Review of Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, MD

Proof of Heaven

A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife

by Eben Alexander, M.D.

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2012. 196 pages.
Starred Review

Let me say right up front that for skeptics, it will take more than one person’s personal experience, even a neurosurgeon’s personal experience to convince them that heaven is real. For someone who already believes it, though, Eben Alexander’s story is wonderful confirmation. And it’s clear that his experience convinced him.

As a neurosurgeon, Dr. Alexander believed that our consciousness and existence is rooted in our brain and neurochemical impulses. So when he was attacked with meningitis that completely disabled his neocortex, he shouldn’t have been conscious of anything. Instead, he experienced heaven and talked with God.

At the very least a miracle happened that he survived six days in a coma and recovered full brain function afterward. Dr. Alexander goes into the medical details of his case, and it’s clear that at the very least his experience convinced him that heaven is real and our consciousness can exist apart from our brain.

I’ve read a few of these books about near death experiences now. It does strike me that the details are different for each one, and for each one it suits what the person knows and expects (though all would say it’s much grander than what they expect). But at least one message is common to all of them: God loves you. So much.

Here’s how Dr. Alexander explains in the Prologue that his story is important:

During my coma my brain wasn’t working improperly — it wasn’t working at all. . . . In my case, the neocortex was out of the picture. I was encountering the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of my physical brain.

Mine was in some ways a perfect storm of near-death experiences. As a practicing neurosurgeon with decades of research and hands-on work in the operating room behind me, I was in a better-than-average position to judge not only the reality but also the implications of what happened to me.

Those implications are tremendous beyond description. My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each one of us and about where the universe itself and all the beings within it are ultimately going.

The place I went was real. real in a way that makes the life we’re living here and now completely dreamlike by comparison. This doesn’t mean I don’t value the life I’m living now, however. In fact, I value it more than I ever did before. I do so because I now see it in its true context.

Perhaps Proof of Heaven is an overly optimistic title for some. But if you do believe in heaven, reading this book will bolster your faith and remind you that some important things in life can’t be seen with our physical eyes. And God loves you.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Librarians Help! – More Math!

This was a crazy week for me for programs. I don’t know what I was thinking (Well, besides the fact that it was Spring Break), but I scheduled a program every day I worked this week except Monday. What’s more, two of them were programs I was creating and had to figure out what I was going to do and say ahead of time. So, let’s just say I was a little stressed.

And it went great! The week is done! I can relax and enjoy Easter! And my month of April only has a few programs, so I can even focus my energies on moving.

But I want to talk about today’s program, because it was cool that I got to do it, and super that it actually worked.

It was an Every Child Ready to Read workshop. The workshop as prepared by the Every Child Ready to Read folks was called “Fun with Science and Math for Parents and Children.” Okay, I changed it. I called it “Fun with Math for Parents and Children.” (Because Math is more fun than Science! Don’t tell!) Of course, that meant I had to fill in with more math activities. But that was fun to do!

All of the Every Child Ready to Read workshops focus on five easy practices for parents to do with their children — Talking, Singing, Reading, Writing, and Playing. Not only are those activities good for learning pre-reading skills, they’re also good for learning early math concepts.

We did some counting together; the parents did some counting with the kids. I read them How Many Jelly Beans?, Quack and Count and Pattern Fish. (All of the books I read got checked out after the program, too.) I passed out some foam shapes and the parents and kids sorted and counted them. I also passed around a small tub of shapes, and they all guessed how many. Then we counted them together — there were 77. We counted how many letters in each child’s name and then lined up in order of the number of letters. We sang “Ten Little Beasties” and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.” I showed them the awesome site that is And they finished up by making their own little counting book with a foam cover and paper inside. They could decorate it with shapes in patterns, or just with pretty shapes.

The comment that really made me happy was the mother who said she “learned a lot.” Another mother said it was so nice to have a program a little different from a storytime. Yet another said she thought the balance between activities and talking was just right. That one brought me a big sigh of relief! I had worried about whether the kids would be able to tolerate all I was going to say to the adults. But it worked! It really worked!

My plans are to do another Every Child Ready to Read workshop next month — this time “Fun with Letters for Parents and Children.” Then I’ll take a break until after the Summer Reading Program and do more next Fall.

But our first one was a big success! And I’m especially happy that a group of parents will think of the library when they think of their children getting ready for school and ready to learn to read. And ready to do Math!

Librarians Help!

Review of Penny and Her Marble, by Kevin Henkes

Penny and Her Marble

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books, 2013. 48 pages.

