Picture Book Review: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, Illustrated by Christian Robinson

The first time I visited New York City was in 1994, two years out of high school with dreams of leaving the mundane world of Appalachia.  The bright lights and busy sounds of Broadway and Times Square appealed to me.  We didn’t have that in Yadkin County.  We didn’t even have a major shopping center (and in 2017 the folks still living there still don’t!).  I remember talking to a cashier at a Sbarro near Times Square.  She said something to the effect of, “Yeah, it’s really nice through here, but if you go out to the edges of the city you’ll see the dark side of New York.”  So, I ventured to the southern area of the island and took a cruise  along the Hudson River and the Upper Bay so that I could see the Statue of Liberty.  She was right.  This area was grimier and more patchwork, but there was a dignity and beauty about that stuck with me even to this day.  I loved New York and returned many times over the years.

I learned an important lesson on my trips to NYC:  Beauty can be found anywhere; You just have to know where to look.  Now that I have been away from Appalchia for so long I desperately miss it.  I feel guilty for not having appreciated it at the time.  Matt de la Pena’s much awarded picture book Last Stop on Market Street  takes this theme of finding beauty in surprising places and explodes it off the pages.  If ever there was a picture book that shows the beauty of New York City away from the touristy areas, this is it.

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C.J. and his Nana have just left church and are preparing to board the bus.  The reader does not know their destination.  C.J., like many children his age, asks lots of questions about their neighborhood and the people around them.  It is implied in Nana’s responses that the family does not have an abundance of resources, although that is not the point of the story.

C.J. and Nana board the bus and head off on their journey.  It is on the bus ride that this story comes into its own and deserves every award it earned at the American Library Association Youth Media Awards in 2016.  The bus is filled with people from all walks of life.   I have never encountered a man with full body tattoos in a picture book until Last Stop on Market Street.  The beauty and quiet dignity of the art work seeps through your eyes and into your heart.

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We meet a blind man who teaches C.J. how to use his senses to “see” things when his eyes can’t.  We meet a musician who plays for the riders to help pass the time.  And we meet an old lady with a jar full of butterflies.  I wonder why she has those?  I guess we’ll never know!

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When we reach our destination at the last stop on Market Street, Nana and C.J. walk the rest of the way.  The neighborhood lacks the cleanliness and sharp facade of Midtown Manhattan, but, as Nana reminds C.J., there is beauty here if you just open your eyes.

I have to admit that when I read the book the first two times I never noticed the man in the wheelchair .  My eyes were drawn to the skyline.  Thank goodness I try to look at new details each time I read.  The effect is brilliant.  Matt and Christian do an outstanding job representing the rich diversity of life in NYC.

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At the end of the story, we see C.J. and Nana serving at the local soup kitchen, community center, or homeless shelter.  We aren’t told exactly where they are but the pictures show them serving many people.  What I loved most about this ending is that it connects the early part of the story when C.J. and Nana leave church.  Faith is important to them but so is practicing the tenants of their faith through acts of service.  What a great lesson for kids!  Even those who profess no faith can still find the community service laudable.

Last Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Caldecott Honor Medal, Newberry Award, and Corretta Scott King Honor Award.  The title is deserving of that praise.  This book is an essential purchase for elementary libraries and classrooms.  Highest recommendation!

Teacher Information

Lexile 610

Accerated Reader Lvl. 3.3, 0.5 points

Reading Counts Lvl. 2.4, 1.0 points

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