Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena Book Review

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: January 8, 2015

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. CJ wonders out loud though, why they don't have a car, why he doesn't have an iPod, and how come they always get off in the dirty part of town? His grandmother offers him sage advice, patiently explaining that if they had iPods, they would not be able to hear the musician on the bus. If they had a car they would not get a magic trick from the bus driver. As the bus travels down the street, CJ begins to see the beauty of the things around him, even the dirty old street. He sees the beauty in the people they are going to serve to, at the local soup kitchen.

This book absolutely deserves any and all accolades that it gets. The illustrations are bright, bold, and as beautiful as the character of the grandmother. She is a person who is living through example, taking her grandson each week, across town, to serve at a soup kitchen. He is still young, so he doesn't completely understand, but she is setting the example nonetheless. His questions of why they don't have more, or better, are met with love and a call for understanding. I think there are many many children who will be able to relate to CJ. Perhaps they too don't have cars, or the newest electronic gadget. Perhaps they, and their parents, need to be reminded of the beauty in the people and things around them.

As a child I remember being embarrassed when my mother would stop and ask if people needed rides home. She was a grown up. Didn't she know picking up strangers was dangerous? What I didn't realize or even think about was that my mother was smart enough and careful enough to know who to pick up. She offered an old woman a ride home from the grocery store as she pushed her cart down the sidewalk. Our mentally disabled neighbor often had a seat in our van. The same went for hospitality. We didn't have a lot of money, but there was always room on our floor for a band that was passing through. There was always some extra lemonade for the door-to-door salesman in the middle of July. My mother taught through example about hospitality and generosity and always patiently explained why whenever I questioned why we were picking up another stranger. By the time I was a teenager, I got it.

I don't think this one book is going to shape young people into caring individuals. That happens through example. But it is the answer to some questions and a jumping off point for deep discussion. I think it may be my new "birthday gift" book.