Hooray! Another Penny book for beginning readers! In fact, this book, with four chapters, assumes a progression in reading skills. We have Penny pushing her doll in a stroller — the same doll she received and named in Penny and Her Doll.

Penny finds a marble in Mrs. Goodwin’s yard. She picks it up and keeps it. It’s a beautiful marble, as blue as a piece of the sky.

But Penny is eaten up with guilt. Will Mrs. Goodwin be angry with her for taking the marble?

All ends happily. Spoiler alert: Mrs. Goodwin put the marble on her lawn, hoping Penny would find it and take it.

I didn’t like this story nearly as well as the others. In fact, it made me mad at Mrs. Goodwin. Why didn’t she give the marble to Penny in the first place, for heaven’s sake? All that agony of guilt was completely unnecessary and what kind of adult would give a marble to a child by placing it in her lawn anyway?

But aside from that annoyance with the storyline, this book has the same charmingly realistic child behavior. Kevin Henkes never says Penny feels guilty. Instead he tells that she looks around before she puts the marble in her pocket, races home, goes in her room and shuts the door, and hides behind the curtain when she sees Mrs. Goodwin in her yard. Penny isn’t hungry and even dreams about Mrs. Goodwin and the marble that night.

Fortunately, Penny decides to make things right before Mrs. Goodwin makes the speech she should have made in the first place. But it’s all told in a simple story that gives new readers plenty of repeated words and visual clues.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

The Big Kahuna Approaches!

The Third Round of School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books finished up today. At last! A round where I picked everything the same as the judges did! (Only two matches might have had something to do with it.)

My hopes for the Big Kahuna Round? The same as they’ve always been: For Code Name Verity to come back from the dead and win it all.

If the Undead Poll winner is not Code Name Verity? Honestly, there’s not very many of the books I prefer over The Fault in Our Stars. Earlier in the battle, I had it edged out by Endangered, but I’m not sure I feel the same way a week later and after more judge’s opinions. If a middle grade novel I loved — namely, The One and Only Ivan or Three Times Lucky were to be in the Big Kahuna Round, I admit I’d be happy to have them pull an upset, in the name of middle grade fiction.

Bottom line, if Code Name Verity is not in the Big Kahuna Round, I could be sort of consoled by a victory for The Fault in Our Stars.

But, come on, that can’t happen!

If we can’t have Julie back from the dead, let’s at the very least have Code Name Verity back from the dead.

And on to Victory!

Review of Princess of the Silver Woods, by Jessica Day George

Princess of the Silver Woods

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, 2012. 322 pages.
Starred Review

I finally got a chance to read Princess of the Silver Woods! It first came out when I was busy reading books for the 2012 Cybils, but too late in the year to be eligible for one. Princess of the Silver Woods wraps up the trilogy begun in Princess of the Midnight Ball and continued in Princess of Glass. Yes, you should read the earlier books to fully appreciate this one.

All the books play off specific fairy tales. The first one, which laid the groundwork, played off “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” The second one played off “Cinderella.” This one plays off “Little Red Riding Hood.”

And now we interrupt this review for a mini-rant.

What IS it with the “Red Riding Hood” take-offs? People, “Little Red Riding Hood” is not a romantic story! What are you all doing basing romantic novels on that plot? Enough already! It probably didn’t help that the first one I read was Cloaked in Red, by Vivian Vande Velde. Unlike the others, Cloaked in Red is not a romantic novel, but a collection of stories from different perspectives, all based on “Little Red Riding Hood.” Pretty much all variations are covered. It’s fun and it’s silly, and there’s a story where each different character shines.

The three recent romantic novels that played off the story were Beauty and the Werewolf, by Mercedes Lackey; Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer; and Princess of the Silver Woods, by Jessica Day George. What’s more, I’ve had Cloaked, by Alex Flinn, sitting on my shelf at home for months. I think I understand now why I haven’t gotten around to reading it.

Of these, my favorite was probably Beauty and the Werewolf — and that’s particularly because it got off the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” and made far more parallels with “Beauty and the Beast,” a fairy tale that is romantic and that I do love (however twisted it may be).

But you know what? By the third time someone’s making the “wolf” the romantic hero and the huntsman the sinister villain, I no longer find that the least bit innovative. And the “grandmother”? (Though Beauty and the Werewolf didn’t have one.) Whatever weird situation you’re getting her into, I really don’t care.

Okay, mini-rant is over. Now let’s talk about why I loved Princess of the Silver Woods in spite of that.

