The Way a Door Closes

( 2 )


My best friend, Preacher, is being just that. His sermon today is on fathers and I am his congregation.
“Dads are light. They have no roots.
One strong wind, and they’re gone.
Out of here. History.”

With a click, a bang, a whisper—or no noise at all. There are so many ways that a door can close, but it’s not just the closing; it’s the ...

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My best friend, Preacher, is being just that. His sermon today is on fathers and I am his congregation.
“Dads are light. They have no roots.
One strong wind, and they’re gone.
Out of here. History.”

With a click, a bang, a whisper—or no noise at all. There are so many ways that a door can close, but it’s not just the closing; it’s the knowing. And thirteen-year-old CJ knows too much—about losing his father, about his family’s pain, and especially about what it means to hold things together when times are the toughest.

In this beautifully written and powerfully moving novel in poems, Hope Anita Smith tells the story of a young man’s struggle to accept a father who has walked out on his family. Here, in CJ’s words, is a portrait of hurt and healing, and finding the strength to open the door again.

The Way a Door Closes is the winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe New Talent Award and the 2004 Bank Street - Claudia Lewis Award and is a 2004 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smith makes a noteworthy children's book debut with this poignant portrait of an African-American family, presented as a series of poems written from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy. The first entry strikes a warm, assured note as C.J. describes early-morning sounds and smells in his home, concluding, "My family is up,/ just like the sun,/ and we are all/ golden." But not for long. Daddy loses his job and cannot find another, and Momma is "working too hard/ taking care of someone else's children/ and not us." In the moving title poem, the father one night announces that he is going out. "He looked at each of us/ a moment too long" before closing the door: "I felt all the air leave the room/ and we were vacuum-sealed inside./ I shook it off./ I told myself it was nothing/ but/ somewhere deep inside/ I knew better./ I can tell a lot by/ the way a door closes." Daddy does not return (until the ending), leaving the family in a tangle of emotions. At one point C.J. assures his weeping mother that he can take care of the family, and she first slaps him and then takes him in her arms, saying "Time enough for you to be a man/ tomorrow/ but not today." Evans's (Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter) representational oil paintings variously present individuals, household details and small groups of family or friends. Most of these images float, isolated against clean white space, capturing and communicating the poetry's deep emotional timbre. Ages 8-12. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Smith's book is a collection of thirty-four narrative poems that tell the story of thirteen-year-old C.J.'s struggle when his father walks out. The poems begin with "Golden" which describes waking in a near-perfect sounding family: "My family is up/just like the sun,/and we are all/golden." Smith builds the tenderness of the father-son relationship and C.J.'s admiration for his father. C.J.'s father is a wise, proud man who gives him words, "each one a gem." After C.J.'s father loses his job and leaves, we learn of the strength of his mother and grandmother whose love carries him through troubled times. "My grandmomma's hands hold/my hands and me/but mostly/they hold/everything together." In brief, powerful vignettes, we see C.J. floundering, choosing hope and strength rather than acting out, and finally, slowly accepting his father's return. Scattered throughout are emotive oils by Shane Evans who captures the nuances of tenderness, depression and family connection. 2003, Holt, Ages 10 up.
— Susie Wilde
From The Critics
This collection of poems all revolves around 13-year-old C.J. This collection is written in story form. Each poem represents a different family member who explains a bit of their life. Grandmomma explains how she had to sit on the back of the bus during segregation. Daddy tells C.J. he is "almos' a man." Then everything changes after Daddy loses his job. He leaves the family. The family goes through a great deal of pain but learns to heal. Almost a year later Daddy returns. This time C.J. knows Daddy is going to stay. Through these poems C.J. finds a way to show his hurt, healing and the power to "open the door again." I would use this book when teaching about segregation and in my poetry unit. This collection is a terrific example of a different format poems can take. Students could write a different ending to this story by creating different poems. They could write about how this collection of poems affected them when then read them. 2003, Henry Holt and Company, 52 pp., Ages young adult.
—Paula Schuster
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-In 34 compelling poems, readers are drawn into the thoughts and feelings of a 13-year-old African American as he tries to understand and cope with a parent's departure from the family. The first 12 poems describe the contentment C. J. feels about being a part of a close-knit family. With the 13th poem, "The Way a Door Closes," his father abruptly leaves home. "-And when he went out the door/he held on to the knob./The door closed with a/click./I felt all the air leave the room/and we were vacuum-sealed inside./-I can tell a lot by/the way a door closes." In carefully chosen, straightforward language, Smith conveys the boy's roller-coaster emotions with pinpoint accuracy. The results are poems that are heartbreaking, angry, and tender. Done in warm shades of mostly brown, blue, and gold, Evans's color spot and full-page paintings have a realistic, slightly sculptural appearance and are a perfect complement to the poems. Good poetry touches the heart, and this offering does just that.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A spare cycle of mostly free verse details the anguish of one family when the father loses his job. Thirteen-year-old C.J. traces, in separate poems, the arc taken by his family from pre-layoff security to despair when his father leaves, shutting the door behind him, "and we were vacuum-sealed inside. . . . I can tell a lot by / the way a door closes." C.J.’s own transformation from youthful hero-worship to pained disillusionment is delicately limned, making his conscious decision to commit to his family all the more poignant. Evans’s illustrations are characteristically powerful, the naturalistic renderings carrying great emotion. Newcomer Smith’s verse is not so well-seasoned; it is occasionally more prosaic than poetic, and its one attempt at rhymed verse seems quite forced. For all this, however, C.J.’s story is a touching and memorable one, its eventual happy ending not a capitulation but a blessing. (Poetry. 8-12)
From the Publisher

