words and pictures by Hope Anita Smith
About the book:
A young girl thinks of her mom as a superhero, a doctor, her North Star. She feels loved in her mother’s arms and capable of conquering the world. But when her beloved role model dies, she cannot even cry; her sadness is too overwhelming. As she struggles to manage her grief, she must learn how to move on while keeping the memory of her mother very much alive inside her.
Hope Anita Smith uses her remarkable talent to explore a personal yet universal subject: the death of a parent. Through the eyes of a child and then a young woman, these poignant poems, together with stunning folk-art images, capture the complicated feelings of a young person who shows great hope, strength and will to overcome.
About the author:
Hope Anita Smith is the author of The Way a Door Closes and Keeping the Night Watch. A professional storyteller and in-school poet, Hope teaches poetry writing workshops to all grade levels. She lives in Los Angeles, where she writes, knits, and creates paper collage stationery and illustration.
1. How did you find poetry?
I found poetry when I was very young. I learned poems from God's Trombones by James Weldon Johnson and performed them at church. That led to Antebellum Sermon by Paul Laurence Dunbar and The Madam Poems by Langston Hughes. I loved learning and reciting them. I also loved that poetry told wonderful stories in such a small space on the page.
2. What do you wish kids knew about poetry?
I wish kids knew that poetry should not be hard to understand. It is not rocket science. And I want them to know that poetry is a great way to look at words. Through metaphor, simile, personification, etc. poems can bring such power and meaning to words.
- What can your fans look forward to next?
My fans (and I love you all) can look forward to a mid-grade novel and a couple of fun picture books.
- Describe the relationship between the narrator and her mother. What images does the author use to show how she feels about her?
- What is the narrator’s imagination in the poem “Sound Advice?” What advice have you received from you mom and grandma?
- What give the narrator the blues? What gives you the blues? How can you chase them away?
- What do you know about the narrator’s mom by the way she speaks?
- How does the girl imitate her mother? Do children always imitate their parents?
- How do the grandma and mother do things differently? Is it true for you as well? Why do you think so?
- Find examples of figurative language (simile and metaphor) that help the reader understand the girl’s relationship with her mother.
- What happened while the narrator slept? How does she feel?
- How is death described in the poem “Duped?” How would you describe death?
- How does the narrator try to find her mother? Do you think she understands the permanence of death? How can children possibly understand this kind of loss?
- What does the narrator mean when she says, “We both know/good daughters are hard to find.” in the poem “Let’s Make a Deal?”
- When were there flowers in the narrator’s world? How do you think she feels about them? How do people try to show they care? What actually helps, do you think?
- The narrator feels safe and loved when her mother braids her hair. What ordinary moments make your mom feel close to you?
- What is the structure of the poem “Words?” Why do you think the author chose to use this format?
- How does the narrator try to get her mother back? How will she feel when she realizes, eventually, that she can’t?
- What is Rule #1? What is your number one rule?
- Compare and contrast the narrator’s mother’s kitchen to her Aunt Nedra’s. Whose kitchen would you like to learn how to cook inside of? Is the narrator hungry for more than food?
- What childhood things does the narrator miss out on by having lost her mother so young? What does she mean when she says, “that I’d all but hung the moon/ each time a tooth fell out of my mouth.”
- How does the narrator feel about her friend’s treatment of their mothers? Is it inevitable that daughters and mothers have this difficult time through the teen years?
- How was the narrator “Cheated” by her dreams? In the bible, what did Lot’s wife do?
- Find out the “Q and A” on you and your mother or first caregiver. Why do you think it’s important to know what you were like?
- What phrases are in your own mother’s “rule book?” Why do you think there are so many euphemisms for death like “losing someone?” Do they make things better or worse?
- How does memory change over time for the narrator? What do you remember about someone you have lost? Is it concrete or like clouds? Why do you think memory is so difficult to understand?
- What is the “Dangerous Game” the narrator is playing? Have you ever played one too? How is repetition used to an intense effect in this poem?
- Why do you think the building of a Christmas tree is so clear for the narrator? How does she build the memories of her mother? What has she learned about herself?
Poems are meant to be read aloud so take turns reading one of the poems from the book aloud in pairs. Afterwards, discuss what the poem means to you. Try to make connections to the poem from something in your own life, or to another story you’ve read or to the writing itself.
Inspired by “What My Mom Says” write a poem about your own mother and her list of words for you. Play with simile, metaphor and line breaks as Hope Anita Smith did to bring your poem to life.
Study the torn-paper collage of Hope Anita’s beautiful illustrations for the collection. Create one yourself to accompany your poem.