Review by New York Times Review
THE GREAT NOVELS for young readers all explore the same question: How do we respond to an unfair world? For the picture book crowd, unfairness and injustice can be tough topics for discussion, but as three new books show, even the very young understand disappointment. In Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson's "Last Stop on Market Street," a young boy named CJ leaves church with his grandmother and takes a bus ride. CJ's disappointments form a believable litany: It's raining, and he's getting wet. They have to ride the bus because they don't have a car. He wants to be playing with his friends. He wishes he owned a device for listening to music. One by one, Nana addresses CJ's dissatisfactions, neither ignoring nor indulging him. "Trees get thirsty, too," she says. And: "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire." She occasionally gives more information than feels natural; at other times she answers him tartly, making her sound very real. While Nana's responses might not always satisfy CJ, he begins to discern her ability to turn limitation into opportunity, and even beauty. Still, after an important scene in which he finds a way to emulate Nana, he reverts momentarily, expressing yet another letdown when they get off the bus in a neighborhood that looks "dirty." Nana once again redirects his attention. Clearly it's a lesson most of us have to keep relearning all our lives. Robinson's simple shapes, bright palette and flat perspective belie a sophisticated use of acrylic and collage. His cityscape is diverse and friendly, without neglecting the grittiness: litter, graffiti, security grilles and a soup kitchen - CJ and Nana's destination. With this final detail, "Last Stop on Market Street" provides a gentle twist, letting readers in on the secret Nana and CJ have known all along: They're on the way to help others who have even less. But it's also the warmth of their intergenerational relationship that will make this book so satisfying, for both young readers and the adults sharing it with them. "Juna's Jar," written by Jane Bahk and illustrated by Felicia Hoshino, depicts a single disappointment big enough to be heartbreaking: Little Juna's friend Hector moves away suddenly, and she is denied even a chance to say goodbye. The two friends loved collecting things to keep in a kimchi jar that Juna salvaged after her family emptied the contents. The jar serves as a conduit for Juna's attempts to find Hector in her imagination and her dreams. Her brother, Minho, buys her a fish to keep in the jar. She "put on a diving mask and fins and dove into the water. . . . 'Can you help me find my friend Hector?' Juna asked her fish." The magic realism is underscored when, overnight, the fish grows too big for the jar. Subsequently Minho helps Juna put a seed and then a cricket into the jar, both of which take her on similar journeys to search for Hector. (Minho plays an important role in the story, though the lack of response from Juna to his kindness makes him a less dimensional character than he might have been.) Juna's eventual reunion with Hector occurs only in her dreams, realistically wistful rather than joyous. And while the ending, with its suggestion of a new friend for Juna, may be predictable for adult readers, young children will probably find it pleasing. In Hoshino's lyrical and delicately detailed watercolor illustrations, Juna is adorable, her facial expressions matching the honest emotion of the text. The role played by the book's title object is compelling as well, and you might want to prepare for a first reading to a child by having ajar of similar size and shape on hand. Both Juna and CJ hark back to Peter in Ezra Jack Keats's "The Snowy Day," in that their ethnicity is part of their identity without being the story's central issue (CJ is African-American, Juna is Korean-American). More than 50 years after Keats's book, such characters remain alarmingly rare in children's literature, even though the argument that books featuring nonwhite characters don't sell well has been thoroughly trounced by savvy marketing in other entertainment realms (think of Dora the Explorer, or Doc McStuffins). It is bewildering that so many publishers are taking so long to catch on. If Juna and CJ reside within more or less traditional picture book worlds, another disappointed child, the unnamed boy protagonist in David Mackintosh's "Lucky," lives in a postmodern one. Text is used as a design element - stacked, layered, squeezed, slanted. The large-headed, spindly-legged children proceed through a landscape of sketches, photographs, postcards, blocks of color and collage, with enough logic and white space to keep things from feeling too frantic. "Lucky" achieves a synchronicity between text and illustration that rarely occurs unless both are created by the same person. When the boy's mother announces in the morning that there will be a surprise for dinner, he and his brother, Leo, spend the day considering and rejecting possibilities. Leo begins by guessing that it might be curly fries. From there things escalate, to great comic effect. A new bike? A new car? "MAYBE WE'RE GETTING A SWIMMING POOL in the backyard." In each case, hope is quashed by reason: "But we live in a high apartment and don't have a backyard. So that can't be it." Throughout the school day, the boys continue to speculate, finally concluding that the family must have won a two-week vacation in Hawaii. Dazzled, the boy tells a classmate. The news disseminates at school and even reaches the principal, who is suitably impressed. Young readers will have no trouble getting in on the joke, and the book's siblings are the only ones who will be shocked to learn that, alas, they are not destined for Hawaii. Not only is the boy disappointed, he also feels like a fool - complex emotions captured neatly with a few lines of text and a sketch of his face that barely makes it onto the page. So why is he lucky? Maybe it's because he has a brother who is also his best friend. And in a true-to-life ending, even that blessing is not totally unalloyed: They still have to share a room. Picture books like these three lead by example rather than by preaching, using story to help prepare young readers for the more complex novels that await them - and for a world sorely in need of those who can respond to disappointment with grace. Maybe Leo IS right: We ARE going to Hawaii for two weeks! LINDA SUE PARK is the author of several picture books and novels for young readers, including "A Long Walk to Water." She serves on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [January 18, 2015]
Review by Booklist Review
