An affecting (long-exposure) snapshot revealing real-life concerns.




The eminent Maine-based author chronicles his lively, maddening month substitute teaching in the local public schools.

An award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, Baker (Traveling Sprinkler, 2013, etc.) subbed mostly in the public schools of Lasswell, Maine, near his home over the course of 28 days scattered between March and June 2014. Reading this day-by-day record—the author substitute taught for classes ranging from first grade to special-education high school math—readers will be struck by how arduous it is simply to fill such long days for the young students. Baker’s “training” was mostly a brief course in learning “codes of cooperation” and Common Core standards, abbreviations for learning disabilities, and clues how to control a class (he did not require a special degree for substitute teaching). He had to pay $50 for a criminal background check and fingerprinting and would earn $70 per day subbing, boosted by $5 for taking the initial training course. His book is literally a record of those 28 days, with verbatim conversations (we assume—did he record them? Or re-create them from notes?) that make for an amusing, spontaneous-feeling narrative, from which readers derive a sense of what it was truly like in the classrooms teeming with rowdy, diverse students. Getting the high schoolers to focus—turn off their electronic devices and quit chatting—was the biggest challenge for the older classes, while the younger pupils often moved from one non sequitur to the next. Baker was able to enlist his strengths as a writer to great effect, but he hated the noise level in the classes and the requirements to follow senseless make-work plans that bludgeoned the students’ creativity and spontaneity. Ultimately, the author’s chronicle is insightful but overly long and occasionally repetitive—indeed, Baker has left a record of what filling up days in school actually looks like.

An affecting (long-exposure) snapshot revealing real-life concerns.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16098-1

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.


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 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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