Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: A Baker's Year and Becoming Brilliant

Tara Jensen is a baking star on Instagram, where she shows her day-to-day life as the owner of Smoke Signals Bakery in Vermont. A Baker's Year is her first book and it is a hybrid of sorts; we get some basics about baking, some recipes from bread to pies, personal insights, and a look at what life is like at the peak of summer and on the coldest winter days at one of the most beloved bakeries in the Northeast.

I had trouble sticking with A Baker's Year for several reasons. The first has nothing to do with the book itself, but it's difficult to follow a story when portions seem to be missing from an advanced copy or pictures are on random pages without any context. But more than that, I didn't feel like this hybrid approach worked well. The book is very short, so we miss context for a lot of things. Jensen talks about her personal life, but only in the briefest of snippets--it's hard to feel grief over the end of her relationship when we've only read a few pages about them being together. The way she writes about baking is not very accessible for most of us who will never have a wood-fired oven and somehow she manages to run a very popular bakery without ever revealing what it is like to work there every day and interact with other people. Maybe this book works best for fans of Jensen who already know a bit about her and her bakery.

A Baker's Year
Twelve Months of Baking and Living the Simple Life at the Smoke Signals Bakery
By Tara Jensen
St. Martin's Griffin February 2018
208 pages
Read via Netgalley

Have you talked to an elementary school student about their classes lately? I do it every day and it seems like the joy of learning has been left behind, perhaps with three hours of math each day. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsch-Pasek are education researchers and they know what the problem is--our schools are exclusively teaching content without teaching our children how to work together or discern which information is actually important. Becoming Brilliant demonstrates to parents and teachers that our education system is not working and proposes ways that we can help our kids succeed today and in their future careers.

I appreciated a lot of what Golinkoff and Hirsch-Pasek had to say in this book. I certainly agree that things like critical thinking, creativity, and communication are crucial for our children in school and in their adult lives as people with careers. The authors do a great job of giving specific examples of ways that parents can focus on each skill set, but I wish they had taken a little less time to get there. It doesn't take much to convince parents that their children need to know how to collaborate; greater emphasis on how to build these traits at home and convince school systems to incorporate them would have been great.

Becoming Brilliant
What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children
By Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
APA Life Tools May 2016
344 pages
Read via Netgalley


  1. These both sound interesting, and I’m sorry that the baking book fell a little flat for you (umm, pun intended, I guess?). I don’t live all that far from the author’s bakery (just one small state away), so if nothing else, maybe I’ll just visit and enjoy the goodies rather than read the book.

  2. oooh...I like the idea of mini reviews! That might help me catch up a bit :)

    Both books sound interesting, though I am more interested in visiting the bakery next time we go to VT than in reading the book!

    Thanks for the reviews - I had wondered about these 2 books.


    Book By Book

  3. As a former teacher and current stay-at-home mom, Becoming Brilliant sounds like a book I should read!