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.
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.
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.
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)
“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 Review
“Evans's illustrations are characteristically powerful, the naturalistic renderings carrying great emotion.” Kirkus Reviews