Thursday 20 October 2016

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, reviewed by Sarah Hammond

As someone who loved spending time with her own grandmothers, I was attracted to Last Stop on Market Street. This picture book charts the journey of African-American CJ who is taken on a bus ride with his Nana to their stop at the end of Market Street each week after church. 

Stories that celebrate the relationship between child and grandparent are important. I also recently enjoyed the bestselling How to Babysit a Grandma by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish, and have to confess one of my favourite fictional grandparents of all time is the storytelling, cigar-smoking Grandmother in Roald Dahl’s Witches. Nana in Last Stop on Market Street is a special lady, too.

One particular Sunday as Nana and CJ leave church, CJ is unhappy about the journey ahead. Why do they have to wait in the rain for the bus? Why don’t they have a car like his friend? Why do they have to make this journey every Sunday anyway? 

Nana answers each question by gently pointing out the beauty in the world around them, a beauty that others often miss. We are shown how to experience the world with all of our senses. Instead of riding in a car, we meet the colourful community on the bus — the bus driver who finds a coin behind CJ’s ear, the blind man who watches the world with his ears. De La Pena draws thumbnail sketches of these characters deftly. And who needs headphones and iPods when you are sitting next to a guitar player? 

The depiction of this live music is my favourite part of the story. Along with the other passengers, we are elevated by it. CJ closes his eyes and the rhythm lifts him out of ordinary life, his imagination paints pictures in his head, transports him.  The text of the story is conscious of music and rhythm: 'CJ's chest grew full and he was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic." 

Although the message in Last Stop on Market Street is timeless, the story feels very grounded in the modern world. We see graffiti and tattoos, iPods and butterflies in jars. We hear CJ’s authentic voice, “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?” At a time when the We Need Diverse Books campaign is championed, the subject matter is engaging. The ultimate destination of CJ and his Nana at the last stop on Market Street to help those less fortunate is also a poignant reminder of our times. Somehow the grounding in the material world makes the beauty we learn to see more real. 

The illustrations by Christian Robinson add much to the atmosphere and storytelling. The world he reveals is bright and textured. The depiction of the characters is almost childlike which reinforces our view of the city through CJ’s eyes. 

Last Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newbery Medal in the U.S. and is available in the U.K


Matt de la Peña is the New York Times Bestselling, Newbery Medal-winning author of six young adult novels: Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here, I Will Save You, The Living and The Hunted. He’s also the author of the critically-acclaimed picture books A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (illustrated by Kadir Nelson) and Last Stop on Market Street (illustrated by Christian Robinson).  (Abridged excerpt taken from Matt de la Peña's website:


Christian Robinson is a 2016 Caldecott Honoree and also received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for his art in Last Stop on Market StreetLeo: A Ghost Story, illustrated by Robinson and written by Mac Barnett (Chronicle, 2015), was named a 2015 New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year. His Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, written by Patricia Hruby Powell (Chronicle, 2014) received numerous awards and accolades and a place on the Wall Street Journal's 10 Best Children's Books of the Year List. Robinson, based in San Francisco, is also an animator and has worked with The Sesame Street Workshop and Pixar Animation Studios. (Abridged excerpt taken from Robinson's website:


Sarah Hammond is an author. She has published a picture book for very small people and teen fiction too. She is a Brit abroad, now living happily in Chicago, with strong ties to the UK which regularly pull her back across the Pond.

You can find her online at:

facebook: SarahHammondAuthorPage

twitter: @SarahHammond9


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