Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review: Night Job by Karen Hesse and G. Brian Karas


When the sun sets, Dad’s job as a school custodian is just beginning. What is it like to work on a Friday night while the rest of the city is asleep? There’s the smell of lilacs in the night air, the dusky highway in the moonlight, and glimpses of shy nighttime animals to make the dark magical. Shooting baskets in the half-lit gym, sweeping the stage with the game on the radio, and reading out loud to his father in the library all help the boy’s time pass quickly. But what makes the night really special is being with Dad. Newbery Medalist Karen Hesse’s quietly powerful story of a boy and his father is tenderly brought to life by G. Brian Karas in this luminous tribute to an enduring, everyday sort of love.

As an adult I can feel the bone-aching exhaustion of what is likely a second job to help make ends meet. I can guess the struggles and frustrations of a single dad who probably wishes he didn't have to keep his son out late, even as he tries to make this time together interactive and fun.

A young child reading this, however, will simply sees it as the child in the story does. How cool to be able to shoot baskets all by yourself in that huge gym! Sweeping the stage with one of those big huge dust mops! Eating a sandwich outside in the dark with Dad! Wooshing over the bridge on dad's bike in the dead of night! Karas's (too many familiar titles to list) illustrations are from the child's perspective as well, with Dad sometimes disappearing off the page. Dusky tones to match the evening light, but never somber.

In the end, reminding the adult me that how our kids see our time together is the important thing. Come, whisper the school, the chair, and this book.

***This book has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the Fiction Picture Book category. I am one of several panelists, and my opinions should not be construed as inclusion in or exclusion form the final shortlist.

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