Big Thing, of always having to worry about how much money my inventions are going to make.”

Still nothing from Manny.

“You know my routine,” I go on. “Get up, go to school, go home to pick up Philo, come here, invent, go home, do homework, go to bed, sleep invent. Then get up the next day and do the whole thing again. I mean, what if I didn’t have to do that anymore? Would that be terrible?”

I finish. I have to admit these thoughts have bounced around my brain more than once on stressful nights trying to invent while also trying to complete homework assignments on time.

Just as I wonder if Manny is ever going to speak again, he turns from his screen.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” he says, straight-faced.

“I—I—” I stammer in disbelief. Did I really just go through all that for nothing? Did I share my deepest doubts and worries with my best friend, when I just as easily could have told them to Philo for all the help I’d get?

Manny cracks up and punches me gently in the arm. “I heard you,” he says, smiling. “It’s just that things were getting a little too serious around here.”

“Well, what do you think?” I ask. I really depend on Manny’s advice. He’s super smart and almost always knows what to do in a tense situation while remaining perfectly cool and composed. That is reason #744 why Manny is my best friend and business partner.

“You could stop being a professional inventor if you want,” Manny begins in his usual calm voice. “But we both know that inventing is what you are best at. It seems to me that for you to be anything other than the WORLD-CLASS INVENTOR you are would be cheating yourself, and the world, of your talent.”

Hmm . . . I hadn’t really thought about it that way.

But Manny is just getting warmed up. “You’re lucky,” he continues. “You know what you love to do. You know what makes you happy. You know what you’re best at. And you’re only twelve. Some people go through their whole lives and never figure out what they are best at.”

As usual, what Manny says makes great sense to me. I guess I am pretty lucky that I already know what I’m best at. I start to think about people going through their whole lives and not knowing. It’s kinda sad. I feel bad for them. Ideas start to WHIZ around and BUZZ through my brain.

“It would be great if we could help those people,” I say.

And then—Ding! Ding! Ding!—the lightbulb goes off for both of us. Manny and I look at each other and smile. The worry and indecision about my future dissolves in an instant.


“What if we invented something that would help people, whether they’re kids or adults, know what they’re best at?” I say, feeling energized by the idea. “I can see it now . . . a helmet or something that you put on your head that tells you what your best talent is. No more wondering what you’re going to be when you grow up. With Sure Things, Inc.’s BEST TEST HELMET, you’ll know what you should do for the rest of your life, the moment you put the invention on your head!”

Manny frowns.

Uh-oh, he doesn’t like the idea.

“Well, the slogan could use some tweaking,” he says in a mock-serious tone that instantly tells me he’s kidding. “And we can just call it the BEST TEST. But . . . I LOVE IT!”

Leave it to Manny to snap me out of my funk and get me excited about a new invention. Now, of course, all I have to do is invent it!

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Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Cat-Dog Translator
Excerpt

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Cat-Dog Translator
A Boy and His Dog
MY NAME IS BILLY SURE. I’m an inventor. I’m also the CEO of my very own company: SURE THINGS, INC. You might have heard of our products. You might even have some of them.

The ALL BALL that changes into different sports balls with the touch of a button? That’s us. The SIBLING SILENCER that, well, silences siblings? Yep, us too. DISAPPEARING REAPPEARING MAKEUP and STINK SPECTACULAR? Well, you get the picture. Sure Things, Inc. has had one success after another.


The best part of being in business is my business partner. Get it? Manny Reyes is my best friend and Chief Financial Officer (CFO for short), which is a fancy way of saying that he takes care of money while I create inventions. Manny’s a genius when it comes to marketing, numbers, planning, selling, advertising, computers. . . .

I could go on. But basically, I invent our products and Manny figures out how to make them into hits. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but in a nutshell, that’s our story.

It’s a Tuesday evening. I’m home after a full day at school, followed by a full day at work. It’s not easy juggling two lives.

My typical day is: Get up (I suppose you could have guessed that part, right?); shower; go to school; come home and pick up my dog, Philo; then go with Philo to the World Headquarters of Sure Things, Inc. (also known as Manny’s garage). Then I come home, eat dinner, do my homework, maybe read a book or watch TV, and then go to sleep.

And you thought you were busy with soccer and school plays and—well, I guess you’re busy too. I don’t mean to complain—it’s just that sometimes all this gets a bit overwhelming. That’s when I have to remember how much I enjoy inventing stuff.

At this moment, I’m in the “finished school, finished work, finished dinner, finished homework” portion of my day. I’m hanging out in the living room playing with Philo.

“You want this, boy?” I ask, leaning forward in my seat, waving Philo’s favorite chew toy at him. It’s a thick rope made up of colored strands all woven together. Or at least they used to be woven together. Months of chewing and pulling have taken their toll.

Philo jumps up from his doggy bed on the other side of the room, dashes over to where I’m sitting, and grabs one end of the toy in his teeth.


I yank my end back. Philo bares his teeth and growls, a low growl that’s as much a moan or a whine as a true growl.

“Who’s a FIERCE BEAST?” I ask, moving the toy—and Philo’s head along with it—from side to side.

Philo tugs hard, pulling me from my chair. I tumble to the rug and start laughing. Letting go of my end of the toy, I rub Philo’s belly. This always makes him go a little crazy.

I roll over, and then Philo jumps on top of me. We tumble across the room, me laughing, Philo growling and barking.

“What’s going on down there?!” shouts a voice from upstairs. “Some of us have homework to do, y’know!”

That would be Emily, my sister. Last week, Emily only spoke in a British accent. Before that, she only wore black. Who knows what she’ll be into next?

“Just playing with Philo,” I call back up the stairs.

“Well, do it quietly!” she screams down.

I pick up Philo’s chew toy and hold it over my head.

“Do you want this, boy?” I say in an excited whisper, waving the colorful, floppy rope back and forth.

Philo’s head follows the moving rope, as if he were watching a Ping-Pong match.

“Ready?” I ask.

Philo backs up a few steps.

“Go get it!” I shout, tossing the rope over his head.

Philo turns and dashes after the rope. He snatches it up in his mouth, then trots contentedly back toward me, dropping it at my feet.

“Again?” I ask.

“RUUFFF!” he replies.

Sometimes I can almost understand what Philo is saying.

I pick up the rope and waggle it back and forth, then fling it past him.

This time Philo turns his head casually and watches the rope zoom by, then he turns back to look at me.

So much for understanding what Philo says.

“I thought you wanted to play, boy?” I say.

Philo stares at me like he’s never seen me before.

“Go get it!” I say again.

Philo continues staring.

Oh well. I walk to the other side of the room, pick up the toy, and come back.

“One more time.” I toss the rope back over Philo’s head. It bounces a couple of times, then disappears into the dining room.

This time Philo turns and chases after it. He speeds from the living room into the dining room. And then doesn’t come back.

“Get the toy, Philo!” I shout.

No Philo. No toy.

“Bring me the toy, Philo!” I yell again.

“Go get the stupid toy yourself!” Emily shouts from upstairs.

She totally does not get the point of this game.

But she may be right. I’m beginning to wonder where Philo went. As I step from the living room into the dining room, I find the chew toy sitting on the floor. Looking up, I see that Philo is all the way on the other side of the room.

“It’s right here, boy,” I say, pointing down at the toy.

Philo paces back and forth across the floor on the far side of the dining room. He stops, sniffs under some furniture, then turns and walks back to the other side of the room, where he repeats the sniffing, then the pacing, then the sniffing, and on and on.

As he paces and sniffs, Philo lets out a series of low moans and short yelps.

“URRRR . . . YIP-YIP!” he says.

“What is it, boy?” I ask.

“URRRR . . . YIP-YIP!” he repeats.

Now I really wish I could understand what Philo is saying. In fact, there have been many times when I’ve wished I could understand him. Things would be so much easier. I could just give him what he wants and he’d be happy. And then I wouldn’t spend so much time wondering what he’s trying to say.

And that’s when it hits me. I know what Sure Things, Inc.’s next product should be! I will make a translator for dogs!

This isn’t the first time this invention idea has come up. The first time I ever thought of it, I had just discovered the blueprints for the Sibling Silencer on my desk, but I didn’t know where they had come from. Let me explain. . . .

You see, I always have trouble figuring out how to make my inventions work . . . at least when I’m awake. When I finally give up and go to sleep, the completed blueprints MAGICALLY appear on my desk the next morning.

You may be wondering who so kindly and quietly draws the blueprints for me in the middle of the night. I wondered the same thing at first. It turns out that I do! In my sleep! Here’s how we found out.

My first invention, the All Ball, was a hit, but I didn’t know where the working blueprints came from. They had appeared on my desk one morning, and I didn’t recognize the handwriting. So when I was struggling to come up with the working blueprints for Sure Things, Inc.’s next invention, the Sibling Silencer, Manny rigged an alarm system so that whoever was sneaking into my room to leave the blueprints would get caught. Except the only one who tripped the alarm was Philo. When he did, I discovered new blueprints on my desk, which meant that Philo saw who put them there.

What I didn’t know was that Manny also set up a webcam and watched me work on the blueprints in my sleep. That’s right. Some people talk in their sleep; some people walk in their sleep; but me, I invent things in my sleep!

But before I knew that, I remember wishing at that moment for a device that could translate what Philo was saying through his barks. And that’s when the idea for the DOG TRANSLATOR first came into my head.

I have to tell Manny about this! The time has arrived for the Dog Translator!

I start to head up to my room to send Manny an e-mail, when I hear Philo scraping his paw against the floor. Turning back, I see him reach under a cabinet and drag out a doggy treat. A dust-covered, stale treat.

That thing must have been under there for weeks! Philo happily munches away.

Yuck! Dogs can be really gross sometimes.

See, if I had a Dog Translator, Philo could have just told me he wanted a treat. Of course, Philo doesn’t need a translator for that. Like most dogs, he always wants a treat!


I dash up the stairs. I have to pass Emily’s room in order to get to mine.

“What? You’re done making noise downstairs, so you decided to come here and make noise upstairs?” she asks in her usual warm, loving tone.

“The lightbulb just went off!” I say, pointing to my head, hardly able to contain my excitement.


Emily shrugs without looking up from her desk. “So ask Dad to replace it, genius.”

“No, I mean I just came up with the idea for my next invention,” I say, smiling.

“Uh-huh,” she replies, tapping away on her phone, her thumbs blazing. “I’ll alert the media.”

“Actually, that’s Manny’s job,” I point out.

Emily just shakes her head and rolls her eyes.

“Oh, you were being sarcastic, right?”

With Emily, sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I head into my room, flip open my laptop, and shoot off a quick e-mail to Manny.

Hey, Manny.

I just came up with an idea for Sure Things, Inc.’s next invention!

Billy

A few seconds later I get a reply. And this is so Manny:

Great! I’ve got the marketing strategy all planned!

I write back:

But wait, you don’t even know what the invention is!

Manny writes back:

Right, right. Whatcha got?

I write back:

The Dog Translator!

I hold my breath waiting for a reply. A few seconds later it comes:

LOVE IT! We’ll talk tomorrow.

That’s my partner!

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Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Haywire Hovercraft
Excerpt

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Haywire Hovercraft
Home Again
I’M BILLY SURE—PIZZA lover, dog owner, and kid inventor. I do a lot of different things, including talking to my mom over video chat. Why do I talk to her over video chat? Because my mom has a super-confidential, TOP-SECRET secret—she’s a spy, and she’s always off doing spy things!

Yup, that’s right, my mom is a spy, complete with coded messages, hidden documents, secret missions . . . you know, all the cool spy stuff.

So sometimes, when she’s away on secret missions, the only way I can talk to her is over video chat. Like now.

“I miss you, Billy,” Mom says from my laptop screen. “I can’t believe it’s been two weeks!”

“Me too,” I say. “Wow. Two weeks already!”

Okay, so backstory. I didn’t always know my mom is a spy. In fact, I only just found out a few weeks ago. Mom used to claim she was a scientist doing research for the government. I thought this was true until my thirteenth birthday, when she surprised me by sharing her real profession. And then she surprised me even more by taking me to her agency’s Spy Academy, where I took spy classes and built inventions to save secret agents on dangerous missions.

This is all 100 percent real. Mom was so impressed with all the inventions my company, SURE THINGS, INC., has produced—inventions like the ALL BALL, which turns into any sports ball; the SIBLING SILENCER, which, uh, silences your siblings; and the STINK SPECTACULAR, which smells super gross but tastes super great. We’re also the company that created GROSS-TO-GOOD POWDER, which makes gross food taste delicious. (If you eat in my school cafeteria, you’re welcome!) Our latest invention is the NO-TROUBLE BUBBLE, an impenetrable bubble where nothing can get to you. (Not even those silenced siblings!)

But it’s been a while since Sure Things, Inc. has come out with a new product, what with my being away inventing at Spy Academy. That was a lot of fun, but I realized that I’m not cut out to be a full-fledged secret agent. I also missed my best friend and Sure Things, Inc.’s CFO, Manny Reyes. So I decided to come home, even if it meant going back to boring “normal” school and dealing with Emily, my boring “normal” older sister.

Like Mom said, it’s been two weeks since I got home from Spy Academy, and this video chat is the first time I get to catch up with her. Seeing her face is really nice. I can almost forget that she isn’t safe and sound at home, rather than possibly battling DANGEROUS NUNCHUK-WIELDING NINJAS in—well, who knows where the lair of dangerous nunchuk-wielding Ninjas is!


“It feels like I was just at Spy Academy,” I tell Mom, “although I’ve been pretty busy. That’s because I told everyone I was on vacation in Barbados, and I had to do a whole report on my trip to Barbados in social studies class. Thankfully, Manny helped me with that research.”

Mom laughs.

“Sorry about the extra assignment. Has the rest of school been all right?” she asks.

“It’s been okay. When I was away, the Fillmore Middle School Inventors Club elected a temporary president. Do you remember Clayton Harris?”

“Of course!” Mom says. “He was, um—”

“Not super cool, yeah,” I say. “The one whose favorite activity is going to the dentist. Well, he was elected club president, and I decided to let him keep that position. I still want to help the club, but I don’t have time to run the day-to-day details anymore. Besides, Clayton has done really well as the president. He’s found his place. He’s made new friends, he’s a good leader of the club, and he’s even become kind of popular—or at least less unpopular.”

Mom smiles widely. “That is WONDERFUL!” she says. “Who knows, maybe Clayton will be president of the country someday, all thanks to your club!”

I try to imagine Clayton running for president or nestled into Mount Rushmore or kissing babies, but all I can picture is the same kid who blew chocolate milk out of his nose at my birthday party.


“And how are things at Sure Things, Inc.? Is Emily still helping out?” Mom asks.

“Sure Things, Inc. is okay,” I say. “Manny and I are working on something really big—a hovercraft. And now we’re feeling the pressure to get this invention out as our Next Big Thing.” Just to fill you in, our hovercraft is going to be the coolest invention ever. It’ll really fly and it’ll change the face of transportation as we know it. There’s just one little problem. We haven’t quite figured out how to make it fly. Manny is waiting on some “QUALITY WINGED MATERIALS” to arrive from overseas. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but Manny says they’re the latest in hover technology.

“As for Emily, she and Manny got along okay while I was away, but she’s been in a pretty grumpy mood ever since I got home.”

“What now?” asks Mom. “I talked to her on her birthday a few days ago and she seemed perfectly happy.”

Right—Emily’s fifteenth birthday. She might have been all smiles on her video chat with Mom, but the day was anything but fun for me and Dad.

It started like this: Emily woke up and started whining for Dad to take her to get her learner permit. Honestly, I didn’t see why the permit was such a big deal. All it does is allow her to take a driver’s test next year when she’s sixteen—or to drive with an instructor now. It’s not like she can pick up her friends and drive to the mall by herself.

But anyway, Emily kept on complaining.

Dad tried to remind her that it was a weekend, so the drivers office was closed.

“It’s not fair,” she sniffed. “Mom took Billy on a trip for his birthday! No one’s offered me a trip. I want to go somewhere. And I can’t even get my stupid learner permit.”

