Thursday, November 17, 2016

Newbery Wayback Machine: Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña (2016)

I don't think anyone saw Last Stop on Market Street as the leading Newbery contender for 2016. If you, like me, think of A Visit to William Blake's Inn as a volume of poetry, then Last Stop on Market Street is the first traditional picture book ever to take home the Medal. Back in January, when its win was announced, Market Street seemed to me like a totally left-field Newbery choice.

As I read it again in preparation for this review, I found a lot to admire in the text. The interplay between CJ, the child protagonist, and his nana is beautifully written; I loved the way that nana challenges CJ's ways of looking at the world without coming across as argumentative or dismissive. The detailed urban setting and the interesting secondary characters (especially during the bus ride) are also points in the book's favor.

I still count myself among the unconverted to Last Stop on Market Street's Newbery win, however. It's a picture book, and as in most picture books, the interplay between the text and the illustrations is key. In at least two places, the text is something less than comprehensible without recourse to the illustrations; since the Newbery criteria clearly state that illustrations can only be considered if they "detract from the text," I continue to have questions about whether or not it makes sense to give the award to a book in which the text doesn't stand alone. It feels to me like stretching the intended purpose of the Newbery past the breaking point.

This is all only my opinion, and I should be upfront regarding how much of a traditionalist I am on this subject. Although I'm a fan of boundary-breaking books, I prefer to keep the Newbery as an award solely for merit that inheres in the text. I didn't like Flora & Ulysses winning the Newbery in 2014 because I thought too much of the book depended on the illustrations; I didn't like El Deafo being an Honor book in 2015 because naming a graphic novel didn't feel in keeping with the spirit of the award to me; and I still don't like Last Stop on Market Street as the 2016 winner. (For the record, I didn't like Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize win this year either, and I love me some Dylan.)

It's pretty clear that recent Newbery committees have been willing to push the boundaries of the Newbery, and I know more people who agree with their decisions than agree with me and my stick-in-the-mud complaints. Your personal mileage may vary. I would have rather seen the award go to some of the more "traditional" contenders (Circus Mirandus; The War That Saved My Life; Moonpenny Island; Echo). But if one considers Last Stop on Market Street as a whole, it's certainly a very fine picture book, and I'm glad that it's almost certainly going to get a wider readership.


  1. I'm totally with you on this, Sam. I am also a "Newbery traditionalist" and I think pushing the boundaries really muddies the waters of what the medal is for. If anything, I think it cheapens the award. (I don't think we're in the minority, by the way...)

    I love Last Stop on Market Street as a picture book. I think the writing is fine, beautiful even in some parts, but I don't think it can be compared (fairly) to Echo or The Hired Girl or Goodbye Stranger - or any other non-picture book from last year.

    This may be a year that, in future generations, many people will look back and say, "What was that committee thinking?"

  2. I disagree with the negative comments. The fact that an author can write a book and within the text can send messages about how to appreciate the little things as today, we are more modern than anything and more tech savvy- we nearly have time to appreciate one another or the small things that we experience from day to day that will soon be gone. To have a role model such as "Nana" I think we should appreciate the models of "Nana" that we have to be thankful for. I think a book such as this one deserves such a medal and such an honor. It sends out a very heart-warming message that a child could possibly never get from another book. The illustrations are detailed too and that, too makes the book all that more influential.