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by James Baldwin

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1977
Publisher: Dial Books

This is billed as "a children's story for adults, an adult story for children"; it comes through at about an eight-year-old level; and it's told from the viewpoint, and in the idiom, of a four-year-old who seems a bit older. We're introduced to TJ's Harlem block via his fantasy, illustrated in columns of TV-boxed frames, of the cop chase that might occur there. We meet Mr. Man the janitor—"a real, real, real nice man"—and, later, his wife Miss Lee who has a beautiful smile but sometimes doesn't even see you. (The message is, she drinks a lot.) We meet TJ's friends WT, seven, and Blinky, a girl of eight with shining eyeglasses. And with TJ we enter the dark, "real weird" apartment of old Miss Beanpole who sends him to the store. If all of this is a bit plotless for the most likely young audience, youngsters will snap to attention when, toward the end, TJ tosses his ball into the air and something else comes smashing down on him. It's a bottle. He's not hurt, but WT comes running onto the broken glass with a hole in his sneaker. . . and there's blood all over. Mr. Man and Miss Lee fix him up and you infer that it was her gin bottle that came off the roof. There are unspoken tensions between the two adults, but the episode ends with laughter and the children dancing to Mr. Man's radio. Without the promised open-ended appeal or the punch you might expect, it's an empathic, resonantly muted glimpse of TJ's world. Cazac's water-colored drawings are childlike as well, which suits the viewpoint, though here some discreet adult tempering might have strengthened the package.