“Actually, I was working the whole time I was at Spy Academy,” I tried to remind her, but Emily ignored me. Emily usually ignores things I say when they don’t support her argument. So she complained ALL DAY until the next morning when Dad took her to the drivers office first thing. Then Emily started pestering Dad about when he would take her out to learn to drive.


I tell Mom all of this and watch her expression change to a frown.

“I wish I could be there to teach her how to drive,” she says. “I always feel so guilty that work keeps me away from you kids.”

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “Dad will totally teach Emily how to drive, but he’s just a little busy right now. His artwork was accepted to an art gallery.”

My dad is an artist, and a pretty good one—if you consider close-ups of my dog Philo’s toenails “pretty good.” He has a studio in the backyard—a converted garden shed, actually, but he likes it. He can spend days at a time out there painting and be perfectly happy. I’ll never understand why a gallery is interested in his WACKY PORTRAITS, but I’m proud of him anyway.

I think Mom is thinking the same thing I am because she starts to laugh, which makes me laugh. In a few seconds we’re both roaring to the point of tears, imagining Dad at an art gallery showing fancy art-lovers some portraits of Philo’s butt!


“So what’s going on over at Spy Academy?” I ask when I stop laughing long enough to catch my breath. “How’s Agent Paul?”

Agent Paul is my mom’s partner on her spy missions. And oh yeah, he just happens to be an octopus.

“He’s doing SWIMMINGLY,” Mom replies, chuckling at her own silly joke, one I’m sure she’s made a hundred times before.

“But seriously,” she continues, “I’ve been keeping a very close eye on Drew. So far, at least, he seems to be behaving. He even helped us catch another online scam artist.”

I frown at the mention of Drew. At Spy Academy I became very close friends with him, but then Manny found out my new friend was actually the nephew of Sure Things, Inc.’s arch nemesis, Alistair Swiped, CEO of Swiped Stuff, Inc. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except Drew was trying to sabotage my inventions the whole time! Like uncle, like nephew, I guess. I let Mom know, but she thought it was best for Drew to stay at Spy Academy. Maybe some of his EVIL GENIUS can be tamed under careful supervision.

Now that I stop to think about it, it really is amazing how much has gone on in the couple of weeks since I got back. Just talking about all of it makes me tired . . . which reminds me that I’ve got a busy day of school and inventing ahead tomorrow.

“I think I’m going to go to sleep, Mom,” I say. “Lots to do tomorrow. We’ve really got to get this hovercraft out ASAP.”

“Okay, honey, get some sleep. I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom,” I say.

My monitor goes blank.

I’m always a little sad at the end of a video chat with Mom, but somehow, knowing the truth about her makes it all a bit easier. My mom is off saving people. And that’s pretty cool.

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Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Invisible Inventor
Excerpt

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Invisible Inventor
One Big Happy Family
USUALLY DINNERTIME AT my house isn’t something to look forward to. My dad likes to make all kinds of wacky dishes. My mom travels a lot for work, so she’s often not around. And my sister, Emily . . . let’s just say she’s not the nicest person in the world, all the time.

But tonight, dinner is different. That’s because my family—and my best friend—are gathered around the kitchen table, eating the best take-out pizza in the whole wide world!

For those of you who may not have heard of me, my name is Billy Sure. I am one half of SURE THINGS, INC., an invention company that I share with my best friend—and current pizza-eating pal—Manny Reyes.


About a week ago Manny, my dad, Emily, and I returned from an unplanned adventure at the Really Great Movies studio. Manny, Emily, and I got to play zombies in a new movie, Alien Zombie Attack! It’s funny to think about it, because this all started when Emily stole my latest invention, a hovercraft, and crash-landed at the studio. We had to rescue her.

While at the movie studio, we sold the hovercraft—renamed the REALLY GREAT HOVERCRAFT—to the film’s director, so he can use it in his movies.

But Manny, being the super businessman that he is, kept all the hovercraft’s merchandising rights for Sure Things, Inc. That means profit from any products related to the hovercraft gets to stay ours. Pretty smart, huh? Because he sweats the fine print of every business deal is reason #934 why I’m glad that Manny is my best friend and business partner.

Although this happened a week ago, it still feels like just yesterday. On the actual “just yesterday,” my mom came back from her latest work trip. I say “work trip,” but it’s much cooler than that—my mom is a spy. She’s away on different missions a lot.

For her current mission Mom is able to work remotely from home. I really miss her when she’s not around, so it’s great having her here, for lots of reasons. One of those reasons is that, unlike my dad, Mom loves to order in food—like this super-awesome TWELVE-CHEESE PIZZA!

“I didn’t even know there were twelve different kinds of cheeses,” Mom says, biting into her slice.

Dad munches happily, pausing every so often to smile and say “yum!” These days, Dad seems to have a permanent smile on his face. And for good reason.


“I can’t believe my art show is just a few days away,” Dad says through a mouthful of cheese. “But I wonder if I need another painting of Philo’s paw for the show. . . .”

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. Dad may be a terrible cook, but he’s a terrific artist. I think. I guess I don’t know much about art. His latest series of paintings is going to be displayed at a gallery. They are mostly paintings of my dog Philo’s tongue, Philo’s paws, and oddly enough, Philo’s butt.

Dad also has a few paintings of some of the food he’s made, like tomato pancakes and cherry and kiwi lasagna. The paintings may just be tastier than the food itself—though I’ve never taken a bite out of one.

I’ve finished my first slice of pizza when I hear Manny’s voice.

“Ready for another one?” he asks from across the table.

“Thanks, partner, but I can get it myself,” I reply. “You don’t have to get up.”

“Who said anything about getting up?”

Manny pulls out his smartphone and taps the screen. From across the room, a slice of pizza comes flying through the air, right at me!


“Manny!??” I cry. “Did you invent FLYING PIZZA?!”

Before Manny can answer, I snatch the slice out of the air. There, hanging in the air, is a small, perfectly accurate model of the Really Great Hovercraft! The pizza had been resting on the model.

“I didn’t invent flying pizza, but I did come up with a remote controlled model of the hovercraft,” Manny explains. “I control it right from my smartphone.”

Manny swipes his phone, and the tiny hovercraft turns around and speeds back to the pizza boxes on the counter.

“Awesome,” I say. “I think this toy is going to be a huge hit!”

“I’d like some flying pizza too,” says Mom.

“Sure,” Manny says.

With Manny tapping and swiping his phone, the tiny hovercraft slides under another slice, turns around, speeds back through the air, and deposits a slice of pizza onto Mom’s plate.

Bam! That’s when the front door bursts open. You might have noticed that my sister Emily has been absent from dinner so far. (Okay, I kind of forgot too.) That’s because she was walking Philo, who scurries in, pulling hard on his leash.

“Easy, Philo!” Emily says. “Slow down!”

Are you surprised that Emily is the one walking Philo, and not me? Well, you should be. Before we returned from our trip to the Really Great Movies studio, I could count on two hands the number of times that Emily had volunteered to walk Philo.

Uh, now that I think about it . . . make that one hand.

But as punishment for stealing my hovercraft, Dad grounded Emily FOR LIFE. He was probably exaggerating about the lifelong sentence part, though, because he made a deal with her. If Emily is as nice and helpful as she possibly can be, and does one nice big thing for each member of our family, she will be ungrounded.

Well, since making that deal, it’s like Emily is a whole new person. She takes out the garbage, cleans the dinner dishes, and volunteers to walk Philo every evening! I’ve been calling her SUPER NICE EMILY. I know she hates the nickname, but she has to be nice and can’t say anything about it.

I could get used to this!

“I wish Philo wouldn’t pull on his leash when I take him for a walk,” Emily says.

Before I have a chance to explain that all she has to do is say “heel” and he’ll walk nicely beside you, Philo spots the flying hovercraft toy zooming through the air.

Philo starts barking wildly at the hovercraft and takes off after it, dragging Emily through the kitchen and back into the living room. I have to admit, it’s really funny. Emily jumps over a chair, then stumbles to avoid crashing into a table.

The hovercraft turns back toward the kitchen. Philo suddenly changes direction to keep up with it, causing Emily to knock a lamp from a table.


She spins back and catches the lamp just before it hits the floor.

This is really entertaining to watch. I consider letting it go on a little longer, but, well, that would just be mean.

“Let go of the leash, Emily!” I shout, cracking up.

