Every morning, a young boy waits for his father to go KNOCK KNOCK on his bedroom door. The boy pretends to be asleep and then jumps into his father’s arms when the dad comes up to his bed. But one day Papa stops coming, “and morning after morning he never comes.”
The boy misses his father terribly, and writes him a letter telling him all the things he misses. He is especially worried that his father won’t be there to teach him what he needs to know to be a man. “Papa,” he says, “come home, ‘cause I want to be just like you, but I’m forgetting who you are.’”
One day the boy comes home from school to find a tie from his father and a letter. His dad says he is sorry he will not be coming home, but leaves him some lessons:
“No longer will I be there to knock on your door,
so you must learn to knock for yourself.
KNOCK KNOCK down the doors that I could not.
KNOCK KNOCK to open new doors to your dreams.
KNOCK KNOCK for me,
for as long as you become your best,
the best of me still lives in you.”
By the end of the book, the boy is grown, and we can see that his father is still with him, on the inside.
Illustrator Bryan Collier is outstanding as usual in depicting emotions in his faces and in his ability to confer a sense of place. I loved his use of the dad’s tie throughout the book to show graphically the way in which the dad stayed with the boy throughout his life. Using watercolor and collage, Collier brings Harlem to life, and conveys love in every one of his panels. Particularly effective is the picture that shows the smaller versions of the boy inside the grown-up man, putting on his tie.
Discussion: At the end of the book, an Author’s Note explains that Beaty’s father was originally his principal caregiver, and they played the Knock Knock game every morning. But his dad was incarcerated when the author was three. As he grew up and became an educator, he decided he wanted to address the pain created by the separation from the child’s point of view. He also performs this story as a monologue.
Evaluation: This book loses some of its punch because of the ambiguity of what happens to the father. It seems as if the author wanted to account for any type of loss, whether through divorce, death, or incarceration, but in so doing, added a bit of confusion to the story. Nevertheless, it is memorable, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once. Each time I read through it, I cried again. I think children, however, will find it reassuring and comforting. Nevertheless, for you adults who read along with the kids, stock up on kleenex.
Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2013
You can watch Beaty performing the monologue that inspired this book in this totally amazing video: