Tag Archives: diversity

Last Stop on Market Street

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I cannot say enough good things about Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s 2015 Last Stop on Market Street. I stumbled upon it quite by accident, tugging on its bright orange spine in the hopes that the book would be less dusty and worn than the others I’d found in the library…and I was not disappointed.

The book itself – the text and the images – are beautifully done. In fact, Last Stop on Market Street won both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor in 2016. De la Peña’s writing is nuanced: simple and straightforward, easy for a child to understand – but also embedded with imagery and poeticism. The descriptions are as vivid for the scenery as they are for the characters: just as “Nana laughed her deep laugh,” the bus “sighed and sagged.” On the very second page, our young protagonist CJ steps out of church into “outside air [that] smelled like freedom, but […] also like rain”; toward the end, his grandmother tells him that “when you’re surrounded by dirt, […] you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

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“‘Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt […] you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.'”

Nana is referring to the beauty of the sky – but she could easily be talking about Robinson’s pictures. They are colorful and detailed, done in strokes that give the book’s childish narrator a stake in the visual aspect of the story as well as the narration – Robinson colors the world as a child sees it. The images give off a mixed media feel: newspaper on one page, the birds on the page shown above as if they have been cut from paper. And the figures themselves, of course, are vibrant, colorful representations of all of humanity: in wheelchairs, on foot, with headscarves, with no hair at all, tattooed, light-skinned, dark-skinned, elderly, middle-aged, bespectacled.

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The book is not one, however, that is simply beautiful. It is an emissary of so many beautiful messages: on being grateful, being positive, finding beauty everywhere, helping others, and, above all, perspective. Each character is unique; though the narrator and Nana use Standard American English, CJ has a clear dialect (see image below) that is not looked down upon by the narrator or criticized. His skin color, too, is darker than the average children’s book protagonist’s – but the book is about more than diversity.

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Throughout the book, CJ whines about his responsibilities, about not having a car…but at the end, CJ is gently reminded – as is the reader – to shift his perspective and realize that we are all luckier than we think. Last Stop on Market Street is a reminder to be grateful, compassionate, and respectful, and is a touching story that crosses cultures and class without coming off as as preachy or, on the other end, pitying. Instead, it recognizes not the deficits of different groups of people but the strengths; it celebrates humanity and the goodness de la Peña sees in us all.

 

 

-Addison Armstrong

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Winner Wednesday: Blackout

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Blackout by John Rocco tells the story of a family during a power outage in New York City. The book won the Caldecott Honor in 2012, and from the beautiful scene on the cover alone, it’s clear why.

The front cover of Blackout, by John Rocco.

The front cover of Blackout, by John Rocco.

The book begins with a boy, wanting to spend time with his family who is all much too busy to spend time with him. Then, all of a sudden, the lights go out. Not just in the apartment, but the whole city. The family gathers in the kitchen, making shadow puppets and spending time together. As the house begins to feel too warm, they venture to the roof. Here, many other families are gathered as well, and there’s a beautiful star scene shown. They look around, and realize there are many people down on the street as well. So they head down, down, down to the street and join the party going on there, enjoying games and music and ice cream with their neighbors. The lights come back on soon, and the boy laments that things are back to normal, but then says they don’t always like things being normal. He turns the lights off and the family gathers in the kitchen to play a board game and spend time together as a family.

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The illustrations are an incredible asset to this book. Rocco uses a combination of panels, one page spreads, and two page spreads to tell the story. Many of the smaller panels (such as the page shown above) are effective because of the way they show several different things happening all at once. The larger spreads show incredibly detail and artistry that makes the book beautiful.

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The other interesting aspect is the way Rocco uses color and light throughout the book. It begins in color, but then once the lights go out, he uses black and white illustrations, with the only color shown being the source of light: the yellow of the flashlight, or the yellow of the stars. He also places the text in places where the light source illuminates the text:

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The book turns back to color illustrations as the family heads down to the street to join the party going on there, and remains in color the rest of the story.

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This book tells a great story about the importance of family time- getting away from the other things that distract us and spending time with those closest to us. The illustrations are wonderfully done, and compliment the story well.

-Kate Tarne

Winners Wednesdays: Freedom Summer

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In Freedom Summer, Deborah Wiles tells the story of two young boys in the summer of 1964, right after the Civil Rights Act is passed.  This book received the Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe new talent award for Jerome Lagarrigue and the Simon Wiesenthal “Once Upon A World Award.”

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The story is told from the perspective of Young Joe who is best friends with John Henry.   Young Joe does everything with John Henry–except swimming in the public swimming pool, visiting the movie theater or buying ice pops at the supermarket.  Instead they help John Henry’s mother–Young John’s family’s maid–with chores around the house and swim in a local creek.  Young Joe accepts that this is the way things are in the segregated South yet doesn’t see John Henry as much different from himself.

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When people in Mississippi organize to enforce the Civil Rights Act and register to vote, the boys don’t realize the magnitude of their mission.  The boys understand, however, how the new laws will effect them and are ecstatic to be able to do new things together–like finally swim in the glistening town pool.  They run to the pool early in the morning to be the first swimmers in the newly desegregated pool.  When they arrive, they watch in horror as tar fills the empty pool and workmen stomp it flat.  Almost defeated, they sit up on the diving board.  When Young Joe tries to comfort his friend, John Henry cries hot, angry tears and insists he wanted to swim.

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Something clicks.  They both have quarters.  They have each other.  The boys walk into the convenience store, arm in arm, to buy ice pops.

The beautiful oil paint illustrations by Jerome Lagarrigue portray the bliss, excitement and disappointment of these two children who decide not to let their society mold them.   The art adds movement to the children’s laughter, pain to the city’s betrayal, and strength in the moment when Young Joe and John Henry realize they can make their own dream come true.

Deborah Wiles is also known for her 1960’s trilogy for upper elementary and middle school students, which includes another work about the Freedom Summer entitled Revolution.