Smith, Hope Anita. 2008. Keeping the Night Watch. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN: 9780805072020.
Thirteen year old C.J. became the man of the house when his father walked out on the family. Now that his father is back, C.J. struggles to find not only his place in the family but also forgiveness for his father, who is doing everything in his power to make amends.
Told in free verse poetry, this book tells the journey from fall to spring, from hate to forgiveness, and from separation to unity. The simple words are rich with figurative language. C.J. compares the family conversations to baking, his father's eyes to a white flag of surrender, and the family's security to fine bone-china. Although each poem could stand alone, woven together, they tell the story of a healing family. Offsetting the serious nature of forgiving a father who abandoned him, C.J. also describes his crush on Maya and his nervousness when he’s around her. The addition of these poems creates a balanced look at a teenage boy.
The pictures, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, add fill in the blanks left by the simple words. The most compelling picture is the one for the poem entitled “Showdown at the O.K Corral”, which pictures C.J. and his father face to face, C.J.’s face angry and his father’s face determined. Another picture that speaks volumes accompanies the poem “Light at the end of the Tunnel”, which has a dark tunnel with C.J.’s father at the end in white, symbolizing C.J.’s secret hope that at the end, his father will be there as “our sun rising” (Smith 69).
To introduce this book, “If You can’t Stand the Heat”, which epitomizes C.J.’s anger is a good place to start.
I am mad.
I am the worst kind of mad.
I don’t yell.
I don’t slam doors.
I don’t throw things.
I’m a pot with a lid on,
I keep all my mad inside.
I just let it stew.
I want Byron to be mad, too,
but he isn’t.
Says he doesn’t want to hold on to mad.
He takes the lid off his pot,
Lets mad go.
Says he wants his family back.
Says he’s glad Daddy’s home.
I’m mad at Daddy,
But it feels like I’m mad at Byron, too.
We’re two different kinds of pots,
Byron and me,
and when it comes to Daddy,
we can’t cook together. (Smith 16)
Students can analyze the emotion, the simple sentence structure to convey anger, and the cooking metaphors and then compare it to the final poem “Dance with Me” where the family finally comes together when C.J. dances with his father. “We keep our eyes on Him. We dance on our tears” (Smith 73). After reading this poem, students could write in their Jammin’ Journals (journals written in response to music) after listening to the song “Dance with my Father” by Luther Vandross. The journal entries could compare C.J.’s feeling of forgiveness when he dances with his father and the song’s sorrow over his mother no longer being able to dance with his father.