Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, January 8, 2015

On The Bus

You walk everywhere.  If it's too far to walk, you ride your bicycle.  Finally the time arrives when you have a car to drive but with this ownership comes maintenance, insurance and the cost of gas.  A day comes, much too quickly, when using a vehicle to get from place is no longer an option.  Neither is walking or riding a bicycle.

Even at ninety my mom still wanted her independence.  (I'm pretty sure I'm going to feel the same way if I make it to ninety.)  For her taking the city/county bus, even with her walker, was a beautiful blessing.  She became friends with the drivers and frequent riders.  It was an entire new community.  

I was fortunate enough after a visit to my local independent bookstore, McLean & Eakin Booksellers, to purchase and read a title released today which honors traveling in the city by bus.  It also pays tribute to the relationship children have with their grandparents.  Last Stop On Market Street (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)) written by Matt de la Pena with pictures by Christian Robinson is a book about love created with love.

CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps.

As the boy and his grandmother leave the building it begins to sprinkle.  CJ is full of questions; wanting to know why they have to wait at the bus stop in the rain and why they can't ride in a car like his friend.  Her replies are full of wisdom; she is sharing what her eyes see that he is missing.

As she predicts the driver, Mr. Dennis has a surprise for the boy.  Fellow passengers are greeted by both as they take their seats.  CJ asks Nana another question about their destination.  He cannot understand why they go there after church.  As the bus travels down the street she continues her knitting answering him with sympathy expressed for his friends.  They will never experience what she and CJ experience.

Other riders enter the bus.  Each prompts questions from the boy.  When a blind man gets seated she says there are other ways to see.  When two boys stand listening to their portable media player, she suggests he listen to the real live thing, a man with a guitar on the bus.

On the recommendation of the blind man, CJ, Nana, the man (and his dog) listen with a different sensory style.  The man is right.  It's pure magic.  As the passengers applaud the performance, the bus comes to a stop.

CJ holds his Nana's hand as they walk.  What he sees and what she sees is still different but all her answers to all his questions, especially the last one, make him realize he wants to be like her.  As they enter another building, to take their places in the line, CJ knows there is no other place he would rather be.

Prior to this title I have read a picture book, young adult novel and a short story by Matt de la Pena, enjoying them a great deal.  His writing in those, as in this title, brings readers directly to the moments shared by his characters.  Word choices and sentence structure reflect conscious choices; striking and at times poetic.  The love shared by CJ and Nana is evident in his comfort in asking her questions and in her patient replies.  Here is a single passage.

The outside air smelled like freedom,
but it also smelled like rain,
which freckled CJ's shirt and dripped down his nose. 

You can feel the warmth like sunshine coming from the matching dust jacket and book case as soon as you look at it. The vivid colors and the bold shapes sing out to readers.  When opened it becomes a single illustration of the bus traveling down Market Street.  In blue paper strips above the bus on the back we read:

CJ and his grandma take a bus ride together,
discovering the beauty and wonder
of their vibrant neighborhood.

A golden yellow provides the background on the opening and closing endpapers for white silhouettes of items important to the story; a bus, a butterfly, a coin, a jar with butterflies, a guitar, a hawk, a dog, a pair of glasses, an umbrella, a tree, a hat with a flower and a rainbow.  

Most of the visuals extend across two pages, edge to edge, beginning with the dedication pages; a portrait of the city street.  Christian Robinson rendered these and the other pictures using acrylic paint, collage, and a bit of digital manipulation.  All of his smaller illustrations are framed in white space in shapes which mirror the windows on the bus.  It's like we are being given a gift of looking into this special world.

Robinson's details take us into the city.  Through his work we are riders on this bus with CJ and his grandmother.  With a brush stroke or a carefully-placed shape we understand his depiction of each person.  There is a quiet, humming joy in his color palette.  

Without being explicit my favorite picture is of CJ listening to the guitar music.  I can only imagine that all readers will, without a prompt, do exactly as he is.  It's one of many beautiful moments with the narrative and image working in exquisite harmony. (Also, I wonder what book CJ is reading at the end on the publication information page.) 

Last Stop On Market Street written by Matt de la Pena with pictures by Christian Robinson is an eloquent portrayal of the bond between a boy and his grandmother.  With each page turn you feel yourself being wrapped in the love radiating from the story.  I literally sighed aloud at some of Nana's answers.  This is a heartprint book; a must read for all readers of all ages.

To discover more about Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson please follow the links embedded in their names taking you to their websites.  Matt de la Pena is a guest at teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  This links to an interview of Christian Robinson upon his receipt of the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award.  Both Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson are featured at author Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Update:  Enjoy this interview with Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson at NPR Books Listen To The Story Morning Edition.
Update:  Head over to Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. to see a new video with Matt and Christian talking about this book. January 12, 2016
Update:  After the big win of the Newbery Medal Matt de la Pena is interviewed at Publishers Weekly. January 12, 2016


  1. Thank you for writing this! I am definitely going to check out this book. My daughter and I live in an urban area and we ride the bus all the time (for financial as well as convenience reasons, all the ones you stated at the top of the post.) She, too, has had lots of questions about the people we meet on the bus. I'm so excited to see a book that reflects her experience, with a poetic spin to boot!

    1. You are welcome Maureen. I know this book is going to find a wide audience but it seems as though it is ideal for you and your daughter. Happy reading and happy Friday!