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner
Land of Enchantment Book Award Master Reading List for 2004-2005
A School Library Journal "Best Book"

" Smith and Evans have created a wonderful way to introduce young readers to the world of poetry." --Black Issues Book Review

"Hope Smith’s voice is vivid and evocative, I’m glad her words are in the world."--Jacqueline Woodson

"Good poetry touches the heart, and this offering does just that." --School Library Journal, starred

"Evans's illustrations are characteristically powerful, the naturalistic renderings carrying great emotion." --Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312661694
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 821,260
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Hope Anita Smith didn’t want to just tell the story of a father who disappears: “I wanted this story to have a different ending, an ending that proves wrongs can be righted and it’s never too late to say ‘I’m sorry.’ ” A native of Akron, Ohio, Ms. Smith now lives in Los Angeles, California. This is her first book for young readers.

Shane W. Evans has illustrated several highly regarded books for children, including Down the Winding Road and Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter, for which he received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. His artwork has been exhibited in Paris, Chicago, New York, and West Africa. A native of upstate New York, Mr. Evans currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Table of Contents

Golden 3

Legacy 4

History Lessons 5

Interrogator Momma 6

The Whole World in His Hands 8

Twice Blessed 10

Audition 12

Diamond in the Rough 13

Close Your Eyes 14

Good White Things 15

The Dance 16

Job Hunt 18

The Way a Door Closes 19

Geography Lesson 21

Not Today 22

And One to Grow On 24

The Pull of the Moon 25

Photo Op 26

Little Man 27

The Power of One 29

Going, Going, Gone 30

Grandmomma's China Bowl 32

Telling Tales 33

Tell Me Something I Don't Know 34

Dream 37

When a Daddy Goes 38

Family Fire 40

Schoolyard Sermon 42

Winter Words 44

History Repeating (Almost) 46

Temp Job 48

Forgetfulness 50

Prodigal Son 51

Astronomy 101 52

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 30, 2011

    Great for Middle School Students

    Excellent book for middle school students to relate to life experiences through poetry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2006

    The Way a Door Closes

    Its funny how one word can be interpreted into many things, a touch can mean so much or nothing at all and how in Cameron¿s case the way a door closes can lead to a bad ending or a new beginning. The comfort we get when we hear a familiar sound, see a familiar face or smell a familiar scent makes life worthwhile. I love the ending of the story it was unexpected and very hopeful. I enjoyed the book.

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