This is a 2004 honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:
Smith, Hope Anita. 2003. The Way a Door Closes. New York: Henry Holt.
Here is a Digital Trailer for THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES created by graduate student Shari Blount.
Here is a Readers' Guide for THE WAY A DOOR CLOSES created by graduate student Kayla Elliott.
Recommended for grades 4-8
C.J. is nearing his thirteenth birthday when his father explains to him what it means to be a man. Hope Anita Smith weaves readers through her poems that dig into C.J.’s daily routine with his family, the close bond he sees in their family portraits, the loss of his father’s job and the eventual day when his dad walks out and leaves his family behind. In the poem “Close Your Eyes”, C.J. explains how he closes his eyes during the scary parts in movies to stay away from the bad parts. He asks why his dad isn’t able to close his eyes when things get rough in life. Through this, Smith artfully digs into the mind of the child, helping C.J. to prepare himself for the hard times ahead of him. In the poem “The Way a Door Closes”, C.J. describes the day his dad left. He says he said goodbye to them and his eyes lingered on each of them a little too long. Then he closed the door and left his family vacuum-sealed inside which leads C.J. to say, “I can tell a lot by the way a door closes.”
Smith delicately treads over the loss of a family member who chose to leave. She understands the psyche of an adolescent who looks at their own life and wonders how they could miss something so apparent. C.J. looks through the family photo album for clues that his father would leave. C.J. inevitably steps up to the plate to be the man his father told him he would need to be some day. In “Temp Job”, C.J. plays basketball with his brother, leading his brother to tell him he was doing things just like their father would. Smith ends the book on a hopeful note: C.J.’s father has returned, full of apologies, begging for forgiveness from the family he disappointed. While this may not be the outcome of many families where a parent leaves, C.J. watches as the door closes behind his father; this time with his father sealed inside the house with his family.
Questions to ask before reading the book
1. What can you tell by the way a door closes? What does it mean if someone slams the door? Closes it quietly? Forgets to shut it all the way?
2. Have you ever had to change your life because of an event? Has something forced you to help out around the house more? To comfort someone who may be sad?
3. How does loss affect us? Do we become different people if our parents get divorced or if someone close to us dies?
Suggestions for reading aloud
1. Several of the poems show C.J.’s daily life with the sound of his brother’s basketball bouncing throughout. Read the poems with a ball bouncing in the background. You could also do this with the pauses in the poems themselves. After each stanza, the ball could bounce, giving a moment of reflection to C.J. and his family’s plight.
2. C.J.’s grandmother plays an integral part of C.J. becoming a man and holding the family together once the father leaves. While the poems are all told by C.J., a student can play the voice of the grandmother giving her sage advice. For example, in the poem “History Lessons”, Grandma is teaching C.J. about segregation. He says “she is bent, but she is not broken”. Have the student reading the part of Grandma speak that line to C.J.
3. As the book progresses, C.J. learns more about his family and about being a man. Read each poem with a different person, showing how C.J. changes from the beginning of the book to the end. The different voices would represent the feelings C.J. has, the way his father’s leaving changes him and how a closed door doesn’t have to be closed forever.
1. Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith (poetry) – The follow up to The Way a Door Closes, Smith brings readers once more into C.J.’s family where the questions of his father’s leaving linger in the air. C.J. continues to grow up while trying to forgive his father for the pain he caused his family with his absence. E.B. Lewis illustrates this book, giving an evocative picture of C.J.’s family as they struggle to hold it all together now that their family has been reassembled.
2. A Dime a Dozen by Nikki Grimes (poetry) – Grimes’ provides the inner thoughts of an introspective African American girl as she works through issues of identity, culture and the dissolution of her family with her parent’s divorce. The poems are geared towards an older audience (grades 5-9) as they deal with tough emotional issues.
3. Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson (novel) – Johnson tells the story of fourteen-year-old Emily who learns about her African American roots as well as the feelings of letting go as her dying grandmother moves in with her and her mother. The young adult novel presents the hardships Emily’s grandmother had which leads Emily to learn about family ties and the importance of being African American.
Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor Award, 2003
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
"Good poetry touches the heart, and this offering does just that." --School Library Journal
"Evans's illustrations are characteristically powerful, the naturalistic renderings carrying great emotion." --Kirkus Reviews
“The poems in The Way a Door Closes are beautifully rendered photographs of one’s family life – a life that falls apart and puts itself back together again. Hope’s voice is vivid and evocative. I’m glad her words are in the world.” –Jacqueline Woodson, author of Hush
Hope Anita Smith’s website
The author’s own website offers an informative FAQ about why she decided to start writing, where her ideas and characters come from and general questions about her own life. It also gives information about her books as well as a section for the media and a calendar of places she’ll be giving readings.
Manhattan Public Library Kid’s Book Suggestions blog
The blog is done by a librarian at the Manhattan, KS Public Library and is devoted to children’s books. It features reviews done by various readers, including a review of The Way a Door Closes and Keeping the Night Watch. (http://mplkidsbooksuggestions.blogspot.com/2009/06/way-door-closeskeeping-night-watch.html) While the reviews aren’t very in depth, they present a good summary that is easy to understand which would be helpful for children to read and find other books they might be interested in reading. The reviews are labeled well so it is easy to search by genre or even by medal winners.
The Happy Nappy Bookseller
This blog offers reviews, links and interesting information about African American children and young adult literature. One entry that was particularly intriguing was the Q&A with Michael Lewis, author of The Blind Side. It is obvious that the interviewer is well acquainted with Lewis’ work, pointing out specific parts in the middle of the book. The blog archives go back to 2008 which includes all the great information throughout the years. The book summaries are very in depth, but also provide a review that is well worth reading. They are all done on a level that an adolescent would understand, but adults can appreciate. The links to other blogs and websites the author reads consistently is also a nice jumping off point if someone wants to find even more blogs to visit.
Follow Up Activities
Work with children to see what they know about the way a door closes. With their eyes closed, try closing a door different ways. Sometimes someone slams it because they are angry. How is that different than a gust of wind slamming it? Can the students tell the difference? Do they know what it sounds like when it’s closed softly as to not wake someone up? How does it close when someone is just running a quick errand? Students can investigate the way a door is put together as a part of this project. What does a door sound like with a squeaky hinge? Does a door sound different when a pin is missing? If C.J. can tell a lot by the way a door closes, are there ways to tell the different sounds and feelings apart?
C.J. spends time looking at pictures of his family to evaluate different things. At the beginning of the book, he looks at the way everyone is placed in a family portrait and how they all look happy. By the middle of the book, C.J. looks at family pictures to try to gain clues into why his father left. Have students cut pictures out of a magazine and make a collage of different people and their expressions. They can choose to make a collage of all one feeling or different feelings and label them on the collage. What does happiness look like? What makes them happy? Are there any people who smile without looking very happy? What kind of stories do these pictures tell? You could also assign specific emotions to students (or groups of students) and have them make a collage based on those. As a class, evaluate how different people see sadness, happiness, anger, etc. Why is it important to understand these emotions look different to different people?
Have students write a series of poems about a moment that changed their life. It could be when a grandparent passed away or when they got a new dog. It does not have to be a sad memory, but anything where they felt like things changed in their life. The first of the poems should be remembering how they were before. The poems should lead up to the actual event that changed them. The series should end with the way they felt afterwards. How did they see themselves changed? They don’t have to be long poems, just poems that walk a reader through their feelings and this life changing event.