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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Last Stop On Market Street

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CJ’s journey with his Nana is not just a simple bus ride; it is a multi-sensory experience through which he discovers that beautiful music, nature and people surround him.  CJ’s questions are familiar, and Nana answers him with gentle wisdom.  Right up until their arrival at the last stop on Market Street, Nana guides CJ to become “a better witness for what’s beautiful.”
 
“Read it aloud to someone. The use of language to elicit questions, to spark imagination and to make us laugh is at its best when spoken,” said Newbery Medal Committee Chair Ernie J. Cox.  
 Why did the committee pick LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET?  I’ve heard that question asked many times these past couple of days.  The press release is the only official record we have of their justification, but perhaps together we can tease out some additional strengths of the book.
If you hadn’t read LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET when it won the Newbery Medal on Monday morning, I hope you’ve had a chance to track it down, and if like me you actually had read it and hadn’t examined it carefully against the Newbery criteria, I hope you’ve had a chance to revisit the book.  I must admit that I had some baggage on my first reading, since I had spent quite a bit of time last year with another excellent book about a boy and his grandmother.
We’ve said this before, but since comparing a relatively spare picture book text with a more verbose middle grade novel is the epitome of comparing apples to oranges, it’s often much more helpful to compare them against the ideal texts in their respective genres.  Thus, our thinking about LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET might be (a) how does this picture book text compare to all other picture book texts published this year, and (b) how does this picture book text compare to the most perfect picture book text (that exists as an ideal realized in our head; that is, we don’t need to compare it to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, etc), and finally (c) does it achieve distinction and excellence in its respective genre as much or more than other books?

With such a short text, I think most people expect gorgeous lyricism from the prose, and while I think that might be an unrealistic expectation for any picture book, I definitely think this one has a nice rhythm and cadence that lends itself to reading aloud.  I also notice several instances of metaphor, simile, alliteration, and personification that enhance the text.  The more I read this one, the more the style of the prose grows on me.  I haven’t read it with children yet, like Rachel did, but would welcome the additional feedback from those who have.

While the plot is fairly straightforward, it does obfuscate the final destination.  The main characters, CJ and his nana, are  drawn very nicely for such a brief text.  But while plot and character are solid, theme is really the area where I think this book shines the brightest.  Nana is such a wonderful character–“[CJ] wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look”–and she is the pulsing heart of this book, thematically.  She’s the real deal.

 
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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Jeannie Reid says:

    I have read this book aloud to 7th and 8th graders and they haven’t had a huge opinion one way or another. Many of them agreed that this was a good choice for the Newbery because it means more children will probably hear this book.

    My students didn’t understand why the most “popular” books didn’t get chosen, so it was a good discussion about awards (Oscars, Pulitzers, etc.) and the purposes behind giving them out.

    We also discussed how the opening of the book sets up the entire story. CJ and Nana are walking out of church, suggesting he and his Nana are people of religious faith. Without shouting this message, the author beautifully connects faith to action. So, not only is the reader challenged to broaden his world, but the adult reading the book is challenged to hold the hand of that child as he or she explores new “stops” along the journey.

  2. Julie Williams says:

    I was there when the announcement was made and I think it is safe to say it was a shock. I have had a chance to read the book and feel it is quite beautiful. I have done a Newbery / Caldecott lesson with my 4th and 5th graders this week and have challenged them to find what is distinguished. One 5th grade class in particular had great insight. Ilove that the committee has chosen a group that is more accessible to my younger students and in a way more motivating. Lobger doesn’t necesarily mean better. I was privileged to hear Senator Cory Booker at ALA and I was struck by how his message was very similar to the theme of Last Stop on Market Street. I think we can always find something to disagree with on the committee’s choice but I think it was a good one.

  3. I am a primary librarian and I have to say that while the kids love the pictures, the text does not particularly lend itself to being read aloud. I have to explain and set up many things so the kids can understand. The odd rhyming parts are also make the rhythm of reading aloud awkward. Maybe it works better with older kids?

    • I’ve found the same thing. I haven’t read it aloud to many classes, because the one’s I’ve read it to have had such a hard time following it. It requires a lot of extra talking on my part, and the kids don’t seem to feel they are getting enough payoff for all that work.

      • I agree. I read it several times last week to PreK through 3rd grade students and it took a lot of explaining and filling in. My students were polite but it didn’t resonate. It’s a lovely book and the language is beautiful but it was not a home run here.

  4. Sheila Welch says:

    I’m so glad Jonathan mentioned the other book about a city-living grandmother and a child. When I first saw LAST STOP, I was reminded of NANA IN THE CITY. Sometimes this happens: books that seem similar come out either the same year or within a few years of one another. And usually, one gets more attention than the other. Fortunately, NANA was named a Caldecott Honor Book last year.

    The winner of the Caldecott also was competing with a similar book. I’ve ordered both of the Winnie books so I can compare them. When it was published , I looked through the one called WINNIE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE BEAR THAT INSPIRED WINNIE-THE-POOH by Sally Walker, and I was impressed by Voss’s illustrations. I just checked and see that it , too, was published in 2015! It’ll be interesting to see how the same basic facts are presented in each book. And also how the illustrators presented their side of the story. Sally Walker has won awards for her informational books. I don’t know about Voss’s career, but it is kind of unfortunate for the earlier book that the other was published the same year. I realize this isn’t anyone’s fault and each of these books was probably in the pipeline for several years. Just makes things interesting.