She lets go. Philo continues to chase the hovercraft until Manny guides it back into his hands.

Emily joins us, trying to catch her breath. Her curly hair has flopped into her face. Her shirt has come untucked. She’s a mess, which normally would make her very upset and require extensive repair time in front of a mirror. But Super Nice Emily doesn’t complain.

“Well, I walked Philo again,” she says, forcing a smile.

“We know, dear,” says Mom. “Why don’t you have some pizza?”

“I will,” says Emily. “But first everyone has to come outside and see the great job I did WASHING THE CAR! And since everyone rides in the car, it’s something nice I did for the whole family.”

“You washed the car?” I ask in disbelief. Even for Super Nice Emily, this is above and beyond. “Now, this I have to see!”

We all get up and hurry outside.

“Well, what do you think?” asks Emily.

I look over at the car and see that it is covered in SOAP. Bubbly white streaks drip down the doors and windows.

“Maybe Dad can paint a picture of this for his art show,” I say. Usually, I go out of my way not to give Emily a hard time. The grief I always get from her in return is just not worth the fun. But with her having to be nice and helpful to everybody, I figure I’ve got a free pass. “Dad can call the painting HALF-WASHED CAR.”

“I appreciate the effort, Emily,” says Mom, raising her eyebrows slightly at me. “But you have to rinse the soap off.”

A few minutes later everyone except Emily is back inside, and Manny is really getting into delivering pizza slices using the hovercraft toy.

“I’ll take another one, Manny,” says Dad. “I’m curious how they can stuff the cheese inside the cheese.”

Manny taps and swipes his phone, tilting it a bit left, then right. The hovercraft toy scoops up a slice of pizza, circles the living room, then comes back into the kitchen, dropping gently down until it stops, hovering in midair right above Dad’s plate.

“Thanks, Manny,” says Dad, taking the slice. He stares at the cheese-stuffed cheese. “Hmm . . . so that’s how they do it.”

Emily comes back inside. “Well, the car is clean,” she says. “All the soap is off.”

And I can see where it went. Emily’s clothes are now streaked with white bubbly soapsuds! She looks wet from head to toe. I almost feel bad for her. It’s probably not nice to be enjoying this as much as I am, but I am!

“You should change into some warm clothes,” says Mom. “Then come have a slice of pizza.”

When Emily finally sits down, Manny delivers her a slice with the mini hovercraft.

“Thank you, Manny,” she says, digging into her pizza. “And congratulations on your new toy. Another Sure Things, Inc. success!”

After every slice has been devoured Emily is the first one to jump up from the table. “Here,” she says. “Let me get those for everyone.”

She goes around the table, picking up all the plates and cups. Then she washes, dries, and carefully puts away each one.


“There, everything’s clean,” she says as a glob of soapsuds (this time, from the kitchen) drops from her shirt onto her shoes.

Ding dong!

The doorbell. Hmm, we’re not expecting anyone. Out of habit, I start toward the door.

“Oh, no, Billy,” Emily says sweetly. “Let me answer the door.”

I better enjoy this while I can, because I have a feeling that once Emily gets out of her grounded-for-life sentence, she’s gonna make me pay for all her niceness. Big time!

Emily opens the front door.

“Hi, is Billy home?” asks a woman at the door. “I’d love to conduct an interview with him this evening.”

I immediately feel a knot forming in my stomach. I know that voice. It’s KATHY JENKINS. She’s a reporter for Right Next Door, our local hometown news website. She’s also Samantha’s mother. Samantha is a member of my inventor’s club, but she also helped me come up with the hovercraft design and used to follow me around the halls at school.

Kathy has written articles before about Sure Things, Inc. She always focuses on me, leaving out Manny’s role in the company. And she can be nasty. She even wrote one time that Philo smells like a skunk.

What could she possibly want now?

close this panel
Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the No-Trouble Bubble
Excerpt

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the No-Trouble Bubble
The Next “Next Big Thing”
MY NAME IS Billy Sure. I’m an inventor. My company, SURE THINGS, INC., has come out with all kinds of stuff, ranging from the ALL BALL—our first product which is a ball that can transform into different kinds of sports balls—to our latest product, GROSS-TO-GOOD POWDER. It makes anything—and I mean anything, even frog legs wrapped in stinky cheese—taste good.

Okay, full disclosure. Credit for a lot of the development for the Gross-to-Good Powder goes to my big sister, Emily. She’s fourteen. When Sure Things, Inc. began, few people could have shown less interest than Emily did, either in me or in my activities, even when those activities included starting a SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS at age twelve.

But something has started to change between Emily and me recently. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like a “we’ve become best buds, let’s hang out, you’re my favorite person in the world” kind of change. It’s more like an “I no longer wish you lived on another planet” kind of change.


Let me explain. I go to Fillmore Middle School, where I’m in seventh grade. I’m also the president of the Fillmore Inventors Club. I help students with ideas for inventions. It adds one more thing to my ridiculously busy life—school, running a business, homework, spending time with my dad and my dog, Philo—you get the idea. But with this club, I really have helped kids develop their ideas, and even more importantly, have helped to give them a place where they feel they belong.

But I’m getting off topic, which is something I do a lot!

Not long ago, the inventors club had been trying—unsuccessfully—to come up with a way to make spinach taste good. Then Emily showed up unexpectedly at a club meeting with a powder she had created that actually worked. Sprinkle a little of Emily’s powder on your spinach, and spinach is no longer to be feared! But then we had the idea to expand the powder’s powers. Together, Emily, Manny, and I tweaked her invention to make it work so that everything you sprinkle it on tastes good.


But who’s Manny, you might ask?

Manny’s my business partner in Sure Things, Inc. And I do mean business partner. Manny handles the marketing, packaging, advertising, getting people to invest in our products, and on and on. If it has to do with numbers or selling, Manny is all over it.


He’s also my best friend, which he was long before Sure Things, Inc. came about.

Anyway, since Emily’s help with the now WILDLY SUCCESSFUL Gross-to-Good Powder, she’s shown much more interest in the company, and we’re getting along better than we ever have.

Today, Emily has joined Manny and me in the Sure Things, Inc. office, located in the garage at Manny’s house. She doesn’t come here often. In fact, until she came up with her powder not long ago, she had never actually bothered to step inside. I’m at my workbench, a.k.a. the Mad Scientist Division of Sure Things, Inc., cleaning up a bit following the frenzy—and mess—that always happens when I’m in the throes of inventing. And by “cleaning up,” I mean shoving piles of wires, switches, bulbs, knobs, and a rainbow-colored wig (don’t ask) off my worktable into a nearby drawer. Which leaves only about four layers of stuff on top of the table.

Manny is hunched over his keyboard, as usual, tracking up-to-the-minute sales figures on all of our products.

Emily is sitting next to me. Every time she looks at the mess on my workbench, she shakes her head and turns away.

“What’s the latest on the Gross-to-Good Powder?” Emily asks Manny.

Manny continues to tap away on the keyboard.

“Uh, Manny,” Emily continues, “when someone asks you a question, the polite thing to do is to answer it. At least that’s how it works with NORMAL HUMANS.”

Okay, so maybe Emily doesn’t want to ship me off to Saturn anymore, but I can’t say the same for my best friend. . . .

Manny whirls around in his chair to face us.

“Numbers are great. The Midwest is leading the way with a forty-seven percent rise in sales over the last three weeks,” he reports.

“I would have thought that our house was leading the way, since we put the powder on every single thing Dad cooks!” Emily jokes.

I love my dad. He’s a great artist and gardener, but he is, hands down, the world’s worst cook. Dad wasn’t always the only family chef. My mom travels a lot as a scientist doing research for the government, and about nine months ago she left for her longest trip yet. She wasn’t much better at cooking either, but Mom loved to order in pizza. Dad? Well, Dad likes pizza, but with his own additions. Asparagus, kale, codfish, chia seeds, stinky cheese instead of regular cheese . . . Dad’s cooking is really gross.


Only he doesn’t think so. Fortunately, Emily filled our salt shaker at home with the Gross-to-Good Powder, so now Dad can keep thinking he’s a great cook, we don’t have to hurt his feelings by telling him otherwise, and we can stand to eat his cooking every night.

