Last Stop On Market Street was the first book I put on Bitsy’s Amazon baby registry, and the first one I bought since I was too impatient to wait for someone to buy it for us. I was just so excited about having books for her, and this one in particular I knew would be special. It received some of the most prestigious honors in children’s literature. It is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, the winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal, and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.
These awards speak well for the book, but what attracted me most was its content and message. After church, CJ and his grandmother take the bus to the soup kitchen where they volunteer each week. CJ sees his friends go home in their cars, and wonders why he can’t do the same. He feels a little sorry for himself, but his grandmother patiently, lovingly, and wisely shows him how fortunate they are, and how to find beauty all around them in this ordinary excursion. Who needs a car when “we got a bus that breathes fire?” CJ’s friends who get to go home after church will not get the chance to meet all the people CJ and his grandma see on the bus and at the soup kitchen. CJ doesn’t need a smartphone to hear music when the man across from him on the bus has a guitar, and plays a song for everyone. CJ closes his eyes to appreciate the music. It takes him out of the bus to an imaginary place of freedom, beauty, and magic.
After CJ and his grandmother exit the bus in the neighborhood of the soup kitchen where they volunteer, CJ looks around at the “crumbling sidewalks and broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows, and boarded-up stores.” He asks his grandmother why “it’s always so dirty over here.” She points out a rainbow and tells him that being “surrounded by dirt” can sometimes help you be “a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ then recognizes his grandmother’s gift for finding beauty, and looks around to find it himself in the street lights, stray cats, and shadows around him. When they approach the soup kitchen and see the people they serve every week, CJ tells his grandmother he is happy to be there.
There are so many messages in Last Stop on Market Street that I want to share with my daughter, and I’m glad I have this book to help me do that. I want her to be able to find joy and beauty in everyday settings, and be grateful for our many blessings. I want her to have close relationships with her grandparents, like CJ and his grandmother have. His grandmother is such a positive influence, teaching him some of the most important lessons for living a happy, meaningful, and useful life. The illustrations show diverse characters, something very important for every child to see in their books. Most of all, I love the sense of community CJ’s grandmother clearly has and is teaching him. She connects with the people all around her. She sees the bus as a valuable public space where people can interact and learn from one another. She smiles and wishes a good afternoon to all the other passengers, and has CJ do the same. The way she speaks of the people they serve at the soup kitchen shows that she does not condescend to the people she serves. She treats them not only as equals, but as wonderful people she and CJ are honored to know. I think the book conveys all of these messages without being preachy. I try to share these messages when I read it to Bitsy through my voice, expression, and pointing to the illustrations, delighting in all of the beauties CJ’s grandma points out to him. I’m so glad Bitsy has been enjoying this one. The message, as well as the condition of the book in its hardcover format, should hold up for her for years to come.
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