Book Review: Last Stop On Market Street By de la Peña & Robinson

There are so many wonderful books from 2015 that I have yet to highlight! The year truly flew by quickly. One of our many favorites from the year is this delightful book about a bus ride. It really is as simple as that, and yet it is so much more. This is a story about observation, perspective, and finding beauty. Here is Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson, 2015.

This is one of those books that I deeply struggle with how to recap. As I said, it is such a simple story, and yet it contains great wisdom, beauty, wit, and endearing scenes. I have tried to relay the events, but I either err on the side of making it too simple, or replicating the story far too much.

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The arc of the story is a boy, CJ, and his nana walking from church to the bus stop; riding on the bus until the last stop; and then walking to their destination. The action is rather uninteresting really (though the illustrations are not!), but it is the conversation and the people that are memorable.

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CJ presents himself as quite discontent, feeling sorry for himself, and inquisitive. He longs for things that are different and appear more easy than his life: a car, a music player with headphones, the freedom to go where he pleases. But his nana has a clever, no-nonsense response for every critique or question he voices and she obviously has put much thought in their choices and their destination. Nana is a character that feels familiar and also easily beloved. She is friendly, accepting, grandmotherly, and incredibly wise.

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On the bus they greet everyone and are seated next to a blind man. CJ asks a loud and straightforward question about the man’s blindness and is firmly schooled by Nana about the concept of seeing.

On the opposite side of the bus, a man with his guitar sits. When CJ voices his longing for a personal music box, Nana questions his desire considering there is a source of live music present. The man begins to play and the atmosphere of the ride changes for everyone.

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When the two exit on the last stop on Market Street, they walk through a neighborhood that CJ disdains in its filth. But once again, Nana turns the moment into a lesson on perspective and says one of the most beautiful phrases I have read in a picture book in a while, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

My heart swells with her words, and apparently CJ’s does too as his own thoughts about the area and their outing change. He is glad they came. And so is his nana.

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I love the way this book looks and the way it sounds. Matt de la Peña’s writing is poetic at times and crisp at others. It weaves and flows with what I consider to be the feel of Nana. I think we all long for someone like Nana in our lives – a woman who has seen life, is a quiet observer with few words of her own, and yet chooses her one-liners precisely and perfectly.

I am also quite a fan of Christian Robinson’s work. I find his unique style to be beautiful, perfectly pared down, and an ideal pairing to such deep remarks in a child’s world. His scenes feel both retro and relevant. I stare at the illustrations wondering that they are mere shapes and yet merge into so much beauty.

Yes, this is a book that we love and we are learning from. I hope to pocket a bit of Nana’s eye for beauty in my own daily adventures. And I’m sure my parenting could use some of her witty responses as well!

Check this book out from Putnam immediately. And keep Christian Robinson’s name on your radar. Amazing work continues to pour from him.

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