Book Reviews

So many books. So little time.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena

"He wondered how his Nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look."

The last stop on market street is CJ's first step to understanding that beauty can reside in the most unexpected places. As he travels through the city with Nana on a fire-breathing dragon of a bus he learns, one question at a time, to see the world as Nana sees it: filled with beauty and adventure.

What else would you call a tree that sips water through a straw to quench its thirst if not an adventurer? Robinson has drawn the tree trunks straight as straws. Look CJ, look. You're standing right next to it: the tall thirsty tree, sipping water so the leaves stay fresh and green.

CJ has many questions, Nana is quick with answers. "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."

What comes through loud and clear is the strong bond between grandma and grandson, the absolute trust he has in her. CJ, it is clear, would follow his Nana to the ends of the earth and beyond. And Nana would guide him, not shielding him from the grittiness and dirt but showing him to look beyond the surface. "Sometimes when you are surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful."

Oh the wonderful aliveness of the illustrations: the spread where Nana is knitting, and CJ is sitting not facing forward but turned around and kneeling on the seat to look out the window. The lady with butterflies in a jar and the young man with tattoos all over. CJ is neither bothered by them nor interested, but he has noticed them. When the music carries him away he imagines the "old woman's butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon."

As the bus wends its way through town more passengers embark. So much learning: the blind can 'see' with their ears; music does not reside only on music players. And why are CJ and his Nana on the bus? Where are they going? We'll find out soon. "Last stop," the driver calls. CJ and Nana make their way past the boarded up doors and the graffiti-scrawled walls till they reach the place where CJ sees familiar faces waiting in line. "I'm glad we came," he says. We still don't know what their destination is. We have to turn the page to see. In that colorful, double-page spread we learn where they are: in the food kitchen, serving food.

Grandma teaches CJ to share--not just material things, like the coin he puts in the singer's hat--but a graciousness, an acceptance. The blind do not need pity, the poor will thrive on recognition. We all need a purpose in life: "How come we always gotta go here after church? Miguel and Colby never have to go nowhere?" CJ asks.

"I feel sorry for those boys," Nana replies. "They'll never get a chance to meet Bobo or the Sunglass Man. And I hear Trixie got herself a brand-new hat."

One bus ride, a lifetime of learning. A book I'd recommend to all, children and adults alike.

Title: Last Stop on Market Street

Author: Matt De La Pena

Illustrator: Christian Robinson

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Hardback: 30 pages

ISBN: 978-0-399-25774-2