As for my mom, I miss her a lot, although we e-mail all the time and video chat when possible.

And so, at least for the time being, Emily and I have one of Dad’s bizarre concoctions to look forward to each night at dinnertime. In fact, Dad is so proud of his cooking that his latest painting project is a series of still lifes based on the strange dishes he’s come up with. It’s a little weird. I mean, who would want to buy a painting of JELLIED TUNA?

“That’s fantastic, Manny,” I say after hearing the rundown of our sales figures.

“Absolutely,” replies Manny. Then, without missing a beat, “So, what’s next?”

That’s my partner. As soon as one invention is selling like crazy, Manny is ready to jump into what we’re going to do next.

“I have a file of ideas we’ve rejected,” I say. “Maybe we could rethink one of those.” I grab a cardboard file box out from under my desk and pull off the lid. Okay—maybe I’m not the most organized. The file has rejected inventions in it, but it’s also got doodles of my favorite baseball team, the Hyenas, and the math homework I forgot to hand in last week.


“Let’s see . . . there’s the pen that turns into a jet pack . . .” I begin, reading off the correct paper. “Nah, getting the engine that small could take years.”

“What about another product like the SIBLING SILENCER?” Emily asks. She smiles smugly. Emily loves using Sure Things, Inc.’s second product on me. Last week she silenced me when I was talking about superheroes. Just as I was about to tell her about how I’d love to be invisible, ZING! I couldn’t talk any more. Note to self: Install a “Billy Immunity” option on future models.


“Actually, I didn’t invent that,” I say. “That came out of our Next Big Thing contest where other young inventors submitted their ideas on our website. We picked the one we liked the best and helped the inventor make it a reality.”

“So, why not do that again?” asks Emily.

I turn to Manny, who seems to be half listening and half answering his e-mails, even though he’s the one who started this conversation.

“What do you think, Manny?” I ask.

Manny doesn’t react. Make that one-quarter listening, and three-quarters answering e-mails.

“I don’t think he heard you, Billy,” says Emily. “Working with someone like this every day would drive me—”

“What if we took the contest ONE STEP FURTHER?” Manny says suddenly, turning to look right at us. “What if we turned the Next Big Thing contest into a TV show?”

Emily shoots me a look that I can only interpret as: Okay, maybe working with this guy is not so bad after all.

“A TV show?” I ask.

“Yeah. Well, more like a TV show special, where young inventors present everything from rough ideas to preliminary sketches to first-pass prototypes. Then the judges—I’m thinking the three of us—vote. It won’t be about who has already made the best invention, but who has the best idea. Just like with the Sibling Silencer, the winning inventor would share in the profits, and the TV show would be marketing in itself!”

“That would be way cooler than just sending your idea to a website,” says Emily.

“But how do we even do that?” I ask. “I mean, a TV show? Where do we start?”

“I’ll get in touch with Chris Fernell,” Manny says. “He should be able to point us in the right direction.”

Chris Fernell is the host of ‘BETTER THAN SLEEPING!’, the TV show where I was interviewed just after the All Ball hit big. He’s somewhat of a friend, or as much of a friend as a TV host can be with a kid, and that’s pretty cool.

“This is fantastic,” I say. “Doing a TV show again, and helping a young inventor, and coming up with Sure Things’ NEXT BIG THING! Wow!”

As usual, Manny has the answer. Reason #988 why I’m glad that he’s my best friend and my business partner.

close this panel
Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Stink Spectacular
Excerpt

Billy Sure, Kid Entrepreneur and the Stink Spectacular
Impostor Mom
I’M SITTING IN MY ROOM staring at my Laptop. My brain feels like it’s been zapped with a FREEZE RAY. I keep thinking the same thing over and over. Maybe my brain has been zapped with a repeat ray. Or a freeze and repeat ray.

How can this be?

How did this happen?

No way. NO WAY!

I read the e-mail from my mom for the twentieth time. Have I misunderstood?

No. There’s really only one possible answer here.

My mom’s e-mail clearly says that she hasn’t sent me any e-mails in weeks. And that she never switched to a new e-mail address. So for weeks I’ve been sending e-mails to someone pretending to be my mom. Not my real mom. A fake mom. An impostor mom!

And that’s not good. It feels crummy. But it’s even worse than that. I didn’t just e-mail my mom with normal life updates—stuff like how the Hyenas are playing (that’s our favorite baseball team, and they’ve been on a losing streak), or how annoying Emily has been (that’s my sister, and for the record, that would be: very annoying). None of that would really matter. It’d be okay for Impostor Mom to know about that stuff. Some of it, like the fights with Emily, even our neighbors know about. So it’s not exactly private information.

But I also wrote about my ideas for inventions. Which is bad. Really bad. Not to mention really private. Because, as you probably know by now, my inventions aren’t just things I make up and draw on a piece of paper and then forget about. They’re real products manufactured and sold by a real company, SURE THINGS, INC. (Named after me, Billy Sure, and run by me and my business partner and best friend, Manny.)

When I say “as you probably know by now,” I’m not trying to brag or anything. It’s just that our first two products, the ALL BALL (“The Only Ball You’ll Ever Need!”) and the SIBLING SILENCER (“Like A Mute Button For Your Brothers and Sisters!”) are selling like crazy. And there have been lots of stories about Sure Things, Inc. on TV and the Internet. You probably even own an All Ball or a Sibling Silencer. (If your sibling owns a Sibling Silencer . . . um . . . sorry about that. Time to buy one of your own!)

So it’s not a good idea for me to share my secret ideas about how to build my inventions with someone pretending to be my mom.

The question is, who is pretending to be my mom?

I’ve got to figure this out.

It’s late at night and I’m sitting at my desk. I do some of my best thinking here . . . that is, when my brain isn’t acting like it’s been zapped by a freeze and repeat ray. My dog, Philo, is already asleep next to my bed. I can hear him breathing slowly, almost like he’s snoring, but not quite. I kind of want to wake him up and tell him about my problem, but I know that won’t do any good. It’s not like he can tell me what to do.

Who is pretending to be my mom?!

It’d be nice to talk to someone about this. But I don’t want to wake up my dad. And I certainly don’t want to wake up Emily. That could prove fatal—I take my life in my hands walking into her room in broad daylight; I can’t imagine that going into her room in the middle of the night would go over very well.

My mom’s great to talk to, but she isn’t here. She’s off in Antarctica doing research for the government. Because of the storms down in Antarctica, the Internet’s been down for weeks, so she hasn’t been able to e-mail me. But I didn’t know that. During those weeks, I was sending e-mails to IMPOSTOR MOM, blabbing about my new inventions like an idiot.


But it’s not my fault, right? I thought it was my mom! Which brings me back to . . .

WHO IS PRETENDING TO BE MY MOM?!

Should I e-mail Manny? Manny is my best friend. He is also Sure Things, Inc.’s CFO (Chief Financial Officer), which means he keeps track of sales and the money. He’s probably still up, checking the latest sales figures for the All Ball and the Sibling Silencer. But I’d hate to spoil his good mood. Right now he’s really happy with the success of Sure Things, Inc.

And besides, I might get in serious trouble. Revealing secrets must have broken some company rule. Or maybe even the law! By sharing my ideas about new inventions, have I betrayed Sure Things, Inc., dooming our company to failure? Is Impostor Mom going to steal all my ideas and then take away our customers? What if Manny gets so mad at me that he refuses to forgive me? Only twelve years old, and already my life could be ruined.


This is serious.

I decide to lie in bed. I love my bed—it’s warm and soft. I guess everyone loves their bed, right? I mean, you spend a lot of time there. It would be terrible to be stuck with a bed you hate. I wonder if you’d just start liking it after a while? Maybe it would become comfortable to you and you would forget that you ever hated it. And then if someone sits on your bed and says, “I hate this bed, it’s so uncomfortable!” you’d get really mad and defend your bed because it’s yours and you love it. I bet that’s what happens.

