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The Way a Door Closes Hardcover – May 1, 2003
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From School Library Journal
Grade 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, Inc.
Gr. 5-8. In the voice of a 13-year-old boy, a series of clear, lovely poems tells a contemporary family story, and Evans' strong, realistic paintings show the deep feelings and connections in an African American home. For a long time everything is blissfully happy. A family portrait shows Daddy, proud and strong ("He stands behind us / towering over us all. / One hand rests on my shoulder, / the other caresses my mother's"). Then Daddy loses his job, and one day he leaves and doesn't come back. The plain words and beautifully individualized pictures express the family anguish ("Brother's acting like a stranger / Eyes and words are full of anger"). In the poem "Prodigal Son," Daddy finally returns, and he can't find enough words to say how sorry he is. The first part is just too idyllic, with everything absolutely perfect; but after the shocking grief of abandonment, Daddy's return seems both hopeful and realistic. Readers will be deeply moved by the portrait of a rooted, extended family that makes it through hard times. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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At a slim 52 pages, it manages to meet many of my students' needs. Its length is not intimidating to developing readers; if it weren't for the cover illustration of adolescent boys, it could be confused with a picture book. Throughout the book are moving illustrations by Shane W. Evans, which may assist readers who are struggling to paint mental pictures of the story.
While the writing is simple and the length is short, it covers a heavy topic: what happens to a family when the father leaves. Author Hope Anita Smith begins the book with a portrait of a happy family, with thirteen-year-old CJ's observations of his life with his two siblings, parents, and grandmother. When CJ's father loses his job, he withdraws and then one day does not return. Smith handles the subject delicately, showing the repercussions for the family. His mother tries to move on, his grandmother holds the family together, and CJ tries to take on the role of the "man of the house." It isn't easy, but CJ maintain his loyalty to his father and believes he will return. I loved the section entitled, "Diamond in the Rough":
Daddy has always spoken loud
of being black and being proud
of honest pay for a job well done,
a father's dream for his oldest son.
He gives me words, each one a gem,
words I wish someone had given him.
Smith treats the father with more generosity than he may deserve and it manages to be refreshing. Not all fathers who leave are gone forever. The Way a Door Closes does not delve into what the father's return means, but the sequel Keeping the Night Watch does.
The Way a Door Closes won the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe New Talent Award and deserved it. I was touched by the struggles of CJ and his family, and hope that it can provide hope or solace for boys in similar situations.