And, yes, I loved Princess of the Silver Woods. Fortunately, the “Little Red Riding Hood” parallels were not a big part of the story. Sure, she wore a striking red cloak, but I don’t mind that. And yeah, he’s part of a gang of bandits that call themselves “The Wolves of Westfalin,” but really he’s good at heart, and an earl who’s lost his land. He only steals because he has to feed his people.

[I’ll try to spare you another mini-rant. What is it with the romantic thief? No, I don’t find thieves attractive. Gen wins me over in spite of that, and The False Prince eventually, too. But being a good thief is not an admirable quality, okay? It doesn’t belong to you. Leave it alone, for crying out loud! Find some field work to do! You don’t have to steal! Okay, I’ll stop. That also wasn’t a big part of this book.]

Okay, I’m starting to wonder why I did like this book!

But the situation Petunia, the youngest of the twelve princesses, finds herself in is compelling. She’s visiting a grand duchess with a handsome grandson. (He’s a huntsman, so that can’t be good.) She’s having horrible nightmares, in which she’s back in the Kingdom Under Stone (from the first book, based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Such a sinister place). In her dreams, Kestilan, the prince of the Under Stone kingdom, says she will have to marry him. And then Oliver, the landless earl who’s turned to banditry, sees something chilling:

It was very late, and all the windows were dark. Oliver found himself praying silently that someone would light a lamp or a candle, even if the light exposed him. What were those things crawling across the lawn? With a mounting sense of horror, he saw the dark shapes reach the house.

With a terrible laugh, the shadow creatures pulled themselves up the wall to a window on the second floor that was open despite the cold. Oliver hid behind a fountain. The room they had just entered had been his childhood bedroom. Whose was it now? He prayed again, this time that the room had not been given to Petunia.

His question was answered a few moments later when a young woman’s voice cried out, the sound carrying clearly through the open window. She screamed out denials, she screamed out insults, and over and over again she reviled someone called “Kestilan.”

“Oh, ye gods, Petunia,” Oliver whispered from his concealment. “What is all this?”

After the shadows leave the house, they come across the lawn toward Oliver:

“Stay away from her,” Oliver said, trying to sound dangerous and not terrified.

Another cackling laugh. The shadow reached out and put its hand into Oliver’s chest. A sheath of ice instantly covered his heart, and then the shadow squeezed. Oliver gasped as intense pain flared in his chest, streaking through his entire body. He tried to step back but found that he couldn’t move so much as an eyelid.

“She is not for you,” the shadow said in a low, harsh voice. “She is for us. All of them are for us.”

That was enough to hook me. I had to find out if Petunia and her eleven sisters could rid themselves of the foe they thought they’d already defeated, the King Under Stone, once and for all.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Man with Two Left Feet, by P. G. Wodehouse

The Man with Two Left Feet
And Other Stories

by P. G. Wodehouse

A Publication, 2004. First published in the United Kingdom in 1917.

The Man with Two Left Feet is the first book I read completely on a Kindle. I must admit that I wasn’t even slightly enamored with the Kindle. I don’t like the gray appearance. I don’t like the small number of words on a screen. I’m a fast reader, and scan ahead as I go. Several times, I had to push the button to go back, because I had been scanning and didn’t have any idea what I had read on the earlier page. I hated that it had a percentage bar instead of a number of pages, and I hated that I can’t leaf through it and find good bits when writing this review. Now, mind you, I realize I could have bookmarked things. But I don’t always like to interrupt fiction to do that.

I could probably get used to all these things, but I see no reason to. Now, I did check out this one book as an e-book because the library didn’t have it in print. And on top of that, I wanted to practice putting a book on hold and checking it out, the better to help customers.

Novelist, our online data base of information about novels, lists The Man with Two Left Feet as the first book about Jeeves and Wooster, which is why I sought it out. I found that description a little misleading. Yes, one of the thirteen stories is about Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. But, would you believe it, in this story, Jeeves doesn’t help solve the situation at all!

Bertie’s asked by Aunt Agatha to talk some sense into his friend Gussie, who wants to marry a showgirl. We have humorous situations and reversals, but believe it or not, Jeeves does not save the day!

All the same, the stories in this book are tremendous fun. They remind me of the O. Henry stories I used to devour when I was in junior high. They all have some kind of surprising ending and the humor is shoveled on thick.

So even if Jeeves hadn’t yet come into his own, P. G. Wodehouse was already a masterful comic writer.