I stare at the blueprints on my wall, lit up by the light from a streetlight outside my window. My dad framed the blueprints for the All Ball and the Sibling Silencer. Both sets of blueprints were plans I drew up while I was sleep-inventing. I know it sounds weird, but sometimes, when I’ve been working on a new invention and I’ve gotten stuck, I get up in the night and finish the invention while I’m still asleep. For someone who loves his bed as much as I do, I still like to sleepwalk apparently. But it’s not something I can turn off. I just do it. Plus, it’s kind of a good thing because my sleepwalking has turned into sleep-inventing, and let’s face it: Where would Sure Things, Inc. be without my inventions?


Speaking of Sure Things, Inc. . . . if it turns out that our company is ruined by my e-mails to Impostor Mom, will looking at those blueprints make me feel sad? If so, I’ll definitely take them down and put up some posters. Maybe of Carl Bourette. He’s the Hyenas shortstop, and my favorite baseball player.

Sleep is definitely out of the question. I get up and reread the e-mails I sent to Impostor Mom. I make myself read them with a “CRITICAL EYE.” (My English teacher, Mrs. Boniface, taught us that term. At first I thought it meant that you could criticize everything you read, which was kind of fun, but what if you like the stuff you’re reading? Manny doesn’t have Mrs. Boniface, but he told me he thinks it means you’re supposed to think really hard about stuff when you read it.) So after rereading my e-mails with a critical eye, I decide that maybe they’re really not that bad. I didn’t write anything all that specific about any new inventions. No details about how stuff works. I wrote more about baseball and school than I did about my inventions or Sure Things, Inc.


Philo twitches in his sleep, making funny sounds, like muffled barks. He must be dreaming. Maybe he’s inventing something, like a gadget to let dogs open refrigerators. (There’s an invention Sure Things, Inc. will not be making.) I get up out of my desk chair, walk over to his bed, kneel down, and pet him. Petting Philo always relaxes me.

I’m still not sure what to do about Impostor Mom, but I also do some of my best thinking when I’m asleep, so I should go back to bed. If I focus on how much I love my bed instead of worrying about Impostor Mom, eventually I will fall asleep. Right?

Maybe in the morning I’ll know what to do.

• • •

I’m tied up in a chair. I struggle to escape, but the knots are way too tight. I look around for some kind of tool to cut the ropes, but I’m in a small empty room. There’s nothing in here but me, the chair, and the ropes. I try to yell “HELP!” but somehow I can’t make any sounds.

A tall man dressed all in gray enters. Gray hat. Gray suit. Gray shoes. Gray gloves. And a gray mask hiding his face. He stands still, with his hands hanging at his sides.

“Ready to talk?” he murmurs in a low, threatening voice.

“Talk about what?” I ask.

The man chuckles. “You may call me . . . Impostor Mom.”

He walks over to the corner of the room. There’s a table I didn’t notice before. He picks up a small jar filled with liquid and a brush.

“Unless you talk,” he says calmly, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to use more drastic measures.”

I swallow hard. “Like what?”

“Like putting this ITCHING POWDER . . . ON YOUR NOSE!”

He dips the brush in the jar and moves toward me. I’m frozen. He begins to paint the itching powder onto my nose. . . .


• • •

LICK. LICK. LICK. . . .

I wake up from the nightmare and realize someone is licking my nose. Philo, of course. You might think that an inventor would invent a really cool alarm to wake himself up in the morning, but I don’t need to. I’ve got a furry alarm that licks me awake every morning. Right on my nose.

“Okay, Philo, okay,” I mumble. “Good morning. I’ll get up.”

I get up, and right away I remember what I was thinking about last night. What should I do about Impostor Mom?


I’ve got to talk to Manny. Even if it ruins his good mood. And even if what I’ve done could destroy our business forever. I’ve still got to tell him. We’ll figure this out together. That’s what best friends—and business partners—are for.

I get up and go to the bathroom. I’m ready to head downstairs to pour myself a bowl of cereal. Philo trots down the stairs ahead of me. It’s Saturday, so I don’t have to rush to school. But now that I’ve decided to tell Manny about Impostor Mom, I can’t wait to get it over with. My stomach is growling, though, so I need to eat first.

But then I smell something that makes me lose my appetite. Something . . . AWFUL. I freeze on the second step.

Emily comes out of her bedroom. “Eww. What is that foul and horrid smell? Is it you, genius?”


Emily often calls me genius. But when she says it, it’s not a compliment.

And she says it all with a British accent. But she’s not British. Despite that little fact, she’s been speaking with a British accent for the past few days. I have no idea why. But I have learned from experience with Emily that sometimes it’s best not to ask why.

“It’s not me,” I say, heading downstairs again. “Maybe it’s your accent. That stinks pretty bad.”

“Wait!” she says. “Stop!”

I stop. I have no idea why she’s telling me to stop. Is there a rattlesnake on the stairs? Nah, I think Philo would have noticed.

“I know what the horrid odor is,” she says dramatically, as though she’s announcing who the murderer is at the end of a mystery.

“What?”

“Dad’s cooking breakfast!”

If she’s right, this is a terrible development. My dad thinks he’s a gourmet chef, but everything he makes is awful. Actually, awful is too kind a word to describe my dad’s cooking. Maybe “disgusting beyond belief”? Philo won’t even eat food my dad has cooked. And let me tell you, Philo lives for people-food. Just not people-food that’s been cooked by my dad.

Luckily, my dad never makes breakfast because he’s usually out painting in his studio in the backyard. He says he loves the early morning light.

Philo, Emily, and I cautiously make our way into the kitchen. Sure enough, Dad’s at the stove, humming to himself as he turns something in a frying pan. Something HISSES and foul-smelling smoke wafts up from the pan.

“Dad?” Emily asks cautiously. “You’re . . . making breakfast?” Even in a situation this upsetting, she doesn’t lose her new accent.

“Good morning, honey!” he says cheerfully. “I sure am! Hungry?”

“But, Dad,” I say, pointing to the window. “You’re missing the beautiful morning light.”

He salts whatever disgusting thing is in the pan. “I am. And I still love the light right at sunrise. But for the paintings I’m doing right now, I prefer the light of sunset. So for the next couple of weeks, I can cook you breakfast!”

“Does this mean you won’t be able to cook dinner?” Emily asks hopefully.

Dad laughs. “Of course not! Now, who wants turnip turnovers?”

He’s holding a big sizzling green blob on the spatula. I’m not a turnip expert, but I’m pretty sure they’re not usually green.

Emily and I start talking at the same time, firing off excuses one after the other. Here’s what it sounds like in my kitchen:

“Sorry but . . . Ihavetoeatcerealforaspecial homeworkassignment—I’mallergictoturnips—onaturnipfreediet—fastingforworldpeace—Ialreadyatebreakfast . . . I HAVE TO GET TO THE OFFICE!” I finish loudly just as Emily pauses to take a breath.

I run out, knowing I will have to pay later for leaving Emily alone with my dad and his turnip terrors . . . but when it comes to my dad’s cooking, it’s every kid for himself.


When I say I have to get to “the office,” I’m telling the truth, because I really do have an office. The office of Sure Things, Inc. is in the garage at Manny’s house. But it’s not like any other office you’ve ever seen. Sure, there are desks and computers and office stuff like that, but there’s much, much more.

We have: A soda machine that can make millions of flavors. A pizza machine that gives you a slice with whatever you want on it. (Now that I am outside in the fresh air, my appetite has miraculously reappeared. For breakfast, I think I’m going to have a slice with bananas and walnuts when I get to the office.) A baseball pitching machine. A foosball table. An air hockey table. Pretty much every video game console ever made. A pinball machine. And, of course, a punching bag.

And a basketball hoop. When I ride in the side door and lean my bike against the wall, Manny’s standing at the free throw line he painted on the floor. Lately he’s been trying to see how many free throws he can make in a row. He shoots an All Ball. Swish!

“Nine,” he says, going to get the ball out of the trash can it’s fallen into. “You know, I’ve been thinking about getting one of those chute things that you attach to the hoop so the ball comes right back to you. What do you think?”

“Sounds good,” I say.

He walks over to his laptop and starts clicking his mouse through web pages. “Sweet. I’ll order one right away.”

“Yeah, but first I wanted to talk about something.”

“Oh,” he says, spinning in his chair to face me. “Okay, cool. What do you want to talk about? A new invention? It’s really not too soon to start thinking about our next product.”


“No, it’s not that,” I say, picking up an All Ball and using the remote control to turn it into a tennis ball. I toss it up over the garage rafters and catch it. I’m not sure how to tell Manny about Impostor Mom. I sort of rehearsed in my head on the bike ride over, but then I started thinking about pizza and now I can’t remember what I was going to say. “Um, you know my mom?”

“Of course,” Manny says, looking at me strangely. “I’ve known your mom my entire life, Billy.”

“Right,” I say, nodding. “Well, while she’s gone, in Antarctica, I’ve been writing her e-mails, you know?”

“Sure.”

“But last night I got this e-mail from her saying the Wi-Fi’s been down in Antarctica for the last few weeks.”

“Probably on account of the storms,” Manny says, shaking his head grimly.

Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t follow the weather in Antarctica?

“Yeah. Anyway, the thing is, I thought I was writing to my mom, but it turned out to be some impostor pretending to be my mom.”

Manny’s grim look gets even grimmer.

“What, you mean, like, a hacker?” he asks.

“I guess so,” I say. “Whoever was pretending to be my mom got my e-mail address somehow and then lied and said my mom had a new e-mail address. I wrote back to that address.”

Manny sees the problem right away. He looks very worried. The words start tumbling out of his mouth really fast. “What did you write about? Did you talk about your inventions? Did they ask about your inventions?”

I nod. Manny looks a little green. In fact, his skin tone reminds me of my dad’s breakfast turnips. Now he looks like he’s going to be sick . . . like he ate one of the breakfast turnips. My best friend is going to throw up and it’s all my fault! I have to fix this!

I set the tennis ball down and hold my hands up for emphasis. “They asked a lot of questions, but I didn’t talk about inventions that much! I reread all the e-mails last night with a critical eye, and I really don’t think it’s that bad.”


Maybe it’s my impressive use of the term “critical eye,” but Manny looks calmer. His face goes from bright green to just slightly green. He gets up and starts pacing around. “CORPORATE ESPIONAGE! I suppose it had to happen sooner or later!”

“What do you mean?” I’m watching him pace, trying to figure out if he’s going to throw up or not.

“You know, businesses spying on each other! I’ve read about it in my business journals! It happens all the time! I just didn’t think it’d happen to us! At least not so soon. . . .”

He walks quickly over to the door, opens it, and looks around, checking for spies. “I should have seen this coming. I should have beefed up our security. When you’re in the invention business, there are bound to be spies and thieves!” He closes the door and starts pacing across the room again, faster and faster.

A moment later he walks over to the pizza machine. “Want a slice?” he asks me, and I suddenly feel a thousand times better. It’s not that bad if Manny wants pizza.

“Yeah, a slice with banana and walnuts,” I say, grinning.

I walk over to where Manny is standing and watch him press buttons on the pizza maker. “Thanks for not freaking out,” I tell him. “I know I messed up, and I’m sorry.”

The pizza maker dings and a perfect slice of banana walnut pizza slides out. Manny slips a paper plate under the slice and hands it to me. “This isn’t your fault, Billy,” he says, and then he presses buttons on the pizza maker to create his own slice. Pepperoni-mushroom-sausage. “Let’s eat and then we can figure this out,” Manny adds just as his slice comes out. “We both think better on full stomachs.”

close this panel
Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur Is a Spy!
Excerpt

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur is a Spy!
Surprises
I’M BILLY SURE. Up until a moment ago, I thought I was a normal kid—a normal kid with normal schoolwork and a normal dog and normal chores. I’ve never felt anything but normal—okay, except for the fact that I’m also a world-famous inventor, but even then, still normal. Or so I thought.

But I just received the FOUR BIGGEST SURPRISES OF MY LIFE, each one bigger than the last. And now I’m not sure if I ever was normal.

Let me explain.

I’m thirteen years old. Actually, I turned thirteen today. I’m also a seventh-grader at Fillmore Middle School, and I’m the world-famous inventor behind the company SURE THINGS, INC. I’m not saying that to brag or anything. I really don’t like people who brag or who talk about how great they are. But to be honest, I am proud of what I have accomplished, even though my whole world just got thrown upside down!

Together with my best friend and business partner, Manny Reyes, I run Sure Things, Inc. Our company has invented a whole bunch of popular stuff, like the ALL BALL (a ball that can change into any kind of sports ball) and the CAT-DOG TRANSLATOR. Manny and I share an office. Well, it’s really his parents’ garage, but we’ve converted it into what the rest of the universe knows as the world headquarters of Sure Things, Inc.

Anyway, a short while ago I arrived at the office after getting a panicked phone call from Manny. We had just finished judging a live TV special during which we picked Sure Things, Inc.’s next product, or as we like to call it, the Next Big Thing.

On the TV special, we selected an invention called the NO-TROUBLE BUBBLE, a personal force field that can protect you from just about anything.


Two days after the show aired, Manny called me at home. He sounded super upset! He said that we had a problem with the No-Trouble Bubble that could result in the end of Sure Things, Inc.

Now that, as you can imagine, is pretty serious stuff. So I raced over to the office, hurried through the door, and, what do you know—I walked right SMACK! into a surprise party for my thirteenth birthday!

SURPRISE NUMBER ONE.

As it turns out, Manny’s whole “we’re in trouble” thing was a just ruse to get me over to the office, where my friends and family were waiting. My family being my dad, Bryan Sure, and Emily, my soon to be fifteen-year-old sister, who is, well . . . an older sister.

Usually my mom would be in that group too, but she’s been away from home for a while. She works all over the world, and most of the time we have no idea where she is. She’s a research scientist, or so she has always told me. In the weeks leading up to my big birthday (after all, you only become a teenager once), I had practically begged her to visit, but Mom kept saying that she couldn’t make it.

Except she could make it. When Manny opened another door, I found out that Mom was:

SURPRISE NUMBER TWO!

But then, a few minutes after Mom’s unexpected appearance, she asked me to step away from the party and go outside with her so we could talk about something “in private.”

Naturally, my mind started racing. What could she want to talk about that is so important and so secret?

My mom revealed SURPRISE NUMBER THREE. She’s not really a research scientist. And nope, she hasn’t been away in Antarctica like we thought. What I found out is something even cooler. My mom is a spy!

And then, immediately after, I received the FOURTH and by far THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF ALL when Mom said to me:

“When I leave, I want you to come with me. I need your help.”

So now? Now I’m stunned. I hardly know what to say. I stare at my mom in disbelief. Am I on the TV show Prank Attack, the one where they prank celebrities? I look closely at Mom’s clothing. I peek around the backyard. No hidden camera or microphone. No one is jumping out of the bushes.

This is real!

I’ll be honest. Manny and I have thought my mom might be a spy for a while now. We’ve joked about it—especially a few months ago, after Mom sent me a “self-destructing” computer program to catch Alistair Swiped, a thief who was stealing my invention ideas. But then I remembered that Mom is just my mom. She’s the kind of mom who orders in pizza and on more than one occasion laughed so hard that she spit all over my dad’s shirt. The mom whose nickname for our dog, Philo, is O-MY-O PHILO! Could that same Mom really be a spy?

“I know it’s a lot to absorb, honey,” Mom says. She looks around, as if she is half-expecting a team of top secret ninja spies to leap from the bushes and arrest her just for having this conversation with me. “You can ask me any questions you want.”

My mind is reeling. A thousand questions pop into my head, but I ask the most straightforward one first.

“Who do you work for? The CIA? The FBI? The Secret Service?”

“I can’t say,” Mom says.

“You can tell me,” I press.

“No, I really can’t say,” Mom replies. “I’m not trying to dodge your question, Billy, but if I tried to say the agency’s name, my tongue would fall out.” Then she looks kinda sad. “Poor Agent Lugman found out the hard way.”


Is she for real?

“I’m thirteen,” I say, coming to a realization. “That means you’ve been keeping this secret for thirteen years! Why tell me the truth now?”

“I am truly sorry, honey,” she says, taking my hand. “It was just safer for the whole family if you and Emily didn’t know. As to why now, well . . . I need your help. Specifically, your genius for inventing.”

Mom sure knows my soft spot. Mention inventing and I’m all ears.

She continues. “Sometimes, we spies find ourselves in situations where our spy gear can be easily taken. Physical objects—even hidden ones like microphones in lipstick containers, transmitters in soda cans, lasers inside pens—can be found and confiscated by enemy agents.

“I wouldn’t come to you, Billy, if we had another choice. But our agency’s best inventors can’t crack this code, and I think you can. We need an invention that is undetectable to enemy agents. We would like you to invent SPY DYE—a hair dye that combines all the functions of a spy’s usual secret gear. Spy Dye should allow the agent to read minds, keep tech concealed, act as a personal force field, and do anything else you can cram into liquid form that can be worked into someone’s hair.”

Spy Dye—I smile to myself. Manny would definitely approve of that name. But thinking of Manny makes me think of other people too. How many people know Mom is a spy?

“Does Dad know about your real job?” I ask. My dad is notoriously bad at keeping secrets.

“Of course,” Mom replies. “In fact, he helps me.”

WHAT?! I’m not ready for SURPRISE NUMBER FIVE. My dad is a great guy. He’s a painter, a gardener, and a cook (kind of). But a spy? That, most definitely, does not compute.

“You know some of those wacky meals he creates?” Mom continues.

“All too well,” I reply. That’s why I said Dad is kind of a cook, because he loves to do it but he’s terrible at it! Fortunately, Sure Things, Inc. invented the GROSS-TO-GOOD POWDER not too long ago. Sprinkle a little bit on your meal and it makes anything, even Dad’s cooking, taste great.

“It just so happens that some of those meals are actually coded messages from me,” Mom says. “There are times when I can’t afford to have someone discover my location or know where I’m headed from an e-mail. So your dad and I developed a code. Whenever I send him an e-mail suggesting that he make waffles, he knows that my case is solved!”


“That’s pretty cool,” I say. “Thanks for making your code waffles and not canned tuna fish.”

Mom laughs.

“And depending on the type of ingredients I suggest, he knows when I’ll be arriving at my next destination.”

“So those pickle and pineapple waffles Dad made last week were actually a coded message?” I ask.

“Yes. That particular combination meant that my latest case was solved and I’d be coming home soon. That’s how he knew that I’d be here for your party.”

“What’s the significance of waffles?” I ask, wondering if I would be good at breaking codes.

Mom shrugs. “Your dad likes waffles.”

She takes a deep breath and looks at me. Really looks at me—the way she did when she dropped me off at school for the first time, and when she watches me slurp my cereal for breakfast, and when I sort the purple jelly beans from the pack.

“Billy, you’ve proven time and again that you can make even the wildest inventions happen. I’m afraid you are our last hope. Will you come with me to the agency’s Spy Academy?”

As someone who has to deal with school, homework, running a business, being president of a club (the Fillmore Middle School Inventors Club), taking care of Philo, and dealing with an older sister (practically a full-time job by itself), I am used to juggling lots of things in my head. But the sheer enormity of all I have just learned, especially Mom’s request, is kind of overwhelming.

But through the shock, surprise, worry, and confusion, one thought bubbles up to the front of my brain.

THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER!

I mean, I’m being hired by the government to create an invention . . . and one I don’t even have to dream up from absolute scratch. This Spy Dye idea is really intriguing, like a mash-up of lots of my previous work, but in liquid form. Plus, I’ll get to spend time with my mom, something I hardly ever get to do.

So the answer, I think, is obvious.

“Like my name . . . SURE. I’ll totally go with you to Spy Academy!” I say, thrilled beyond belief.

Mom gives me a big hug. “Thank you, Billy,” she says.

“I can’t wait to tell Manny and Emily and—”

Mom cuts me off right there.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” she says. “This is top secret. You can’t tell anyone! Not Manny, not Emily, not even Philo—not when you have a spare Cat-Dog Translator in your room!”

close this panel
Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur Is NOT A SINGER!
Excerpt

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur Is NOT A SINGER!
Def?initely Sure
MY NAME IS BILLY SURE. Right now I’m sitting at my workbench at the World Headquarters of SURE THINGS, INC. Across the room—which used to be the Reyes family garage—sits my best friend and business partner, Manny Reyes. Manny and I make up Sure Things, Inc., the world’s only inventing company run by seventh graders—or so we thought.

We recently discovered that a company named Definite Devices also exists, and it is also run by two seventh graders—Nat Definite and Jada Parikh. And not only do they exist, but they were working on an invisibility invention at the same time as us at Sure Things, Inc.!

As you can imagine, that was kind of a problem. But Manny, being the genius chief financial officer (CFO) he is, worked out a deal. We all agreed to jointly release an invisibility kit produced by both Sure Things, Inc. and Definite Devices—the DEFINITELY SURE INVISIBILITY (AND ANTI-INVISIBILITY) SPRAYS.

Before our two companies agreed to work together on that one invention, Nat did her best to try to steal Manny away from me—and from Sure Things, Inc! She wanted him to work with her over at Definite Devices, because . . . well, the obvious answer is that Manny is a brilliant CFO, businessperson, marketing genius, computer whiz . . . but it’s MORE THAN THAT.

Nat has a crush on Manny!

“That is the most beautiful spreadsheet I’ve ever seen, Manny,” Nat says, her face glowing. (Oh yeah. Because we’re technically partners and all, she’s sitting at the World Headquarters now too.)

Jada, who Manny agreed to train as the CFO for Definite Devices, scrunches up her face.

“How can a spreadsheet be beautiful, Nat?” she asks. “It’s just a series of numbers and projections and—”

“Anything Manny does is beautiful,” says Nat.

See what I mean?

“So, Jada,” Manny begins, doing his best to ignore Nat, “as you can see, we’ve placed the sprays in a few high-end specialty stores.”

“To generate early buzz on social media,” Jada adds.

“Exactly,” Manny replies. “So by the time we release it to the major chains—”

“—people will be waiting in line to buy it,” Jada finishes.

Jada’s really smart. Like . . . Manny-smart.

Just then a noise comes from Manny’s phone.

Ping!

“Looks like we have another incident of someone using the Definitely Sure Invisibility Spray to cut a line,” Manny says, frowning. “Last week someone used it at a movie theater. Now in a theme park.”

“That’s not good,” I say. Then I get an idea. “Maybe the next batch of sprays can make kids who try to cut lines grow REALLY BIG ELEPHANT TRUNKS! Temporarily, of course.”

“Great idea, partner,” Manny says. “That could make using the rides really hard!”

I might be imagining it, but I think he emphasizes the word “partner” so that Nat and Jada notice.


“All right, that’s enough work for today,” Manny adds with a smile.

I think what Manny really means is, You should go home now, Nat.

Nat frowns. But she can’t complain, because she has been here for hours. She and Jada pack up and leave.

I’m just about to do my best Nat imitation a few minutes later, (“Manny, you are so, so funny!”) when Briiiiing! Briiiing! My phone rings. I don’t recognize the number.

I pick up the phone, hoping it has nothing to do with Definite Devices. Don’t get me wrong—I’m happy there are other kids out there who are working on their dreams. I’ve just kind of had enough of them for today.


“Hi, Billy?” comes a voice through the phone.

Hmm. It doesn’t sound like Nat or Jada!

“Is this a good time to talk?” she asks, pronouncing every syllable clearly in a British accent. “It’s Gemma Weston.”

Gemma . . . Weston?!

She’s only the most famous movie star in the whole world!

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By A Thread

By A Thread

by Ned Dickens
illustrated by Graham Ross
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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By a Thread

By a Thread

by Ned Dickens
illustrated by Graham Ross
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

“I sympathize, Bard,” murmured Curtis politely.

“But, frankly, I think that you've landed quite lightly,

While I am, I think, at the end of my thread.

If I am and I fall, I'm afraid I'll be—."

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Cheetah

Cheetah

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illustrated by Graham Ross
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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illustrated by Graham Ross
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The Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur Collection

The Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur Collection

Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur; Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Stink Spectacular; Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Cat-Dog Translator; Billy Sure Kid Entrepreneur and the Best Test
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edition:Paperback
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illustrated by Graham Ross
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illustrated by Graham Ross
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What a Hippopota-Mess

by Pat Skene
illustrated by Graham Ross
edition:eBook
tagged : humorous
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by Pat Skene
illustrated by Graham Ross
edition:eBook
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