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.