Celebrating Dads with Poetry: Hope Anita Smith on "My Daddy Rules the World"

Award-winning poet Hope Anita Smith discusses her latest collection, My Daddy Rules the World, a joyful tribute to fatherhood.

1704-UpClose-Smith_MyDaddyRulestheWorldSmith dedicates My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads (Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks, May 2017), her latest stellar collection of illustrated poetry, to “every man ‘fathering’ a child and to those who stand in the gap.” The poems are a testament to the myriad roles fathers play in the daily lives of children, whether they stay at home or serve abroad in the military, and Smith honors each depiction with warmth and respect. SLJ chatted with Smith about how the work came together.

Who knew fatherhood could be so joyful! Did you sense from the outset that the tone would be celebratory? I did. There has always been a soft spot in my heart for the way fathers interact with their children. I also felt that dads don’t get their due. I remember making wonderful gifts for my mom and writing her poems for special occasions, while my dad got a wonky ashtray (he never smoked), a finger-painted muslin tie, or a pair of socks.

I wanted to pay homage to dads. Let them know that even though we don’t always show it, we see them and we applaud them.

The poems are directed at a much younger audience than some of your previous work. What inspired that decision? It’s true; this collection is for a much younger audience. That idea was the brainchild of my editor, Christy Ottaviano. She has always had a very quiet way of stretching me in new directions.

There is so much movement in the collection: dancing, playing catch, learning guitar, wrestling, etc. How did you narrow down what types of scenes you wanted to include? It was very difficult to decide. I had poems about camping out in the backyard, climbing dad like a mountain, pretending to drive the car—the list goes on and on. I chose scenes that resonated with me, based on what I saw in other families and what I wished for myself.

Photo by Everard Williams Jr.

Photo by Everard Williams Jr.

Your artwork here is, as always, gorgeous. How do you convey such tenderness and love with torn paper and without any facial expressions for clues? Thank you for the compliment. I believe our expressions of love, joy, hurt, etc., are much more visible in our body language than in the looks on our faces. I didn’t come to the table knowing this. I learned it after I knew that I was going to illustrate this book. I had been led to believe that men are tough and don’t display their feelings. I worried that the art would be stiff and lack expression. But once I started making the images, I realized that not having facial features created a space for a mirror that allowed readers to see themselves in each piece.

Mentorship and the value of sharing knowledge are strong themes throughout. Do you hope readers will come away with a renewed appreciation of their dads? I absolutely do hope that. I think I have shone a bright light on dads even in my first two books, The Way a Door Closes and Keeping the Night Watch. C.J.’s father (because my characters speak to me) made sure that I didn’t typify him in any way. He was a good dad. He [made] a misstep, and by returning to his family, he was a better dad. He showed us how it’s done.

There are wonderful men in the world giving love and support to children. I have been blessed to have a few men who have nurtured me. I hope this collection sings their praises.

There is also a bit of truly silly fun in poems such as “Haircut” and the call-and-response poem “Daddy!”—poems meant to be read aloud. Were you inspired by your experiences with in-school workshops? Yes, I do a lot of storytelling, and I make it a point to get the kids involved. I’m telling the story, but I let them know I’m going to need their help. They take their role seriously. They’re alert and ready to jump in and be part of the tale. And there is so much love in laughter.

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