As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
Night Job is the touching story of a little boy who accompanies his dad to work the third shift, cleaning up a middle school on Friday nights. The idea of “take your child to work day” is a cool concept–it’s good for children to see how hard their parents work to provide for them, though I was surprised that the dad was able to bring his son because of liability issues, but that’s another lesson for another age.
Books that highlight the special relationship between fathers and sons touch my heart, for it is from dads that boys learn how to be men, including how to treat women. No mother is shown in this, so I assumed the dad was single. I also inferred that this little family is impoverished–from the dad’s vocation as a custodian, eating egg salad sandwiches, and living in what looked like an extended stay facility–but the author does a splendid job of showing that their poverty is only limited to material things, not in adventure or love.
However, this book was much too short; we see the gymnasium, the cafeteria, and the library, but not the classrooms and not enough of the exhilarating ride on the motorcycle, capturing the city when it’s sleeping. There weren’t enough background details in the book–I couldn’t make out the name of the middle school or the particulars of the newspaper they were reading (much more detail was given with the baseball game). Details such as these would’ve added interest to the pages; a few more sensory details (touch, taste, smell) would’ve made it shine like a full moon.
I didn’t care for the building sighing and the chair whispering, Come–it didn’t fit in with the rest of the story, which is very Point A to Point B in its storytelling style. This was realism, not escapism. There is also some odd wording, such as “a ring of keys as big as the rising moon” (moons don’t rise) and “from stem to stern,” which is nautical terminology.
On recursive readings, I realized there was no dialogue–just the little boy telling a story–but it worked. There is no conversation between the dad and his son when they’re having lunch; though the fact that there was conversation is probably understood (i.e. they didn’t just sit in the courtyard eating in complete silence), it would’ve been nice to mention what they talked about (e.g. baseball, cafeteria food, etc.)
Though the dad is often busy working, the boy is always with him, not wandering off by himself–shooting baskets in the gym, listening to the radio in the cafeteria (rather than half-watching a television), reading his dad a story before falling asleep in the library, and even pitching in by helping clean the hallway floors.
I also liked that it showed them doing lots of reading–the boy with the books, the dad with the newspaper, and not vegging out in front of a TV after a long night’s work. (It was also nice to see an apple core instead of a snack cake wrapper in the lunch box.) It doesn’t show the dad playing with his son but just being there for him and with him, which is what a lot of parenthood is actually like. Kids like to entertain themselves more than adults realize.
Other goodreads reviewers mentioned that the language was too advanced for the boy’s age, such as “dusky highway” and “rising swell of dreams”; I agree. I love the imagery these words evoke, but it must fit the character. To make such language more believable, the author would’ve had to tell the story in the third-person, and it would’ve lost so much.
The illustrations aren’t beautiful, but they tell the story beautifully. The fact that most of them are gray-hued to fit the nocturnal atmosphere makes them perfect.
Overall, Night Job is a sweet book about a simple life–a life a lot of kids could probably relate to.
Suggested activity: If your job offers a “Take your Child to Work Day,” take them up on it. If this isn’t a possibility, find books about your profession or trade. Even if your job is considered an “unskilled job,” reiterate to your child that all jobs are important and detail their purposes. This will teach them to respect all those who put in an honest day’s work. In relation to this book, tell them what the school would look like without someone to clean it.