JUNE 16:

  • Happy birthday Paul Rogers (Jazz ABZ), Jennifer L. Holm (Turtle in Paradise), and Joyce Carol Oates (Big Mouth & Ugly Girl; After the Wreck, I picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away).
  • It’s the birth date of Zachary Ball (1897-1987), Bristle Face, and Isabelle Holland (1920-2002), The Man Without a Face.
  • For National Fudge Day, also read Peeny Butter Fudge by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda, and The Chocolate Fudge Mystery by David A. Adler.

June has been designated Rebuild Your Life Month. In Ron Koertge’s extraordinary book Coaltown Jesus, the protagonist, fourteen-year-old Walker, who lives in Coaltown, Illinois, does indeed need to rebuild his life.

Two months ago his brother Noah died at age seventeen, and his mother hasn’t stopped crying. Walker struggles with guilt, believing that he might have been able to prevent Noah’s death. Then one day, “Jesus was standing in the center/of the room, between Walker’s bed/and what used to be Noah’s….? ‘You prayed,’ said Jesus. ‘I showed up./I would have been here sooner,/but traffic on I-55 was awful.’” And slowly as Walker begins to talk to this cool, funny, and infinitely wise Jesus, he slowly begins to heal and to find a way to build a new reality.

In spare, lean verse, Ron Koertge takes readers on a broken young boy’s spiritual journey. He explores one of the most serious questions of adolescence: “Is there a God and what is my relationship to Him?” He builds a plot almost completely dependent on ideas and philosophy. And he creates  a provocative book that challenges assumptions about the son of God and religion. For this is no cardboard, conventional Jesus–but a modern day hipster who could convince even a reluctant adolescent boy that he and God exist. Coaltown Jesus tackles serious questions and does so in an approachable, readable format.

Some may balk at this story because they don’t want children to read about spiritual matters; some will not find the Jesus of their understanding in these pages. But any young reader who can approach this book with an open mind will find a book that challenges them to think and respond. How would God, or Jesus look, appearing as one of us today?

I am simply in awe of what Ron Koertge has accomplished in 120 pages, and I admire his courage in addressing controversial issues. For some readers, Coaltown Jesus may lead them to their own better understanding of God. For me, this book reaffirms that writing and publishing of brave and original books for children is alive and well in the twenty-first century. As Jesus said in comforting Walker about what happens to dead bodies, “the light never goes out.”

Thank you, Ron, for keeping the light alive in books for thoughtful young readers.

Here’s a passage from Coaltown Jesus:

Walter poured milk from the fat carton.

Then Jesus dug in.

This is good! He said. “We should have had this at the last supper. Not that the matzoh and karpas weren’t nice. Judas couldn’t enjoy it, though.

“He was upset. He knew he was going to betray me.”

“Did you know?” Walker asked.

“Oh, yeah.”

“But you didn’t do anything.”

“Nope. Things were unfolding just like we planned.”


“God and I.”

“I thought you were God.”

“Who told you that?”

“You did.”

“Oh, well. Then it must be true.”


Originally posted June 16, 2014. Updated for .

Tags: Poetry, Religion/Spirituality
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Coaltown Jesus


  1. Sarah T says:

    This is currently sitting in my TBR pile and now I think I’ll move it to the top :) Thanks for profiling such a wide variety of books! I look forward to reading your site every morning before I teach 6th graders about the joys of reading.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.