Cover image for Why heaven is far away
Why heaven is far away
Lester, Julius.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Scholastic Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 32 cm
When people and animals try to climb ladders to Heaven to escape problems with snakes, God, His secretary Bruce, and the angel Shaniqua decide that Heaven needs to be much further away.
Reading Level:
AD 570 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.0 0.5 70067.

Reading Counts RC K-2 3.5 2 Quiz: 31767 Guided reading level: N.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
J PIC BK Juvenile Fiction Oversize
PIC BK Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PIC BK Juvenile Fiction Picture Books

On Order



In this heavenly sequel to the critically acclaimed WHAT A TRULY COOL WORLD, a star-studded duo once again finds playful, big-hearted answers to life's most mysterious questions.

God, His wife Irene, His secretary Bruce, & the angel Shaniqua have a problem to solve. When God gives Snakes poison to protect themselves, He doesn't expect them to bite everything in sight. Now all at once people & animals are climbing up the ladders connecting heaven & earth, & creating chaos in God's kingdom! But with a little help from Shaniqua & Irene & their beautiful singing voices, God has everyone dancing down the ladders to earth. The snakes get other kinds of defenses (& a talking to), & the ladders get pulled up to prevent further ruckuses, which is why heaven is far away.

Author Notes

Julius Bernard Lester was born in St. Louis, Missouri on January 27, 1939. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Fisk University in 1960. He moved to New York to become a folk singer. He performed on the coffeehouse circuit as a singer and guitarist. He released two albums entitled Julius Lester in 1965 and Departures in 1967. His first published book, The Folksinger's Guide to the 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly written with Pete Seeger, was published in 1965.

In the 1960s, Lester was closely involved as a writer and photographer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He traveled to the South to document the civil rights movement and to North Vietnam to photograph the effects of American bombardment. He also hosted radio and television talk shows in New York City.

He wrote more than four dozen nonfiction and fiction books for adults and children. His books for adults included Look Out, Whitey!: Black Power's Gon' Get Your Mama, Revolutionary Notes, All Is Well, Lovesong: Becoming a Jew, and The Autobiography of God. His children's books included To Be a Slave, Sam and the Tigers, and Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue, which won the American Library Association's Coretta Scott King Award in 2006. He also wrote reviews and essays for numerous publications including The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, The Village Voice, Dissent, The New Republic, and the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

After teaching for two years at the New School for Social Research in New York, Lester joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1971. He originally taught in the Afro-American studies department, but transferred to the Judaic and Near Eastern studies department when Lester criticized the novelist James Baldwin for what he felt were anti-Semitic remarks. He died from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on January 18, 2018 at the age of 78.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

K-Gr. 3. Lester and Cepeda's What a Truly Cool World (1999) imagined a genuinely cool God, and this delightful sequel only renders him cooler. In the story, adapted from two folktales, God and Mrs. God («her name is Irene») learn that poor, defenseless snakes are getting eaten right and left. God thinks the slithering of snakes is «like watching silence dance» and wants to protect them. He gives venom to Shaniqua--the «angel in charge of everybody's business,» who, like all the characters in the story, is black--and Shaniqua gives poison to the snakes. But the snakes misuse their gift, and to escape their bites, all God's creatures quickly climb ladders to nearby heaven. God and Mrs. God realize they can't keep heaven so close or their creations will run to it whenever there is a problem. Cepeda's bright oil paintings are filled with fun details of a nearby heaven, from the dragonfly wings of angels to satellite dishes on top of thatched roofs, and Lester matches the bright energy of the paintings with spirited folklore and beautiful turns of phrase. An author's note offers more information on the story's origins. John Green.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Julius Lester blends elements of two selections in his Black Folktales and brings back characters from What a Truly Cool World in Why Heaven Is Far Away, illus. by Joe Cepeda. Returning angel Shaniqua reports to God that the animals and humans don't like snakes. God sends her back to earth with poison so snakes can defend themselves, but when they go on a biting rampage, their victims escape to heaven (via ladders) and prompt God to restore peace-and to distance Heaven from earth. Cepeda's quirky, luminous oil paintings visually reinforce the hip cadence of Lester's narrative. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 2-This companion volume to What a Truly Cool World! (Scholastic, 1999) falls short of the success of its predecessor. Once again, Lester and Cepeda take children to a heaven populated by God, His wife Irene, and their deputies, Bruce and Shaniqua. In this title, which centers on God's attempts to provide snakes with a defense mechanism, the author recycles a story from his Black Folktales (Grove, 1991). Instead of just explaining why rattlesnakes were given rattles, however, Lester expands the narrative to explain how all snakes came by their various defenses; throws in a smidgen of another story that explains why heaven and earth are separated; and adds extraneous material regarding a commandment God wrote before the 10 we know about, the genesis of falling stars, and a little about God's relationship with Irene, among other things. The general impression left by this book is of the scattered ramblings of a very fertile imagination. Lester's inventive language, wry asides, and charming anachronisms are always engaging, but they cannot save the wandering plot. Cepeda's lively oil paintings follow Lester's lead and are a good match for his verve and humor, but they can't hold the story together either.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.