Last fall I heard award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier speak at an SCBWI event in eastern PA. When he said his latest book, Knock Knock, was based on a spoken word poem about a child with a father in prison, I knew I needed to get a copy.
Daniel Beaty’s powerful words and Collier’s collage illustrations (my favorite style) didn’t disappoint. Here’s the review I wrote of Knock Knock for Lancaster Newspapers last winter.
Every day a boy’s father wakes him with their special “knock knock” game. “Good morning, Papa!” the boy cries.
Until one morning his father isn’t there.
He’s not there to cook scrambled eggs or help with homework, and he won’t be there to teach the boy to dribble a ball or shave.
“Knock Knock,” written by Daniel Beaty and illustrated by Bryan Collier, is a story of loss and hope as the unnamed boy narrates his way from missing his father to living out the lessons his dad would have taught him.
Collier won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award last week for the book’s artwork.
While the story’s words carry the weight of an absent parent and a father’s dreams for a child, it is the watercolor and collage illustrations that propel the character’s journey.
He moves from a smiling boy embracing his father to a forlorn one playing alone, with the once-upright rainbow on his wall falling down.
A letter he writes to his dad floats through an urban scene and carries the boy’s confusion about how to grow up. When a response arrives from his dad, imparting wisdom on shaving and success, the boy moves from T-shirts to ties.
The words and illustrations reach a triumphant union in two balloon-filled scenes of the boy as a grown-up, walking with his own children and wife.
“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 doors to your dreams,” his father writes.
The rhythmic language and layered imagery in “Knock Knock” acknowledge the not-always-carefree lives many children experience without being dull or preaching.
Beaty’s story draws from his own childhood and first appeared as a spoken word performance on Def Poetry Jam in 2010.
Although Beaty’s father was incarcerated, the book never states or shows why the character’s dad is gone. That omission makes it a compelling read for children missing a parent for any reason, as well as for those learning to empathize.
Here are some facts on children with incarcerated parents, from The Osborne Association, a NY organization that works with prisoners and their families: