Hope Anita Smith, , illus. by Shane W. Evans. . Holt, $18.95 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6477-3

Smith makes a noteworthy children's book debut with this poignant portrait of an African-American family, presented as a series of poems written from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy. The first entry strikes a warm, assured note as C.J. describes early-morning sounds and smells in his home, concluding, "My family is up,/ just like the sun,/ and we are all/ golden." But not for long. Daddy loses his job and cannot find another, and Momma is "working too hard/ taking care of someone else's children/ and not us." In the moving title poem, the father one night announces that he is going out. "He looked at each of us/ a moment too long" before closing the door: "I felt all the air leave the room/ and we were vacuum-sealed inside./ I shook it off./ I told myself it was nothing/ but/ somewhere deep inside/ I knew better./ I can tell a lot by/ the way a door closes." Daddy does not return (until the ending), leaving the family in a tangle of emotions. At one point C.J. assures his weeping mother that he can take care of the family, and she first slaps him and then takes him in her arms, saying "Time enough for you to be a man/ tomorrow/ but not today." Evans's (Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter) representational oil paintings variously present individuals, household details and small groups of family or friends. Most of these images float, isolated against clean white space, capturing and communicating the poetry's deep emotional timbre. Ages 8-12. (May)