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Dr. Steven Roberts
Baking Is Messy and So Is Life
Little Janie-Janie Duright, or JJ, has always wondered about the strange muffin-shaped building attached to her family’s farmhouse. One day, she finds the keys in her mother’s desk to the little arched door to the mysterious structure. Once inside, she discovers curious treasures from her family’s history. When her mother CC, short for Connie-Connie, catches her snooping, they sit down, and CC reveals the amazing story of the “muffin house.” Soon JJ and CC embark on their own baking adventure with their partner, a magical oven named BO (big oven). During their adventure, JJ learns about greed and selfishness and the tragedy it caused, one that devastated her family and Bakerstown. But their adventure also brings healing, forgiveness, revives the town’s generosity, and reminds everyone about loyalty and true friendship. Most of all, JJ learns “Baking is messy and so is life. That’s why we wear aprons!”
For generations, the Duright family’s mothers have baked alongside their daughters, and in this inspirational middle-grade debut, Roberts presents baking as a powerful bonding experience. Whenever eight-year-old JJ (for Janie-Janie) asks her mother about the mysterious muffin-shaped building next to the Duright farmhouse in the Friendly Forest, CC (aka Connie-Connie) tells her, “It’s been locked up for years and we don’t talk about it.” But JJ has found a key, and discovers an abandoned bakery (complete with a magical talking oven), prompting CC to reveal the joys and sorrows it represents.

There’s no crying over spilled flour in this celebration of baking as a family activity that also allows mothers and daughters to connect as peers. The Muffin House was built for CC’s mother, Joy-Marie, who founded nearby Bakerstown, where specialty bakers each had their own shop. Roberts presents it not as an utopian cooperative, but an idyllic vision of rural self-sufficiency, one reliant on Joy-Marie’s generous nature. Because she idolized Joy-Marie (there’s no generational strife here), the collapse of Bakerstown made CC bitter enough to completely stop baking after her mother’s death. JJ’s enthusiastic embrace of her family history not only revives their baking tradition, but also brings much-needed healing to the community.

Baking is Messy and So is Life is structured as a parable, so the prophetic dreams that guide the Duright women are more in line with Roberts’s moral message than a sentient oven that sings and cajoles while baking everything perfectly. Still, what Roberts captures best is the bond that grows between mothers and daughters when they bake together, an environment that’s both instructive and equalizing, showing young readers how participating in shared activities helps them appreciate their parents beyond family roles. The mission of these gifted bakers isn’t profit, but providing comfort food to family, friends and anyone who needs a little love kneaded into the dough.

Takeaway: Love, baking, and a whimsical secret history bring mothers and daughters together in this charmer.

Great for fans of: Vanessa Curtis’s The Baking Life of Amelie Day, Diane Zahler’s Baker’s Magic, and Sheryl Berk and Carrie Berk’s Cupcake Series.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A