It Came From the NYPL
The Man in the Ceiling
Written & Illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Published by HarperCollins
Having recently read Jules Feiffer’s strong memoir Backing into Forward, I felt compelled to sample some of Feiffer’s children’s book output. His glowing regard for the form makes it nearly impossible to ignore the them, particularly given my high regard for his cartooning. So I checked The Man in the Ceiling out of the library, and it’s well worth it. It’s enjoyable for adults, and if you have younger children, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Jimmy can’t throw or catch or hit a baseball; he’s basically a failure as boy. However, he’s a fantastic artist and dreams of becoming a famous cartoonist (the theme should be familiar if you’ve read Feiffer’s memoir). His uncle is a failure as a playwright, but finds success suddenly on his doorstep. And the only popular boy who notices Jimmy likes his drawings, but has “better” ideas about comic book stories. Mix an emotionally distant father learning to express himself, an artist mother who designs women’s fashions, a bossy older sister who encourages Jimmy’s artwork, and an adoring younger sister who pesters Jimmy to no end, and you have the framework of The Man in the Ceiling.
Feiffer’s engaging and fun prose possesses plenty of wordplay humor to keep adults reading to their children engaged, while the story itself explores the terrible heartache of creativity and failed creative ventures. Regular illustrations, both of the characters themselves and of Jimmy’s comic books, spice up the proceedings, adding humor and humanity. Through all the heartache of Jimmy and his uncle’s struggles, Feiffer uses dollops of humor to keep the book upbeat and pleasant. And while the subject of dreams lost and dreams compromised runs throughout, The Man in the Ceiling excels through Feiffer’s strong interpersonal dynamics, weaving a deeper understanding of all the book’s themes by exploring the complex connections between Jimmy and his family.
If I had young children, no doubt this book would be purchased and add to my library. For now, however, I’m glad I can explore the many creative avenues of talents like Jules Feiffer by finding excellent books like The Man in the Ceiling at my library. Hopefully you can find it at yours.