Though I would have preferred to read this in a traditional book, I’m glad I got to read it at all. I have to admit, the Kindle was light and easy to carry around, and I may have finished the book sooner than I would have otherwise. Because once I dipped into one of these stories in a doctor’s waiting room or waiting for my son to get glasses, I simply had to finish that story, and maybe a couple more.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library ebook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

SLJ’s Battle of the Books and Abysmal Round Two

Okay, can I just say that School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books Round Two Judges made BAD decisions? Or is that too — horrors — judgmental?!

I’m finding the Battle is less fun when I’ve read all the books — at least when the judges don’t pick my favorites! When I hadn’t read the books, the judge’s descriptions piqued my curiosity and got me excited about reading those books. This time, they just make me think maybe I have bizarre taste.

Though at least they agonize so their opinions aren’t decisively bad!

So I’m still pouting about Code Name Verity going down. I still very much hope it will be the Undead Poll winner.

Which means I want The Fault in Our Stars to defeat Bomb. But honestly, I would have been rooting for The Fault in Our Stars anyway.

Did anyone else notice that one of the judges made the *same* usage mistake that appeared twice in Bomb‘s pages? They used “principle” when they meant to say “principal.” The Principal Flaw this year is the “Principle” Flaw! The principle is this: When you want to say it’s the main thing, you use “principal.” When you’re talking about a rule, a truth, you use “principle.”

Yes, call me a grammar snob. But my principle is that words in print are the principal way kids learn correct grammar and usage. If publishing professionals get it wrong, how can we expect kids to get it right?

There. Can you tell I’m grumpy about this round of the battle?

For the second half of the third round, it will be Splendors and Glooms vs. No Crystal Stair, almost my least favorite books in the whole battle. (My least favorite was Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, but these were next.) So that makes it hard to pick, and that makes me not too invested in the match. But rather than flip a coin, I will decide that No Crystal Stair has less flaws than Splendors and Glooms, so I will root for No Crystal Stair. The “Documentary Novel” approach was innovative, and she pulled it off.

I found it interesting that both these books had significant sections told from the perspective of adults. That would be a flaw against any other book in the battle. But since they both did it, they cancel each other out, as far as that goes. The principal factor in my decision was the unsatisfying ending of Splendors and Glooms weighed against the way No Crystal Stair upheld the principle that reading is empowering.

Clearly, it’s getting late and I should go to bed….

Librarians Help – With Critical Thinking!

Yesterday, we had a Math program at the library. Today, a program for exercising critical thinking. Both were all about having fun.

I have to laugh about today’s program, though. I’ve done the same thing in the past and called it “Board Game Bash.” Those times, I got about four kids to come and play board games.

Today’s program was during Spring Break, which I’m sure really helped. But it also helped that I called it “Brain Games at the Library” and I offered prizes — gently used books from donations made to the library and from advance reader copies that I had. But I suspect that parents in this area were a lot more interested in a program that promised to build their children’s brain power.

And it wasn’t a false promise! We had more than 20 kids show up and play! The big hit of the day was Labyrinth. I’m finding the perfect game for this kind of program is one that’s simple to explain and has an intriguing visual element. In Labyrinth, you slide a piece into the board, changing the maze and knocking another piece out. The path constantly changes, and you try to collect treasures from the card and so navigate through the maze to the treasure you want to collect.

Make 7, which is like Connect 4, but in which you try to add the value of your pieces up to 7, was also easy to understand and popular. Yikerz, with powerful magnets that you try to place without popping them together caused some tension and fun. Some kids played Rollit, some played Pass the Pigs, and some played Mastermind. And this time I did get some kids to try my three-way chess set from Poland.

Where’d we get the games? Well, I confess, for a very long time I’ve had a weakness for buying games. And now with my kids no longer at home, this is a great way to spread the fun around.

I still adamantly believe that playing games with your kids is one of the best possible ways to learn math skills and critical thinking skills. And the library is the perfect place for that as well, since the library is where you learn for the FUN of it!

I also loved that every time they won a game, the kids grabbed a book from the book box. Books that are prizes are all the more valuable!

We’ll be doing more of these programs, probably once a month through the summer. It’s easy for me to run, since I only need the time to set up and run the program, but don’t have to plan what to say. And I walk away smiling, just like the kids do!

Librarians Help!

Review of Beautiful Outlaw, by John Eldredge

Beautiful Outlaw

Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus

by John Eldredge

Faith Words, New York, 2011. 219 pages.
Starred Review

In Beautiful Outlaw, John Eldredge looks at the personality of Jesus. He points out that Jesus was not the sort of person who didn’t make waves. He does an amazing job of causing the reader to take a fresh look.

