Harper is an aspiring poet, and life is giving her a lot to write about just now. Daddy up and walked out, leaving them with too many bills, too little money, and an eviction notice. Now Mama is scrambling to make ends meet, leaving Harper to stay home and take care of her brother. Their whole world has been turned upside down, which Harper could just about handleif it wasn't for the poetry contest at school. More than anything, she wants to get up on that stage and read her poems out loud. But how can she worry about getting back to school when she doesn't even know where she's going to sleep tonight?
About the Author
ANN HAYWOOD LEAL volunteers at her local soup kitchen, and this novel grew out of her concern for the very real issue of homelessness in our own back yards. Ann is an elementary school teacher in Waterford, Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
“Hey, Hem.” I moved a couple of boxes aside so he could come in. “You don’t believe in letting a person settle themselves in before you get to bothering them, now, do you?”
But I patted the corner of the bed. Hemingway’s company wasn’t so bad. He had a way about him that made all the tired go out of a person.
“Mama says we got to move pretty quick here,” he said, eyeing all my boxes.
“Not just yet.” I straightened up a stack of poems on my bed. “She just wants us to get a head start, is all.”
“Thing is…” He bit at a hangnail on his thumb and I knew what was coming. Hem always got fidgety when he was thinking about Daddy. “How’s he going to find us?”
I pulled his thumb away from his mouth. “He’ll find us if the time comes.”
I knew how badly Hem wanted Daddy to come walking back up our front steps, and I wanted that for him, I really did. But I wasn’t so sure I wanted that for me.
He got up and took a good look out my bedroom window. “It’s almost time to go out, Harper Lee.”
“You know I’m not going to go out to the porch,” I reminded him.
He leaned forward as if he was going to tell me a good secret. “But I’m thinking I might wait on the driveway path today, right out front, you know? Just so as he can see me better.”
But deep down, I think Hemingway knew as well as I did, when Daddy had made his way down that driveway path a whole year ago, he had never figured on coming back.
Reading Group Guide
Although the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that approximately
3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year, and that these statistics have been rising drastically in recent decades. Discuss the concept of homelessness, what it means to families that experience it, and what images come to your mind when you think of homeless people.
1 Why does Harper's mother name her children after famous authors? What do you know about Harper Lee and Ernest Hemingway? Who was Flannery named after?
2 Why does Hemingway like to pretend he has broken bones? Why does he wait every day for their father to come home?
3 Harper loves to be at school and generally feels comfortable there. What does she find at school that she does not find at home?
4 Why is Harper so excited about the poetry contest? What happened in the previous year when she wanted to enter?
5 Why doesn't Sarah Lynn's mother allow her to play with Harper or visit her home? Does this affect the way Harper feels about Sarah Lynn? What would you do if you were Sarah Lynn?
6 How does Harper feel when she returns from school to find all the family's belongings in the yard? How would you feel? Why does Winnie Rae taunt Harper from next door?
7 How does Harper's mother deal with the situation of being evicted? What are the important belongings that they make sure to pack in the car, and why is each one important?
What would you take with you?
8 What kept Harper's mother from finishing school and getting a better job? Why did she stop doing her own writing? Why does she ask
Harper to stay home from school when they move to the motel?
9 Describe Harper's first sight of Dorothy. What would you think if you saw someone looking the way Harper describes her? Why does the encounter with Dorothy make Harper feel like writing? She says that Dorothy's eyes "looked like they knew things. Things about people.
Maybe things that people didn't know about their own selves."
What does she mean?
10 Describe Harper and Hem's first meeting with Randall and Lorraine. Why do they let them into their room?
Why does Harper feel that Lorraine could be her friend?
11 What do the swimming pool and the drive-in theater mean to each of the children? Could the drive-in really be fixed up, as
Lorraine wants to do?
12 How does Harper feel when she sees her favorite piece of furniture in
Lorraine's tent? How would you feel if you had no control over what happens to your own belongings?
13 Why does Harper write a poem to Flannery when she sees all their belongings being sold in a yard sale? How does Harper's writing help her to cope with each new crisis?
14 Harper says that it is easier to deal with Winnie Rae when she is being nasty than when she is being nice. Why is Harper so confused when Winnie Rae saves some of the decals from her dresser for her? What else does she learn about the Early family that surprises her?
15 Discuss Dorothy's statement: "If folks don't like the way you look, they almost never take the time to find anything out about you. They just make up their own stories."
Why does Harper feel so good when Dorothy praises her writing?
16 Some of the most influential characters in the story are ones that are already gone – Harper's daddy, Dorothy's husband and daughter, Lorraine's father. What do you know about each of them and what effect did they have on the people in the story?
17 What does Harper mean when she writes: "Words are just one way/To get people to listen to you"? What makes her feel she can share all of her troubles with Lorraine, even more than she puts into her writing?
18 Why does Harper feel that the Knotty Pine Poetry
Reading is better than reading her poems at school? Why is the first poem she reads in the rehearsal so important to her?
19 The book ends with two deaths and yet there is hope for Harper's family. How does Dorothy's death affect Lorraine and Randall? How does it affect Harper and her family?
20 What does Harper's mother mean when she says, "I feel as if I have been away on a long trip"? Why does it always make her feel better when she starts reading her favorite book? Why does she pick up Dorothy's copy of To Kill a Mockingbird instead of her own copy?
21 Looking back over the story, which of Harper's poems means the most to you? Try reading her poems out loud. Does that change the way you experience them? Discuss the difference between writing in private and reading aloud.
22 Recalling your pre-reading discussion of homelessness, do you have a different concept of what it means to be homeless now? How has this book changed your concept of homeless people and the impact of homelessness on the children who experience it?