Saturday, April 30, 2016

Inch One Hundred Fifteen: The Newbery Surprise


Back in 2011, I made a point to read every Newbery Medal book from the first in 1922 through 2011. The Newbery Medal is given annually by the American Library Association to the "most distinctive contribution to American children's literature" for the prior year. You can read about my Newbery adventures here and here

Even since then, I have made a point of reading the Newbery Medal book for each year, in part to follow the trends in children's literature and in part because I am geeky enough to take pride in the fact that I have read every Newbery Medal book. 

In 2014, the Newbery committee chose a Kate DiCamillo work, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventure, the first time a semi-graphic novel had been awarded the Newbery Medal. Why I give points to the committee for recognizing that graphic novels are literature too, I was heartily disappointed in the novel itself. I never bought into the premise of a squirrel with super powers. The committee redeemed itself last year with Crossover, but I was watching and waiting for the 2016 announcement. 

When I saw a description of this year's choice—an easy reader picture book—I groaned. A picture book? Really? Out of all of the possibilities, a picture book won the Newbery? What on earth was the Newbery committee thinking? 

What was the Newbery committee thinking? Quite a bit, it turns out. 

I just read the 2016 Newbery medal book: Last Stop on Market Street, words by Matt de la Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson, who picked up a Caldecott Honor award for his illustrations. (The Caldecott is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.) It is the first time a picture book has won the Newbery; the first time a Hispanic author has won the Newbery.

Yes, it is a picture book. Yes, it is only 28 pages long.

But, man, does it pack a wallop.

CJ is a little boy taking a bus ride with his nana (his grandmother). The author does not say, but I suspect Nana is raising CJ, a pattern every family court in this country recognizes. CJ is a fountain of questions. Why don't we have a car? Why is the neighborhood at the last stop so run down and dirty? Nana answers him simply and clearly each time, pointing out all the good in the world that he benefits from, seeing the rainbow in the poor neighborhood.

The destination is a soup kitchen at which CJ and Nana volunteer. The diners are all ages and all colors, some disabled. Kudos to the author and artist for showing us that our poor, like our country, are a diverse population. Further accolades to Robinson and de la Peña for making Nana and CJ African-American. In the vast seas of mostly white children's literature, here are real characters of color.


The premise of the story is a bus ride, but the story is about kindness and generosity. It is about seeing from the heart. It is about being grateful for the world. 

I absolutely loved it.

Congratulations, Newbery committee. You got it right. 

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Oh, I love this! Both the idea of reading all the Newbery winners, and the sound of this year's book. Thanks so much for sharing this. I may have to add this goal to my bucket list!