Title: The Jazz ManThe Jazz Man
Author: Mary Hays Weik
Illustrator: Ann Grifalconi
Pages: 42
Reading Level: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★

Newbery Medalist.

The Story.

Zeke lives on the top floor of a big boarding house. Every day his mother and father go to work and he sits in his room staring out of the window into the rooms across the street, making up stories about the people who live there.

One day, as he watches from the window, the empty room across the way is rented to a man – a jazz man with a piano that he jazzes on.  Zeke wishes he could meet the man – wishes the man could find some way to make Zeke’s breaking family better again…

Discussion.

The Jazz Man is what I would describe as an understated story – the characters, situations, descriptions, and emotions are all understated. They’re so present and so real that they’re practically choking the story, but they are modestly drawn.

As the story develops, we get the feeling (it isn’t stated, it just hangs heavily over us), that Zeke’s parents aren’t really happy. Their lives are drab, not lively. Zeke himself can get lost in the joy of the Jazz Man’s music, but his parents simply can’t. Eventually, Zeke’s mother, frustrated that his father can’t get a steady job, leaves both of them. Zeke’s father, pained, begins to stay out nights and get drunk, leaving Zeke home alone – sometimes without food.

Hurt and saddened, Zeke feels lost, not only by the practical loss of both his parents, but also by the sudden disappearance of the Jazz Man. In the end though, Zeke emerges from a dream to discover his parents standing over him, reunited.

The street is described as being painted “with a witch’s carpet of dancing colored lights.” [pg. 37] Also, magical wishes are mentioned.

Conclusion. A story probably better understood by adults than children.

Review © 2014 Laura Verret

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