The Jazz Man, by Mary Hays Weik, is a Newbery Honor book from 1966. It's a slim book that tells, in four short chapters, of a boy in Harlem whose somewhat dreary, lonely life is brightened when a jazz pianist moves into a nearby apartment. Although the writing itself is strong, I actually found the story rather disturbing. Why doesn't the boy go to school? How could his parents abandon him for days without a word and without food? Am I really supposed to believe when they return that everything's going to be fine now? But I'm not here to talk about the story. I'm here for the illustrations.
Ann Grifalconi has illustrated The Jazz Man with stunning woodcuts. Her roughhewn style of cutting contrasts beautifully with her sensitive portrayal of the people's faces, especially the little boy, Zeke. These images capture perfectly the beauty in rough surroundings that describes Zeke's life. The woodcuts support the story masterfully as illustrations, but they're also wonderful pieces of art in their own right.
Other than the fact that she was born in and still lives in New York City, I didn't find a lot of biographical information on Ann Grifalconi. She's an author as well as an illustrator, and most of her illustrations are paintings rather than block prints. One of her books I'm familiar with is a really lovely one illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Ain't Nobody a Stranger to Me. (Pinkney's watercolor paintings are very good, but I wonder what the book would look like if Grifalconi had illustrated it herself!) She has several recent books I haven't seen yet.
As for Grifalconi's beautiful wood block prints, I don't see that she illustrated any other books with this technique, and I think that's a shame. I'd love to see more of her work.
[Pictures: woodcuts by Ann Grifalconi, illustrations for The Jazz Man, by Mary Hays Weik, published by Simon & Schuster, 1966.]
P.S. Tomorrow, March 9, is World Read-Aloud Day. Don't forget to read aloud with someone and help envision a world in which every child can learn to read and write!