A look at “Last Stop on Market Street”

I am so grateful for our awesome Multnomah County Library. I love to pick up  “Lucky Day!” books – the most current, hot titles without waiting on hold forever. This week, my eyes were drawn to Last Stop on Market Street a picture book written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson.

I’m always on the lookout for good books for my preschooler, with sophisticated storytelling and beautiful art. And most especially, ones that feature people of color. Last Stop has it all!

The story follows CJ and his grandma as they ride the bus from church through their bustling city to regular post-church destination, revealed in the final pages. For me, three things make this book a cut above the average picture book:

  • The storytelling is rich and layered. It’s neither too simplistic or over-explanatory as some children’s books tend to be. It feels colorful, whimsical, playful. In one scene, as a man starts playing his guitar on the bus, a blind man who has befriended Nana and CJ teases, “To feel the magic of music, I like to close my eyes.” Nana, CJ and a friendly dog also close their eyes, too.
  • The “cast” of the book is extremely diverse, with the protagonists a black child with his black grandma. Throughout the pages are a wonderful palette of colors, ability, age, dress. But the story doesn’t have to talk about diversity or hit you over the head with it. It simply tells the story of a city, and shows all kinds of different people that you would actually see in a city. Hooray!
  • Spoiler alert. CJ and his grandma arrive at their destination at that last stop on Market Street: a soup kitchen. The story ends showing the two serving folks at the center. I love how this book gives you just enough story to be a conversation starter. There’s no judgement or lesson here. Just a sweet day-in-the-life depiction of an intergenerational relationship, a city, a community.

More about the book in this NPR interview with de la Peña and Robinson. De la Peña also wrote a sweet post on Brightly about the significance of diversity of characters for young children.

Want to buy Last Stop on Market Street and support this blog? As a Powell’s Books Partner, we’ll will receive a small portion of any sales that come directly from links on this page. Thanks!

Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt De La Pena
Powells.com

Three picture books depicting adoptive families

Our two year old loves books. Now that she’s old enough to understand more and to have conversations, I thought it was time we check out some books that include adoption in the stories. Here’s my take on the three we have checked out from the library at the moment:

Pablo's Tree book coverPablo’s Tree by Pat Mora, illustrated by Cecily Lang

Plot: It’s Pablo’s birthday and he’s very excited to see his ‘Lito,’ short for ‘Abuelito’ which means grandfather in Spanish. Lito has a tree that he planted when Lito was born and he decorates the tree each year for Pablo’s birthday. The story follows Pablo on his birthday adventure to Lito’s. It’s revealed that Pablo’s mom, a single mom, adopted Pablo as an infant. Lito bought the tree when his daughter announced her intention to adopt. Then, he purchased the tree in happy anticipation of his grandson.

Thoughts: This one was actually a surprise. Lilli grabbed it off the shelf at the library. It looked pretty good from the first few of pages. It was about a Mexican-American boy, and because Lilli is one-quarter Panamanian, I thought it might be nice to read about other brown people. Didn’t find out until we read it through the first time that it’s actually an adoption story. I really like this book for three reasons. 1) The specificity of the story is refreshing. I appreciate the lack of stereotype in how this adoptive family looks. Pablo’s primary family is his mom and his grandfather. The family is Mexican-American. The adoptive mom is a single parent. The story of Pablo’s adoption is talked about openly between the characters. Even though this does not look much like our adoption story, I feel much more of an affinity and resonance than in other books I’ve read (including one of the other ones I’m including in this post). 2) I really appreciate inter-generational stories. 3) The illustrations are rich and colorful.

Megan's Birthday Tree book coverMegan’s Birthday Tree: A Story About Open Adoption by Laurie Lears, illustrated by Bill Farsnworth

Plot: The story follows Megan, a school age girl who is a daughter in an open adoption family. She maintains a relationship with her birth mom Kendra. The story unfolds as Kendra announces that she will be getting married and moving soon. At Kendra’s current house, Kendra planted a ‘Birthday Tree’ for Megan after she was born. With Kendra’s pending move, Megan becomes worried about her birthday tree and worried that Kendra will forget her if she doesn’t have the birthday tree to remind her.

Thoughts: All in all, it’s a sweet story (got me teary-eyed at a certain point) and probably a good one to have around as we begin talking to Lilli about her birth and adoption story. I don’t imagine there are many books specifically about open adoption out there for children. The lovely thing about the book is that it focuses on the relationship between Megan and her birth mom. One thing I appreciate about our type of open adoption is that it really focuses on transparency of the adoption relationships and honors the birth parent(s)’ place in the family. This book comes from that philosophy of open adoptions. The down side to me in this book is that it feels sort of generic in its approach, which is useful to be inclusive, but feels a bit preachy. Also, it hits the open adoption message on the nose too much for my taste. And it’s these two things that make it feel more heavy handed and clinical to me, rather than a expressively and creatively written story. The illustrations, while quite masterful, also feel a bit heavy handed.

Imageand tango makes three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole

Plot: The story takes place at New York’s Central Park Zoo. It follows the relationship of two boy penguins, Roy and Silo, who become a couple. They eventually are given a penguin egg to hatch and become parents to a baby girl penguin named Tango. It’s based on a true story.

Thoughts: I don’t know how I missed the news of the gay penguins at Central Park Zoo when it became a minor sensation through a New York Times article. But I was delighted as I read this book to Lilli. I knew it was about adoption, but didn’t know about the gay theme, as well. Like Pablo’s Tree, I like the specificity of the story, which make sense because it’s a true story rather than an archetypal story like Megan’s story. And heck it’s a great story which is why it had so much notoriety. (Okay, so the notoriety also came from the folks who don’t like the idea of gay penguins and apparently it’s among the most banned books.) Another plus is the illustrations are quite lovely. What I don’t love is the tone of the storytelling. It feels a bit like the authors are talking down to the reader and sometimes over simplifies the concepts in a way I don’t think is necessary.

A couple of other thoughts.

I like the birthday tree concept. I wish we had started some sort of tradition like that when Lilli came into our lives. We still have time to start a tradition so I’m looking for ideas, especially something to commemorate the day of Lilli’s placement, which is also the day she came home with us. Considering calling it our ‘love’ day.

Despite some of my critiques of the books above, I appreciate all of them as they help share the concepts of adoption and open adoption. We are also eager to read more. If you have favorite adoption books for children, please share them below.