Keeping the Night Watch


So many unanswered questions weigh down thirteen-year-old C.J. as he struggles to understand why his father walked out. His father is back now, though C.J. is not as quick to forgive as the other members of his family. He still feels the weight of responsibility that fell on his shoulders when Daddy was gone, and he’s not prepared to give that up. But C.J.’s anger is making him a stranger in his own home, and instead of life seeming better now that Daddy has returned, it feels ...

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So many unanswered questions weigh down thirteen-year-old C.J. as he struggles to understand why his father walked out. His father is back now, though C.J. is not as quick to forgive as the other members of his family. He still feels the weight of responsibility that fell on his shoulders when Daddy was gone, and he’s not prepared to give that up. But C.J.’s anger is making him a stranger in his own home, and instead of life seeming better now that Daddy has returned, it feels worse.


Through powerful poems, Hope Anita Smith chronicles the nuanced emotions of a family that is slowly learning to heal and put the pieces back together.


Keeping the Night Watch is a 2009 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book and a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* "Beautiful." —Booklist, starred review

"A lovely melding of accesible beauty, hard truth, and aesthetic inspiration for young readers and budding writers." —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"[An] affecting portrait of one family's rebirth." —The Horn Book

Children's Literature - Karen Leggett
This collection of poetry pushes the reader right to the edge of C.J.'s very raw emotions, especially his bitter anger toward the father who disappeared and has now returned to the family: "I am the worst kind of mad. /I don't yell./ I don't slam doors./ I don't throw things./ I'm a pot with the lid on,/ I keep all my mad inside." The staccato phrasing adds power to C.J.'s angst. Hope Anita Smith's words bring the reader right to the heart of the young man's soul but also follow him through the humor and poignancy of first love and first shave. "All this blood and you missed the little bit of peach fuzz you were trying to get rid of!" says Grandmomma, whose wisdom brightens these poems like dew on the fresh morning grass. With his characteristic soft brush strokes and hints of color, E.B. Lewis' illustrations make the reader want to reach out and touch a hand or a shoulder in this troubled yet hopeful family. These poems will reach a broad audience. Among advanced and struggling readers alike, they will quickly erase any notion that poetry is obtuse, irrelevant or just plain boring. Reviewer: Karen Leggett
This journal in poetic form details the struggles of African American C. J. (Cameron James) Washington III through the fall and spring of his thirteenth year. C. J.'s father, who deserted the family, has just returned and been warmly welcomed by everyone except his intensely angry son. C. J. cannot accept his replacement as "head" of the family by the prodigal father, nor can he overcome his resentment of the absence that put him into that role prematurely. He ignores his father's attempts at reconciliation and rebuffs other family members who want to act as peacemakers. Not until spring, when C. J. experiences his first love, does he soften enough to forgive and emotionally rejoin the household as his father's son. The beauty of this small book is in the illustrations. Lewis, veteran of more than thirty-five books for young readers and recipient of a Caldecott honor for Coming on Home Soon (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2004) by Jacqueline Woodson, as well as illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award-winner Talkin' About Bessie (Orchard, 2002) by Nikki Grimes, perfectly captures the members of the Washington family. Softly done, in natural, muted tones, the features and postures of his subjects are ethnically flawless. Varying in size, most illustrations take up every other page and depict the emotion or action of the verse on the opposing page. In this easy read, Smith and Lewis create a worthwhile addition to any middle school multicultural collection. Reviewer: Laura Woodruff
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8- This book picks up where The Way a Door Closes (Holt, 2003) left off. Now that C.J.'s father, who had left the family, has returned, the teen notes that dinners are like "a roomful of strangers" and that he feels weighed down by "brick heavy" questions. Wise beyond his years, eldest son C.J. felt it was his role to "keep the night watch" during his father's absence. Now, he feels displaced in his own home and seethes with anger and resentment. Gradually, everyone starts to move on: C.J. experiences the awkward elation of first love, tries his hand at shaving, and argues and makes up with his best friend. His little sister sends love notes to each family member, and, at book's end, C.J. and his family come together: "We dance on our tears." As in the previous book, Smith masterfully brings her characters to life from the inside out in straightforward free verse. Lewis uses his brilliantly composed, watercolor-and-ink paintings to underscore the strong emotions of the text. This hopeful book celebrates the power of families to heal and overcome hard times. It will speak to the hearts of many readers.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews
C.J. and his family return in this companion to 2003's The Way a Door Closes, winner of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2004. As this slim verse volume opens, C.J.'s father has returned to the fold, but his betrayal has left C.J. raw. He sees his brother playing one-on-one with Daddy, sees his sister snuggle up to Daddy for bedtime stories instead of him, and he hopes, "one day, / that my snowy mountain of anger will be / so weighed down with Daddy's apology / I will be overwhelmed / by an avalanche of forgiveness." Spring follows fall, however, and even as C.J. gropes his way through adolescence he finds himself understanding that, "In spite of everything, / our foundation is firm." Smith's verses capture anger, sadness, fear, disillusionment and reconciliation. Lewis's watercolors, though characteristically beautiful, lack the emotional intensity of Shane Evans's illustrations in the previous volume; in electing to illustrate the poems' images, moreover, they leach the language of its poetic potential. Something of a disappointment visually, but the essential poignancy shines through. (Poetry. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312659363
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 1/21/2014
  • Edition description: Yes, full copies only
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 960,696
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Hope Anita Smith is the author of The Way a Door Closes, the prequel to Keeping the Night Watch. A professional storyteller, Hope teaches poetry-writing workshops to all grade levels. She lives in Los Angeles, California. 


E. B. Lewis has illustrated over 35 books for young readers, including Coming on Home Soon, for which he received a Caldecott honor, and His Talkin’ About Bessie, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. He teaches illustration at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and lives in Folsom, New Jersey.

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