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Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Three Little Words: A Memoir
y Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Publishing Information: Atheneum: New York, 2008
ISBN: 9781416948063 / 9781416948070 (PB) / 9781433214295 (Audio)
: 336 p.
Ages: 14 & Up

Nine years of being tossed around in a terribly flawed foster care system could have ruined her life forever, but three little words changed her fate.

Book Talk:
How much do you know about the foster care system?  Why do children often end up in foster care?  How do they get adopted?

Many of us take for granted the roof over our head and the people who take care of us, especially when we are young. Ashley Rhodes-Courter learned at the age of only three that the roof over her head and the woman taking care of her could not be counted on. At three, she is placed into foster care when her mother is arrested for the first time; it is not until she is twelve that Ashley is finally adopted by a caring family. The years in between are filled with a string of endless foster homes, some good and some very, very bad.  Ashley Rhodes-Courter tells the story of nine years in foster care in her memoir, Three Little Words.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Alcohol Abuse
Child Abuse
Foster Care
Drug Addiction
Guardian Ad Litem
Social Services
Social Work
Teen Mothers

Awards & Reviews:
Georgia Peach Award Nominee, 2009

Booklist, January 1, 2008
Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books, March 1, 2008

Kirkus Reviews
, November 15, 2007
Publishers Weekly, January 28, 2008, p.56 (Starred Review)
School Library Journal, January 1, 2008, p. 145
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, June 1, 2008

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. What are the three little words of the title? Are these the words that you expected? Why are they so significant to Ashley and to the story? Do you think that Ashley would change these three words if she could?
  2. Why did fighting the Mosses become so important to Ashley? What was she hoping to gain? Was Gay and Phil's reaction to her efforts fair? Was the end result worth the effort?
  3. Ashley was always acting out toward Gay, and made a point of doing things that would anger or hurt her adopted mother. Why did she act this way toward Gay but not toward Phil? How did Gay's reaction to all this affect Ashley's behavior? Why did Ashley eventually stop acting this way? Was her behavior markedly different from a "normal" teenager's?
  4. Why did Ashley drug Gay and Phil? Why did getting caught upset her? Did her reasons for being upset change?
  5. Did Ashley always feel responsible for Luke's happiness and well-being? Is it fair to think that she should have?
  6. Was Lorraine a bad mother? Did various people perceive her mothering skills differently? Did her ability to be a good mother change over the years?
  7. The officials took Ashley and Luke away from their mother to keep them safe. Did this work? In what ways would they have been better off with their mother? What did they lose when they became foster children?
  8. Toward the end of the book, Ashley seemed to reconnect with her extended biological family more quickly and easily than with her mother. Why do you think this is?
  9. Were all of Ashley's experiences with foster families bad? Was there anything positive about her time in the system? Who was looking out for her? Who failed her?
  10. How did Ashley get involved with writing and public speaking? Why was this important to her?
  11. This book grew from an essay that Ashley wrote for a competition in which students were asked to write about a moment in their lives in which they learned something about themselves. Write your own essay about such a moment in your life.
  12. In the past couple years, there have been several high profile custody cases in the news. Choose one of these cases and have a mock trial to determine who gets custody.
  13. Set up an interview with a professional who works in the foster care system in your area (case worker, Guardian ad Litem, etc). What do they like and dislike about their job? What is a typical day like? Do they feel like they are making a difference?
  14. Ashley talks about the Christmas gifts that foster families receive from local sponsors. Organize a toy or clothing drive to benefit less fortunate children in your area.
  15. Speaking out on behalf of foster children has become an important part of Ashley's life. Is there a cause that resonates with you? Write an essay or speech about it and see if you can give this speech to an appropriate service organization in your area. If this is not an option, perhaps you can write a letter to someone who is active in the cause you've chosen.

Related Websites:
Author's Website -
National Adoption Website:
National Child Welfare Information Gateway:
Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families:

America by E.R. Frank (2004 RITBA Nominee)
The Boy from Planet Nowhere
by Anne E. Schraff, 1999
Finding Katie: The Diary of Anonumous, A Teenager in Foster Care
, 2005
The Glass Castle: A Memoir
by Jeannette Walls, 2005
Her Last Death: A Memoir
by Susanna Sonnenberg, 2008
Hope’s Boy: A Memoir
by Andrew Bridge, 2008
I Speak For This Child: True Stories of a Child Advocate by Gay Courter, 1995
Last Chance Summer by Diana J. Wieler, 1991
Returnable Girl by Pamela Lowell, 2006
Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen, 2008
Thief by Brian James, 2008

Other Books by the Authors:
This is the author’s debut book

About the Author:
After spending almost ten years in foster care, twenty-two year old Ashley Rhodes-Courter has been featured in Glamour, USA Today, and on The Today Show. Ashley is a sought-after child advocate and gives keynotes to conferences on foster care and adoption all across the United States. She has spoken on Capitol Hill and has been invited to the White House twice. In early 2007, she was honored with a Golden BR!CK Award, which gave $25,000 to her charity: the North American Council on Adoptable Children. Her memoir, Three Little Words, published by Simon & Schuster began as an essay also titled "Three Little Words," which won a writing contest for high school students and ran in New York Times Magazine. She hopes that her story might inspire young people to share and learn from their hardships so that this generation can change the world for the better.

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair