Review by Kelly Carey
I’m a country girl who finds joy in her heart far, far from the city. Imagine my surprise when Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book that takes place in the city, filled me with mountain hiking happiness.
On the surface, this Newbery Award winning picture book is a simple tale of CJ and his grandmother hopping a bus after church to volunteer at a soup kitchen. CJ is frustrated that it’s raining, that he has a chore to do after church, that he has to take the bus, that he doesn’t have music pumping through his ears from headphones, and that the Last Stop on Market Street is a gritty, graffiti scrawled part of the city. Nana uses gentle guidance, delivered in a spunky no-nonsense voice, to flip CJ’s frustrations into celebrations.
A pay it forward coin, a lady with butterflies in a jar, a blind man, and a song shared from a musician with a guitar all offer opportunities for CJ and the reader to notice bits of joy that could easily have been missed. The sights and happenings along the bus ride encourage adult and child readers to recognize all the beauty of life; beauty that is sitting right next to them, sometimes on a bus to Market Street.
In the end, CJ, the readers, and a country loving gal like me will have learned to be a “better witness for what’s beautiful” in the world.
Matt De La Pena combines gritty city images and real dialogue with gorgeous messages and amazingly beautiful imagery. There is a wonderful rawness about the way CJ and Nana talk to each other. De La Pena doesn’t dress up their language for this story, but writes it exactly as you would hear it. No soft cooing phrases or unreal platitudes fly between CJ and Nana. The result is that De La Pena’s message is strong and true.
Using a coin, a song shared, and the wonderful interaction between Nana and a blind man, De La Pena not only propels his plot forward but delivers a stunning reminder to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.
So this happened last week: I was tucking my youngest in with a story, when my middle schooler came into the bedroom, saw the book we were reading and exclaimed, “That book is so good!” He looked at me with puppy-dog eyes, so naturally we scooted up and made room for him. Shoulder to shoulder the three of us read, giggled, repeated the chorus, and laughed at the unexpected.
RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK(LEARN FROM THE BEST!) by Anne Vittur Kennedy (2015; Candlewick Press) is everything a picture book is supposed to be. Ragweed is a quirky, long-snouted, googly-eyed farm dog with an overbite and an over-eager desire for biscuits. Ragweed gives directions on how to be a farm dog in this instruction manual gone awry. Using dog logic, this mischievous mutt breaks all his own rules and even reveals his alliance with the fox!
Ragweed’s rules are superbly written from a dog’s point of view, which adds to the hilarity. Lines such as “Mud is lovely. It smells like worms and toes and earwax,” or “But you will throw up a biscuit, and you can eat that one again,” makes it impossible to read this book with a straight face.
Enjoyable and entertaining for both children and adults, RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK(LEARN FROM THE BEST!) has a conversational style that makes it a perfect read-aloud book. It has supreme re-readability. A pattern is set up early in the book, and then, through Ragweed’s quirky character, the predictability of the pattern is broken down. However, the author retains the repeating chorus, “That’s their job. That’s not your job”, which kids love to read along.
RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK(LEARN FROM THE BEST!) is an excellent mentor text for point of view and voice. Even though Ragweed provides information for children such as chickens lay eggs and sheep grown curly hair, the information is always given from a dog’s point of view. This makes the information fresh and funny. As humans are concerned, Ragweed is an unreliable narrator, but his voice is spot-on and consistently that of a very honest dog.
Ragweed’s authenticity will, at times, gross readers out and his practicality will make them howl with laughter. He is such a lovable character, though, that we will forgive him everything and reward him with a biscuit!
Reviewed by Francine Puckly
I ’m veering off the road of discussing actual children’s books for our Book Pick this month to talk about the books that keep us company during the writing process—our trusty how-to guides. My bookshelves are littered with craft books, the books I use to assist my manuscript constructions. Martha Alderson’s Plot Whisperer is my companion for first drafts and Cheryl Klein’s Second Sight accompanies me on my revisions. But these last few months I’ve been in the trenches, knee deep in submission preparation for my completed YA manuscript. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, written by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (a.k.a. The Book Doctors), has become my go-to strategy book.
Divided into three major sections, I am immersed in Part I—honing my pitch and synopsis, researching agents, and updating my social media platform. While I’ve perused Part II (contracts, rights, working with publishers, and revision under deadline) and Part III (publicity, book launches and the like), those two sections will become more helpful once my manuscript has landed into the hands of someone interested in taking the manuscript to the next chapter of its life.
There are dozens of books to help with publishing and I own quite a few of them. So why does this book stand out as a resource?
Beyond the publishing advice, what can a writer learn from reading and using this book as a resource?
For more information on The Book Doctors, visit http://www.thebookdoctors.com.
Do you think you're ready to pitch your book? Don't miss the Book Doctors and Pitchapalooza at the 2016 NESCBWI Spring Conference. Registration opens February 9, 2016. http://newengland.scbwi.org/category/regional-conference/
Our favorite mentor texts to guide your writing and revisions.