What is missing in our Gospel reading — and in our attempts to “read” what Jesus is saying and doing in our own lives right now, this week — is his personality, undraped by religion. Let’s see if we can find it.

Now, I’m well-versed in the Gospel story. I’ve read about Jesus over and over again. But John Eldredge was able to make even me see Jesus in a fresh light. I felt like he was saying, Remember? This is what Jesus is like. Here’s his take on the Gospel story:

Any way you look at it, it is a beautiful story. Playful, funny, so human, so hopeful, so unreligious. And it is that particular quality that gives the passage its true character and gives us an essential for knowing Jesus as he really is. The man is not religious. If he were, the story would have taken place in a religious setting — the temple, perhaps, or at least a synagogue — and Jesus would have gathered them for a Bible study or prayer meeting. Jesus doesn’t even show up at the temple after his resurrection. He’s at the beach, catching his boys fishing, filling their empty nets and then having them to breakfast.

The subtitle talks about the aspects of Jesus’ personality the author focuses on: He’s playful, disruptive, and extravagant. But all of this talk about Jesus’ personality is to tell us it’s worth it to let Jesus’ life fill our lives. He’s talking about Christ living in us.

As we love him, experience him, allow his life to fill ours, the personality of Jesus transforms our personalities. The timid become bold and the bold become patient and the patient become fierce and the uptight become free and the religious become scandalously good. “They looked to Him and were radiant” (Psalm 34:5 NASB). They looked to Jesus and became like him. Loving Jesus helps us to become what human beings were meant to be. As Athanasius said, “He became what we are that we might become what he is.”

In short, this book is about looking hard at who Jesus really is, and then letting Him change who we really are.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Librarians Help – With Math!

Today I had my Colors and Codes program that I mentioned last week.

Now, I spent ten years of my life teaching college math, but doing math programs at the library is so much more fun!

Why? Well, the biggie is I don’t have to grade them, so it makes the whole thing much more light-hearted. I’m showing them things about math that I think are really cool, and they get to think about ways to do it themselves. And it’s all just for fun. At the library, we teach people things they want to know! If they don’t want to know them, they don’t need to come. It’s that simple!

Here’s what I did. I showed the kids my prime factorization sweater (wore it of course), and we worked out how it works. (That was fun!) I told them if colors can represent numbers, they can also represent letters. Just use 1 to 26 for A to Z. So you can write messages this way. I showed them a prime factorization code, then showed them other bases and how you can make codes with them. We wrapped it up by getting out sticky foam shapes and they could put a coded message or just a pretty pattern around a picture frame or on a bookmark or a door hanger.

The highlight for me, I think, was when a girl was working on coloring in the prime factorization chart on the hand-out. She was stuck on 24. I asked her what it equaled, and she said 12 x 2. So we looked at 12, and then the light went on and we talked about how you could do figure it out different ways, but you always got three 2s and one 3.

Now, I’m going to write some notes to myself while the program’s fresh in my mind. It went well; the kids had fun. But I want to do it again this summer, and hope it will go even better.

1. I’ll set the age level higher. I do think I lost a few kids this time. I think I’ll set it at 10 or 11 years old rather than 8. You want the kids to be fully comfortable with multiplying. Now that I think about it, when I did this program a few years ago at Herndon Fortnightly Library, I think the age limit was 10.

2. We’ll do some coloring on the prime factorization chart before I move on. This group did work out with me how it works. I didn’t want to get bogged down, but I think some coloring would help them understand it better.

3. I’ll have them figure out the numbers for their name in every code I go over. For example, my name, Sondy, in a base 10 code is 1915140425. (S is the 19th letter, O is the 15th, and so on.) In a prime factorization code, it’s 19 1 3 5 1 2 7 1 2 2 1 5 5 1. (19 x 1, 3 x 5 x 1, 2 x 7 x 1, 2 x 2 x 1, 5 x 5 x 1) In a Base 6 code, it’s 3123220441. In a Base 5 code, it’s 34 30 24 4 100. In Binary, it’s 10011 1111 1110 100 11001. Taking the time to do that would mean they’d get what I was having them do when they went to use the foam sticky pieces.

4. We’d do some coloring on the other charts before we moved to the foam shapes. Then I’d have them do their name with the colors they picked.

5. I’d show them exactly how I did my name on the bookmarks, one using colors and one using shapes.

Did I mention everyone did have a good time? But I think I’ll do a little more hands-on, using their names, before I move to the craft next time.

But it was a great trial run!

And don’t forget! Librarians help! We get to show kids how much FUN Math is! And we don’t even have to test them on it!