The Bookworm: The unfairness of it all

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“The Death Class: A True Story About Life”

By Erika Hayasaki

c. 2014, Simon & Schuster

$25/$28.99 Canada

265 pages

Last year, you went to too many funerals. There were too many days taken off work to attend wakes. Too much sitting Shiva, too many casseroles eaten in church basements, too much grief and too many friends lost. Even if it only happened once, it was too much.

Tragedies always make you think about your own mortality. Someday, yes, you’re going to die. But as you’ll see in “The Death Class: A True Story About Life” by Erika Hayasaki, you need to learn to live first.

As a journalist for several larger newspapers, Erika Hayasaki had seen plenty of death. She was at Virginia Tech after the shootings, had been on New York City’s streets, had seen corpses, interviewed survivors; she’d even been close friends with a victim of domestic violence. And it began to bother her a lot.

“I had become a journalist to try to explain the world and its stories,” she says. “But death’s mercilessness and meaning, I could not figure out ” So when she heard about a college course taught by a popular, much-loved teacher in New Jersey, Hayasaki begged to be allowed to sit in on the class.

Dr. Norma Bowe agreed but Hayasaki couldn’t be just a journalist in the back row. She had to participate.

So Hayasaki spent a semester following The Death Class to morgues, autopsies, and a funeral home where the “sacred” happened. She took “field trips” to prisons, visited hospices, examined her own mortality and, as the one-semester project turned into a several-years-long friendship, Hayasaki got to know Bowe and her students.

She learned that Bowe, who is a consummate caregiver, wasn’t just a teacher. Formerly a nurse, she was a mentor, advice-dispenser, calm presence, and advocate, seemingly always on the lookout for opportunities to make a difference. Bowe taught in prisons, redecorated hospices, supported a homeless girls’ shelter, and helped found an organization that fosters change. She taught that life is good, especially if you can make it better for someone else.

Above all, she encouraged her students (old and new) to call her anytime, and she came flying when they needed her. She was there for them and vice versa, when tragedy struck too close to home.

Though it has a title that might make you think it would be dark, depressing, or even a little bit maudlin, “The Death Class” is really anything but.

That journalism background is apparent in author Erika Hayasaki’s writing, which is excellent: Hayasaki has a reporter’s way of winnowing out the facts, the interesting stuff, small details, and tiny secrets that make us want to know more. She immerses us so well into the story of the class, students, and the professor that it’s almost easy to forget we’re reading. We become part of what’s happening, complete with triumphs, gasps, and life-affirming inspiration.

This book is fascinating, a true pleasure to read, and I think that if you want something that puts life’s purpose into perspective, this is it. For you, “The Death Class” is too good to miss.

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“Don’t Push the Button!”

Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter

c. 2013, Sourcebooks

$16.99/$19.99 Canada

32 pages

You never get to do anything fun. Little kids get away with all kinds of behavior. Big kids get all the privileges. But you, at your age, you only hear “no” or “don’t” or “you can’t.”

It’s enough to make a kid scream. Don’t go outside without a coat. No playing in mud puddles. Don’t get dirty. You can’t touch anything. Don’t ask too many questions. No being loud. Don’t fight with your sister. You can’t forget your mittens. And, for sure, when you read the new book written and illustrated by Bill Cotter, “Don’t Push the Button!”

Open the covers of this book and you’ll be introduced to Larry.

Larry is a purple monster, but he’s not scary. Not at all; he’s friendly and fun and he wants you to come play with him inside this book. There’s just “one rule” you’ll need to follow: don’t push the button.

“Seriously,” says Larry. “Don’t even think about it.”

Oh, sure, it’s a nice button. It’s red and round and it’s just sitting there on the page, waiting for something to happen. It’s a plain old red button on the paper, right there all by itself. Sometimes, Larry wonders what would happen if you pushed it but no! Don’t push the button!

Then again, what if nobody was around? What would you do with that button? Larry is pretty tempted to find out but he wants you to do the dirty work. He wants you to “give the button one little push.”

Uh oh. If you push the button, strange things happen to Larry. Now what? Push it again and even odder things happen. Push it “a bunch of times” and wow. Now you’ve really got a mess and Larry’s in big trouble. He’s no longer a purple monster.

But there’s a way out. Larry knows what to do. There are a few steps you’ll need to take to get things back to the way they were before. But only you can do it because, well, you were the one who pushed the button in the first place.

Just don’t do it again. Don’t push that button! (Okay. Maybe just once )

Of course, you want your child to know that books are good and reading is fun which is why you need “Don’t Push the Button!” in your house: this book is good fun.

Larry the Monster is adorable and every bit as curious as is your child. He’s like a paper playmate, daring kids to do the not-so-naughty thing he’s told them not to do. But author and illustrator Bill Cotter makes Larry and the button irresistible, and the interactive solution to what ultimately happens will make kids giggle.

Word-wise, there’s not much to this book. You could probably plow through it in about five minutes, but why would you? “Don’t Push the Button!” is a story that absolutely needs to be read with time on your hands and a sense of silliness. Again and again, that’s something kids will really want to do.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

© 2014 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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