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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Last Stop On Market Street, written by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2015. $

"They sat right up front.
The man across the way
was tuning a guitar.
An old woman with curlers
had butterflies in a jar.
Nana gave everyone a big
smile and a "good afternoon."
She made sure CJ did the same.
The bus lurched forward
and stopped, lurched forward
and stopped."

Do you find yourself often wishing for something more? One of the real pleasures of growing older for me is that I know I have more than enough ... and really don't have much on  my wish list. That is not to say that others should feel the same way. I want to be 'just like Nana' in this wonderfully brilliant new story from two superb artists.

CJ and his Nana have been to church and are now waiting at the bus stop.

"Watched rain patter against the windshield of a nearby car.
His friend Colby climbed in, gave CJ a wave,
and drove off with his dad.
"Nana, how come we don't got a car?"

It is the first of a number of querulous questions from a grandson to his patient grandmother. As the bus pulls up and they climb aboard, they happily greet the bus driver, and the people who are sharing their ride. CJ is filled with questions and comments about how lucky his friends are not to have to ride this bus, and about the people on board. He sure feels sorry for himself. As new passengers climb on, Nana is welcoming. She encourages her grandson to see the beauty in the diversity of the world around them. Rather than coveting the music player and earbuds that two other young passengers have, why not listen to the guitar-playing singer across the aisle from him. Will CJ feel the magic?

"He saw sunset colors swirling over crashing waves.
Saw a family of hawks slicing through the sky.
Saw the old woman's butterflies
dancing free in the light of the moon.
CJ's chest grew full and he was lost in the sound
and the sound gave him the feeling of magic."

At the 'last stop on Market Street' the two disembark and stroll toward the soup kitchen which is their weekly destination. Along the way, CJ manages to see through his Nana's eyes the possibilities in the world and the people that surround them.

"I'm glad we came."

In a pairing that shows just how perfect an illustrated book can be, we are witness to the beauty of  'story'. Matt De La Pena's tale is wondrous and magical, loving and lovely. Christian Robinson's seemingly simple 'acrylic paint, collage, and a bit of digital manipulation' illustrations are flawless in depicting the Nana's community that is so inspirational and uplifting. Because of their collaboration we are 'a better witness of what's beautiful.'

 There are days when it does seem difficult to find beauty in the world ... even for adults. Would that we all had CJ's Nana to stand by and remind us how truly lucky we are, and how grateful we must be.

How thrilled was I that, on the day I received a copy of Last Stop on Market Street, I heard a short interview with Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson on NPR Morning Edition? In the interview they were asked if the experience they were sharing came from their own lives. Both said that it did. Their grandmothers had been instrumental in their upbringing, and both had encouraged the boys to be thankful for the each of the blessings in their lives.

Here's the link to the interview on NPR:

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