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Three Little Words

Reading Group Guide

    A Reading Group Guide to
    Three Little Words: A Memoir

    By Ashley Rhodes-Courter
    About the Book
    Ashley was only three years old when she was taken from her mother -- too young to understand why she couldn't stay with the mother she adored and she could not possibly have realized that she was going to spend the next nine years bouncing from one foster family to another. As a small child she could not stand up for herself when the people that were charged with her care failed her. At twenty years old, her mother Lorraine was also too young to take responsibility for her two children or negotiate the legal system that tore apart her family. Three Little Words is Ashley's story, told in her voice, about the time she spent without Lorraine, and her search for someone to mother her. It contains all the passion and detail that can only come from someone who has experienced the foster care system from the inside.
    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.
    Discussion Topics
    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?
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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?
    • 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.
    • 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.

More Books From This Author

In the sequel to the New York Times bestselling memoir Three Little Words, Ashley Rhodes-Courter expands on life beyond the foster care system, the joys and heartbreak with the family she’s created, and her efforts to make peace with her past.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent a harrowing nine years of her life in fourteen different foster homes. Her memoir, Three Little Words, captivated audiences everywhere and went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Now...

About the Author

Ashley Rhodes-Courter
Photo Credit:

Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Ashley Rhodes-Courter has been featured in Teen People, The New York Times, USA TODAY, and Glamour, as well as on Good Morning America. Her first memoir, Three Little Words, began as an essay, which won a writing contest for high school students, and was published in The New York Times Magazine. She is also the author of Three More Words. A graduate of Eckerd College and a champion for the reformation of the foster care system, Ashley speaks internationally on foster care and adoption. Visit her at