Saturday, June 4, 2016

Last Stop on Market Street: Has the Newbery Medal Forgotten What It Represents?

image from mrschureads.blogspot.com

The Newbery Medal, awarded each year to a children's book for distinguished writing, has been in place since 1922. It is usually awarded a children's novel and has occasionally been given to poetry. This year, however, it goes to...a picture book.

Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is the story of a boy and his grandmother riding across town on a bus. CJ wonders why they have to ride the bus. When they exit, he asks, "How come it's always so dirty over here?" and Nana replies, "Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirty, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful."

It's a good message about appreciating the heart of a city and its people which is driven home by vivid drawings. As a good picture book does, it unfurls its tale through strong images that convey a message even to young non-readers. It understandably was a 2016 Honor Book for the Caldecott Award, given to a children's book for excellence in ILLUSTRATION.

This, however, is the first Newberry winner I've read which left me feeling like I could have cranked this out in an afternoon. No disrespect is intended to De la Peña, who offers beautiful words to accompany those pictures ("The outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain, which freckled CJ's shirt and dripped down his nose"). This book accomplishes what it should and does it well, but let's reserve the Newbery Medal for more involved literary works that take more than ten minutes to read.