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Last Stop on Market Street

de la pena_last stop on market streetAnd we’re off, with the first book discussion of the season. We are trying to present the books more generally in order of publication this year, in hopes that readers will have a better chance of knowing the books as they’re discussed. We’re starting with a book that was published early in the year, in fact in January, to much excitement and praise.

Last Stop on Market Street is a lovely, warm picture book, with strong and commendable themes of intergenerational friendship, building community, and finding beauty in unlikely places. And other messages as well: the value of helping the less fortunate, how to grow up to be a good person (as guided by your Nana). Matt de la Pena’s text is both sensory and colloquial, with believable-sounding dialogue, and an equally believable relationship between grandmother and grandson.

But we’re here to talk about Christian Robinson’s art. The Horn Book Magazine review basically said that the book was channeling Ezra Jack Keats, “in spirit and visual style,” and I think that pretty much captures its feel and appeal. The acrylic paintings and collage are artfully simple, and like Peter in The Snowy Day, CJ is an everychild — and a brown everychild. The colors sing, with eye-catching blocks of color throughout, all in perfect accord with one another. One of my favorite double-page spreads shows Nana and CJ walking to the bus shelter in the rain, Nana holding her orange umbrella aloft and CJ, in his highly individual yellow shirt (with blue and orange stripes on the sleeves), closer to the puddled street, which reflects those oranges and yellows beautifully. (In that same spread, note the way the tree behind them is composed of a collaged white trunk and painted green leaves, giving the tree remarkable texture and beauty.) On another spread, rectangles rule: the dark blue bus stop contrasts with the white sidewalk and bus, which contrasts with the green car, etc. It’s such a simple composition, but with its shapes and colors so artfully arranged.

I think few would argue that the most sublime spread is the one in which the guitar music CJ hears on the bus lifts him out of mundane reality, out of the busy city, and into a world of nature, where butterflies ‘dance free’ and waves crash against a sunset sky. Robinson does a remarkable job of not translating the text literally but completely capturing the “feeling of magic” CJ experiences: all with minimal colors, simple shapes, the trademark yellow sweater, and CJ’s profile front and center, eyes closed in concentration and delight.

I do have a few quibbles. Some might be silly, but may also be details a child (or the Caldecott committee) might notice. Where does Nana’s knitting come from? She is shown throughout carrying the tiniest of purses. Why is she sitting in the handicapped seat on the bus? That does not seem like something thoughtful Nana would ever do. Why does the blind man on the bus carry a cane and have a guide dog? I have some knowledge of the blind community and I have never witnessed someone using both. It would be a very cumbersome arrangement! (Also, the dog on this bus wanders freely around the bus – again, not something an actual guide dog would ever do. It’s clearly meant to be a guide dog, not just a pal, because the dog is shown with a harness attached.) And just in terms of continuity – I think it might disappoint some child readers that once Nana and CJ get off the bus there’s so little relationship between the people they see on the street and the people in the soup kitchen. We recognize Bobo, the Sunglass Man, and Trixie (although it’s sure a long time from the page Nana mentions them to the page we finally see them, without any kind of refresher or reminder in the text), but why aren’t the people queuing up outside shown inside the soup kitchen on the last spread? It’s not like there is a long line inside that’s preventing them from going in. It would have been satisfying and given the book some additional closure to see them inside seated at a table or being served food.

It may bear repeating, for newcomers and old hands alike, that looking at a picture book for your own pleasure, or a child’s, is very different from scrutinizing it the way the Caldecott committee does. I didn’t notice any of my quibbles until I looked at the book as carefully and critically as a committee member would. Remember how Jon Klassen (humorously) characterized the committee in his 2013 Caldecott Acceptance speech: “They are a group of beings assembled entirely to notice things.” Of course,  just because someone sees flaws in a book does NOT necessarily knock it off the Caldecott table. The committee may take note of flaws and still decide that a book’s strengths are enough to disregard any minor problems.

So, what are your thoughts? Last Stop on Market Street received three star reviews and a ton of early buzz. Is it holding up to its promise? Do weigh in below.

 

 

 

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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Comments

  1. Excellent analysis. I really love this book, and so do the kids I’ve shared it with. I love the art, love the art, love the art. So vibrant! And I love the way it works perfectly with the text. What a pairing!
    My favorite 2-page spread is the first one you mentioned, Martha, with the trees and the reflections in the puddles. Heaven. Of course, I may be going overboard as a New Englander parched for rain in drought-ridden Los Angeles.

    I also love the people and some of the interactions not discussed in the text. The butterfly lady looks like she’s trying to read or watch whatever Tatoo Man is doing on his phone. My son thinks this is hilarious.

    I agree with your quibbles. I hadn’t worried as much about the knitting (although now that you mention it, that purse is very, very small to carry those knitting needles without them being hazardous!) as some of the other things you mentioned. I’m glad you raised these issues. But I very much hope they won’t disqualify the book with the committee. It is too wonderful otherwise.

    I also felt a tad awkward, as a mother hoping my children NEVER get in someone else’s car, when CJ’s friend climbs in a car and the text says a bit later that the driver is the friend’s dad. However, that is a text quibble.

    My daughter, 2.5 and my son, 9 are both equally riveted, although at different levels, which I consider a nice bonus.

    This summer my annual picture book workshop, that I give at a conference every summer, was on the increase in the number of books that include brown-skinned children and families as the protagonists in every day life and adventure and the importance of these books for all readers. I studied every book I could find where this was so. I appreciate a new, touching story with a brown-skinned Nana and CJ. I wouldn’t necessarily want to necessarily harken back to Peter just because of the brown skin. I think Mr. Robinson’s art in this book reminds me some of EJ Keats’ in Snowy Day and the others about Peter. But not hugely.

  2. “Leo a Ghost Story” has won my heart this year.

  3. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Allison, thanks so much for your cogent comments and for noticing details I missed 🙂 Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about LEO.

    Speaking of which, Tricia, no worries, we will be covering LEO later this fall. Although both books are by the same illustrator, MARKET STREET came out in January, and LEO not till August. We are trying to do things more in order this year, so more people will have a chance to see the books before we discuss them.

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