A feel-good story with a predictable outcome—but Kersjes tells some hard truths along the way.

A SMILE AS BIG AS THE MOON

A TEACHER, HIS CLASS, AND THEIR UNFORGETTABLE JOURNEY

The inspirational account of a special-education teacher in a small-town high school who overcame great obstacles to bring his class to NASA’s space camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

According to Kersjes, special education is the ghetto of public schooling. Regular staff look down their noses at those who teach the learning-disabled or emotionally impaired; tormented by classmates, the students themselves are aware of their inferior status. Assisted by New York–based journalist Layden, Kersjes conveys indignation but also an admirable dedication to his work. Not that he ignores its difficulties: his students are described with genuine affection, but it’s clear that many have unattractive problems and are often genuinely obnoxious. They have suffered a raw deal from life, Kersjes demonstrates, but they retain the potential to straighten out. When he proposes to send them to space camp—an intense week-long program aimed at gifted kids and packed with hands-on demonstrations, scientific competitions, and simulated space-shuttle missions, with every class ranked on the final day—his students love the idea, but his superiors hate it. NASA officials give it the brush-off too, but Kersjes persists. An amazingly helpful congressman twists a few arms, and approval soon follows. Raising $50,000 for expenses seems impossible when dozens of grant requests are rejected, but finally a rich businessman opens his checkbook. Then come months of intense classroom education in science and rocketry; Kersjes prays that his kids’ performance will not compare too badly to that of the gifted classes and that the stress will not provoke anyone to behavior that would disgrace the group. To his delight, the students perform brilliantly. Final scoring places them near the top, and they return home in triumph.

A feel-good story with a predictable outcome—but Kersjes tells some hard truths along the way.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-27314-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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THE ABOLITION OF MAN

The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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