Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street made history twice over when it won the 2016 Newbery Medal. First, it made de la Peña the first Latino author to win the Newbery, toppling another barrier and further broadening the U.S. children’s-literature canon beyond the lily-white. Second, it is a 32-page picture storybook for preschoolers and early-elementary children.
The Newbery is open to U.S. books with an audience of children from birth through 14. We in the industry know this, but that doesn’t stop us from being surprised—not quite as astonished, perhaps, as when Brian Selznick’s 544-page The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the 2008 Caldecott Medal. But surprised.
We shouldn’t be, though. Although there was lots of Caldecott buzz for Last Stop, and goodness knows, Robinson’s illustrations deserve all the accolades they’ve won, de la Peña’s text is also something to behold:
CJ pushed through the church doors,
skipped down the steps.
The outside air smelled like freedom,
but it also smelled like rain,
which freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose.
De la Peña effortlessly plays with the figurative and the concrete, placing readers and listeners in the moment, perhaps even causing them to look down at their own shirts and to dry off their own noses. And that’s just the beginning.
It’s hard to focus on just the text of a picture book—it’s a form that demands the interplay of words and images—and at least one person on the 2016 Newbery committee must have taken the time to type out all of de la Peña’s text in order to appreciate it by itself. Thank goodness they did. They’ll make sure that kids for generations will, like CJ and his nana, understand what it means to be “a better witness for what’s beautiful.”
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.