  5. Regarding reading Market Street aloud, and to what audience, I suspect first to third grade would be ideal. I saw the rhymes as words to be relished and accentuated. On first reading it, I heard Maya Angelou’s voice in my head.

  6. I’ve tried hard to see what people like about this book, and I just can’t see it yet.

    My biggest problem with the text is that, in my opinion, a great book shows us a character learning, not a character being taught. There’s a big difference.

    I found the writing uneven. Some pages flowed well, but others were clunky, and my students have a difficult time following the story when the book is read aloud to them.

    I also had a problem with how disabilities are portrayed. I know the politically correct thing to say is “differently abled,” and that books should be positive, but the part of the book with the blind man struck me as too rose-colored. If the book is telling us to find beauty in the world around us, it should be honest about that. Why can’t it acknowledge that, yes, being blind is difficult, and it’s not fun, but here is the beauty that can be found in it anyway.

    What is it that I’m not seeing that makes others love this book so much? I’d like to know so that I can point it out when I share this book with students.

    • I’m with you. I think this is one of those books that for whatever reason prompts a strong reaction in people. I noticed that when if first came out. It seems to be one of those books that you either love or hate!

  7. Rusty Tooley says:

    It’s about time! I have read the criteria for the Newbery Medal and understand that “for children” does not top out at 5th grade. Still some of the picks in the last ten years or so have been books I did not buy for my K-5 library, because they were just a little too mature for my students/community. Maybe choosing a picture book is a wild swing of the pendulum? :-)

  8. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    I’ve been traveling since the announcements, and just home, and just now sitting down with my copy of “Last Stop on Market Street.” I’d admired this text, and thought briefly about it for posting here, but never got around to it.

    For those that find it didactic… I find it certainly wants to impart a message but that message can be taken in a lot of different ways, at different levels, through different readings. This seems a text best read over and over, and reflected on. While the basic message seems to be in finding beauty in the things and people in front of you, there are a myriad of different images, sounds, and situations through which a young reader can either take the text literally, or metaphorically, as they choose. For instance, I love the scene where the guitar player plays, then, “Nana glanced at the coin in the CJ’s palm. CJ dropped it in the man’s hat.” This to me is a perfect example of well-done didacticism. It is shown, not told, and it very very open. Why did CJ know what to do? Why did his Nana want him to do it? What does it mean that the coin came from Mr. Dennis to begin with…and, does this happen every week? CJ receives the coin stepping on to the bus, and give it away just before stepping off. What is the symbolism in that transaction? How does it change CJ?

    As for reading aloud, I’d suggest any of those finding it awkward just keep on playing with it, and maybe invite a friend to read it to you. The prose does move between the conversational and the lyric in a way that may not feel natural, but imbues a rhythm that makes the listener focus and concentrate, and in some places moves fluidly in and out of pure poetry. Some of my favorites for reading aloud:

    “From the bus stop, he watched water pool on flower petals. / Watched rain patter against the windshield of a nearby car.” Listen to those pairs of stresses, three of them in each line: bus stop, water pool, flower petals / rain patter, windshield, nearby car. Makes me lean into those words, hear them like rain…and the triple stressed “nearby car” draws out the end.

    “The bus creaked to a stop in front of them. / It sighed and sagged and the doors swung open.” I love the near rhyme (of them / open), and the onomatopoetic sounds of the bus.

    “The bus lurched forward and stopped, / lurched forward and stopped. / Nana hummed as she knit.” and “Two older boys got on next. / CJ watched as they moved on by and stood in back.” Both of these sound like Blues licks.

    The truer rhymes only come once CJ steps off the bus, and observes. And in both cases these rhymed couplets are followed by lines that feel in sync but abruptly change the rhythm and pattern…so we know we’re not going into a fully rhymed prose, and so that these couplets really stand out in the soundscape:

    “Crumbling sidewalks an broken-down doors / graffiti-tagged windows and boarded-up stores. / He reached for his Nana’s hand.”

    “at the bus rounding the corner out of sight, / and the broken streetlamps still it up bright / and the stray-cat shadows moving across the wall.”

    Many thanks to those of you who’ve pointed out your favorite passages and interpretations at this post and at http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2016/01/11/everything-is-awesome/#comments

  9. I’ve read MARKET STREET aloud to two different groups of children this week, one a group of 3rd – 6th graders, the other a mixed age group from preschool up through fourth or fifth grade. In the latter group, the preschoolers were fidgety; the older kids were more attentive. I find that the text has a nice rhythm to it, and that certain children really connect to it. One child exclaimed, “Oh, I just love that book!” after I finished reading.

    In my opinion, the committee’s choice of this book is a lovely surprise — sure, I would have liked to see more of my favorites honored, but I can also see the ways in which this book is truly distinguished.

  10. I read the book to 1st grade through 6th grade classes and didn’t get much of a reaction out of any of them. I get that it is a beautifully written book, but agree with the poster above that it took too much work to explain the book.

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