Matt De La Peña's Last Stop on Market Street
illustrated by Christian Robinson
Book review by Billy Dickerson
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña is a unique book in the history of children’s literature. To start, it is the first picture book to win the Newbery Medal which has been awarded to a chapter book or book with multiple sections. Also, it is the first book to be acknowledged by both the Newbery Medal committee and the Caldecott Medal committee. (It also won a Caldecott Honor Medal for illustrations.)
This beautiful story deserves both honors.
Christian Robinson's artwork reminds me of the stylings of Ezra Jack Keats. (Think The Snowy Day.) The edges of the forms are sharp, and the colors are bright and beautiful. The imagery grabs your imagination and shows you the beauty of the world in which the story takes place.
The cast of characters CJ and his Nana meet are diverse and feel like the kinds of people you might see on a city bus.
So why did Last Stop on Market Street win the Newbery medal? CJ and his Nana are leaving church on a rainy day and on their way to catch the bus. CJ’s mind is filled with complaints that he shares with his Nana. “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?” “How come we don’t have a car?”
CJ is focused on the material possessions he doesn’t have but he can see that others around him own. They might have a car, or an MP3 player, but Nana doesn’t have the resources for such luxuries. This doesn’t stop CJ from asking his questions.
Nana doesn’t take offense at these questions, but answers them in clear and simple ways that are designed to help CJ see the world around him a little better.
On their trip on the bus, CJ makes six comments about the world he experiences with Nana on their trip. Each of Nana's responses helps CJ and the reader to understand a different perspective--to see the beauty in the world that many people miss because they aren’t looking for it.
The end of the story sees CJ and his Nana making their way to a soup kitchen, where they'll serve meals to people who have even less than CJ.
The lessons he has learned on their regular Sunday afternoon visit have prepared him to appreciate what he has and how he can help those with more needs than his own.
The choice of Last Stop on Market Street was unusual and unexpected by most of the people that follow the Newbery. I applaud their choice. While the plot is simple, the message is profound and moving. I think that Nana sums it up best when she explains to CJ in her wonderful way, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”
Webmaster's note: There has been some criticism of this book for the characters' grammar. As a teacher, I dismiss the criticism and actually welcome incorrect grammatical formulations by children's book characters! Here's why, and here's how you can turn incorrect grammar into learning....
When I'm sharing, say, Junie B. Jones as a read-aloud with my students (Junie has awful grammar), I always pause after one of Junie's outbursts and ask my students, "Now, how would we say that?"
They love the interaction, and tend to respond immediately and in unison! This gets them in the habit of actually correcting grammar. A book with perfectly proper grammar doesn't provide nearly as much of a genuine learning opportunity.
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