CJ and his nana depart church and make it to the bus stop just in time to avoid an oncoming rain shower. They board the bus, and while CJ is full of questions and complaints (why don't they have a car? why must they make this trip every week? and so forth), Nana's resolute responses articulate the glories of their rich, vibrant life in the city, as presented by the bus' passengers and passages. A tattooed man checks his cell phone. An older woman keeps butterflies in a jar. A musician tunes and plays his guitar. At last the pair arrive at the titular destination and proceed to the soup kitchen where, upon recognizing friendly faces, CJ is glad they came to help. Robinson's bright, simple, multicultural figures, with their rounded heads, boxy bodies, and friendly expressions, contrast nicely with de la Peña's lyrical language, establishing a unique tone that reflects both CJ's wonder and his nana's wisdom. The celebratory warmth is irresistible, offering a picture of community that resonates with harmony and diversity.--Barthelmess, Thom Copyright 2015 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Like still waters, de la Peña (A Nation's Hope) and Robinson's (Gaston) story runs deep. It finds beauty in unexpected places, explores the difference between what's fleeting and what lasts, acknowledges inequality, and testifies to the love shared by an African-American boy and his grandmother. On Sunday, CJ and Nana don't go home after church like everybody else. Instead, they wait for the Market Street bus. "How come we don't got a car?" CJ complains. Like many children his age, CJ is caught up in noticing what other people have and don't have; de la Peña handles these conversations with grace. "Boy, what do we need a car for?" she responds. "We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you." (The driver obliges by pulling a coin out of CJ's ear.) When CJ wishes for a fancy mobile music device like the one that two boys at the back of the bus share, Nana points out a passenger with a guitar. "You got the real live thing sitting across from you." The man begins to play, and CJ closes his eyes. "He was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic." When the song's over, the whole bus applauds, "even the boys in the back." Nana, readers begin to sense, brings people together wherever she goes. Robinson's paintings contribute to the story's embrace of simplicity. His folk-style figures come in a rainbow of shapes and sizes, his urban landscape accented with flying pigeons and the tracery of security gates and fire escapes. At last, CJ and Nana reach their destination-the neighborhood soup kitchen. Nana's ability to find "beautiful where he never even thought to look" begins to work on CJ as the two spot people they've come to know. "I'm glad we came," he tells her. Earlier, Nana says that life in the deteriorated neighborhood makes people "a better witness for what's beautiful." This story has the same effect. Ages 3-5. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review
K-Gr 3-Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal, as well as numerous other awards, this picture book by Matt de la Peña receives a lovely treatment in this video presentation. Arnell Powell reads the deceptively simple text, which follows CJ and his grandmother as they take the bus through their diverse neighborhood after church. CJ is not content with his lot (he wishes he was in a car instead), and he uses the opportunity to complain just a little. His grandmother, however, sees beauty around her and finds joy in small experiences, gradually helping CJ do the same. She teaches her grandson to be grateful and to enjoy what he has. Their final destination is, in itself, a lesson in counting your blessings: serving food at a soup kitchen. The book is warm and rich, and this video presentation, with its simple animation of Christian Robinson's blocky, expressive, and poignant illustrations, gives viewers the chance to savor every moment. It allows for a close examination of the small details of urban life-details that might be missed from a casual reading of the book itself. VERDICT This is a delightful treatment of a praiseworthy book and merits a place in any library serving children.-Teresa Bateman, Brigadoon Elementary, Federal Way, WA © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review
CJ, a young black boy, has a flurry of questions for his grandmother one rainy day: "How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?" "How come we don't got a car?" "How come we always gotta go here after church?" Only at book's end do readers learn that "here" is a soup kitchen in a hardscrabble part of town ("How come it's always so dirty over here?") where CJ and Nana work every Sunday. Nana has a bottomless supply of look-on-the-sunny-side answers ("Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful"), but she isn't dispensing bromides; the economical, exquisitely composed collage illustrations showing the pair in a glamour-free urban setting forbid a glib reading. CJ and Nana develop a fellowship with the bus driver, Mr. Dennis, and with the other passengers (a blind man and his dog; an old woman holding a jar of butterflies; a man playing the guitar), and it takes just a gentle nudge from Nana for CJ to unhesitatingly drop the coin Mr. Dennis gave him into the musician's hat. De la Pena and Robinson here are carrying on for Ezra Jack Keats in spirit and visual style. This quietly remarkable book will likely inspire questions of a sort less practical-minded than CJ's; it will also have some adult readers reaching for a tissue. nell beram (c) Copyright 2015. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A young boy yearns for what he doesn't have, but his nana teaches him to find beauty in what he has and can give, as well as in the city where they live. CJ doesn't want to wait in the rain or take the bus or go places after church. But through Nana's playful imagination and gentle leadership, he begins to see each moment as an opportunity: Trees drink raindrops from straws; the bus breathes fire; and each person has a story to tell. On the bus, Nana inspires an impromptu concert, and CJ's lifted into a daydream of colors and light, moon and magic. Later, when walking past broken streetlamps on the way to the soup kitchen, CJ notices a rainbow and thinks of his nana's special gift to see "beautiful where he never even thought to look." Through de la Pea's brilliant text, readers can hear, feel and taste the city: its grit and beauty, its quiet moments of connectedness. Robinson's exceptional artwork works with it to ensure that readers will fully understand CJ's journey toward appreciation of the vibrant, fascinating fabric of the city. Loosely defined patterns and gestures offer an immediate and raw quality to the Sasek-like illustrations. Painted in a warm palette, this diverse urban neighborhood is imbued with interest and possibility. This celebration of cross-generational bonding is a textual and artistic tour de force. (Picture book. 3-6) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.