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Book Review: A Smile as Big as the Moon

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Book Review: A Smile as Big as the Moon
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The Bottom Line

By Mike Kersjes with Joe Layden; 276 pages. From the book cover: "This is truly a triumphant story of the power of the human spirit."

The power of the human spirit? Yes. And the power of one teacher who had an impossible idea and made it happen. There are plenty of books that focus on the battles parents fight for their children, and they're worth celebrating. But let's hear it, too, for the special education teachers who work small miracles, unsung. In Kersjes' case, the miracle's as big as the moon.

About the Guide Rating

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  • An honestly inspiring tale of dreams chased and hard-won
  • Shows how weaknesses can beget strengths
  • Allows children with special needs to be ornery and spirited, not blandly inspirational
  • Points up the social as well as educational challenges kids may face
  • You'll relate to the runaround Kersjes gets from administrators


  • Will make you wish your child had a teacher like this
  • Though it's a true story, it may still feel a little too good to be true
  • Some parents may have trouble with a story in which a teacher is the hero
  • Not for those who prefer practical guides to personal stories
  • No one's made a movie of this yet? What's wrong with them!


  • Part 1: Chapters 1-10 detail the bureaucratic and financial struggle to get approval and funds.
  • Part 2: Chapters 11-20 tell how the class prepared for its improbable trip to Space Camp.
  • Part 3: Chapters 21-27 chronicles the kids' experience at camp, both challenges and successes.
  • A Postscript tells what some of the kids were doing ten years later.

Guide Review - Book Review: A Smile as Big as the Moon

When Mike Kersjes first read about NASA's Space Camp, he thought the sort of hands-on, experiential learning program described would be great for the kids in his self-contained special education high school class. And he's the only one who thought that. Space Camp usually enrolled only the most gifted and talented high-schoolers, but before he could even fight to get his kids considered for admission, Kersjes had to fight with administrators in his school and district for the right to dream big for his students, the right to dream at all. That he eventually gets the permission and the funding and the spots in a camp session is the real triumph of this underdog tale; the fact that the kids not only failed to fail as spectacularly as predicted but actually succeeded and won an award is icing on the cake.

If you've ever wondered where the "special" is in special education, and wished that goals could be ambitious and optimistic instead of a matter of maintenance, this book will read like a wish-fulfillment fantasy. That it's done without cleaning the students up beyond recognition is a special grace. Kersjes had students with Down syndrome, Tourette's, learning disabilities, eating disorders and emotional problems, and the preparation and drilling and discipline they had to find to even compete at all is what allowed them to succeed there. It's a powerful and thought-provoking story, and will make you wonder why this sort of thing can't happen more often.

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