The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market Street
Written by Matt de la Pena
Illustrated by Christina Robinson
Published by G.P. Putnam’s and Sons, 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-25774-2
Grades PreK-8
Book Review
“He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.” So ponders C.J., the protagonist of Last Stop on Market Street, as he steps off the bus that has taken him to the soup kitchen he and his grandmother volunteer at each week. So, too, will the reader ponder this deeply moving story. Every so often, a picture book comes along that captures the art form perfectly. This is such a picture book. It is simple, but complex. It is serious, yet playful. The narrative is carefully built as C.J. and his nana leave church to head to the soup kitchen, riding on a city bus. Author Matt de la Pena and illustrator Christian Robinson masterfully present a diverse array of people from all walks of life, with different physical abilities, skin tones, and socioeconomic backgrounds, creating a book that manages to be all at once about social class, yet not about social class. Last Stop on Market Street pays homage to the beauty of everyday life and the powerful relationship between a grandmother and her grandson. It is ideal for read alouds as well as individual and small group exploration, and can be used as a catalyst for personal examination of relationships, reflections on beauty, exploration of language, and the intersection of art and life.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Grades PreK-8
Great Verbs. There is a wonderful selection of verbs that de la Pena uses in this story, including: pool, patter, zip, lurch, pluck, swirl, and slice. Provide your students with kid-friendly definitions of each of these verbs. Next, in groups of three, have students create a pantomime skit that demonstrates the definition of one of these words to their classmates. Perhaps you can record these pantomime skits and post them on a class blog, so students can really remember the definitions, and begin to use them in their spoken and written language.
Students and Special Adults. Who are the special people in your students’ lives? Have each of them write about someone who makes them feel special, perhaps a grandparent, aunt or uncle, perhaps a neighbor, former teacher, or parent. As you brainstorm people in their lives, and how they make your students feel special, also ask your students to consider when they are “tough” with them. What are some expectations they have? What do your students learn from these special adults? Students can write a memoir about an important moment with this special adult. To make it more of a challenge, particularly for older students, have them turn that special moment into a fictional picture book, along the lines of Last Stop on Market Street.
Imagery: Seeing What You Hear. On the bus, C.J. closes his eyes, as suggested by the blind man sitting near him, to hear the guitar gently playing nearby. When he does this, he “sees” what he hears: “sunset colors swirling over crashing waves;” “a family of hawks slicing through the sky;” and “butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon.” Play a range of different music compositions for your students. Ask students to close their eyes as you play each segment, and when the music is over, give them a minute to write down everything they saw in their mind’s eye. Have them compare and contrast what they see with when hearing the different compositions. When the exercise is over, have your students turn one of the lists into a poem that they illustrate. If possible, invite another class in, or family members, to a gallery exhibit of poetry in your classroom. Each part of the room can be devoted to a particular piece of music. Visitors can listen to each song and then view the associated poems and art work.
Grades 2-8 
Defining Beauty. What is beautiful? How do we define beauty? How does each of see beauty as something different? Ask your students what they think beauty is, and how they define it. Compare and contrast their definitions with those available in several dictionaries. Next, read Last Stop on Market Street, and have your students discuss how C.J. and Nana might define beauty. Send students out into the school community with clipboards, and have them ask other students and adults how they define beauty. Bring this research back to class to discuss further. Conclude this exercise by having students write and illustrate their own definitions of the word.
Your Beautiful World. On the bus ride that C.J. and Nana take, many different people get on and off the bus. Who do your students see with regularity, as a backdrop to their day or week, without perhaps taking notice? For example, C.J. has Mr. Dennis the bus driver and the men and women at the soup kitchen; he notices the beauty of light and shadows.  Give your students small journals, even if they are simply folded and stapled pieces of paper; have them decorate the cover. Each day for the period of a week, ask your students to stop for ten minutes and look around them. As they look, they must list the people and things they see. Have them also consider their other senses as well, to make sure that all students, including those who are visually impaired, can participate. What do they smell and hear? What do they taste? Next, they must try to draw a picture of the view as a whole or one close-up image. The one rule is that students can’t stop at the same time every day. They have to pick different points during the day. You might include a picture of a clock on the inside cover of the journal, for students to check off time slots as they move through the week. By doing this, you can capture before, during, and after school life. When they are done with a week’s worth of observations, have students select a single moment to write about in-depth. As students begin to draft their observations, have them focus on what is beautiful. Have them think like C.J.; let them be “a better witness for what is beautiful” by finding beauty in the places they “never even thought to look.”
Sharing Stories. To celebrate the publication of Last Stop on Market Street, Christian Robinson shared his book with strangers riding thebus in San Francisco, where he lives and works. Have students write stories (perhaps based on the writing exercises suggested in this blog entry or other Classroom Bookshelf entries) that they illustrate and publish. Next, take students to a public place in your neighborhood, village, town, or city. With your students, ride a bus or subway, walk through the woods or on sidewalks in your city or town. Have students give away their books to the people you pass. If this feels too “loose” for your comfort, find out when a senior citizen book club or meeting is taking place at your local library, and distribute the books there by surprise. Students can partner with seniors and read their books to them.
Illustrator Study. After reading Last Stop on Market Streetwith your students, have them explore Christian Robinson’s other work in pairs. What are some of the similarities and differences between his books? Can they see different things happening in his illustrations of nonfiction books versus fictional books? How does his work compare to other collage illustrators, such as Bryan Collier, Ezra Jack Keats, Melissa Sweet, or Steve Jenkins? Have students explore these other illustrators who work in collage, reporting out to one another what kinds of colors and materials each uses, and, if possible, the “mood” of the illustrations. Have students write their own fiction or nonfiction, perhaps starting with the exercises in this blog entry or another on the Classroom Bookshelf, and illustrate their books using their preferred method of collage based on this exploration.
Community Service. Have your class volunteer at a soup kitchen. This can be an important lesson in community service for all of your students, those who may eat at soup kitchens and those who have never been to one. In addition to helping to serve at the soup kitchen, have your students share their literary and visual art with the visitors to the soup kitchen. Visual art can hang on the walls temporarily, or it can be placed on easels throughout the room. Students can share written work through a reading, much like a literary reading at a bookstore, or by giving the gift of stories in the “Sharing Stories” exercise or the poems created in “Imagery: Seeing What You Hear” or “Defining Beauty.”Grades 5-8
The Intersection of Life & Art. Read the book with your students; next, have students listen to NPR’s interview with author Matt de la Pena and illustrator Christian Robinson. How did their personal histories influence the creation of this book? Reread the book and identify some elements from the interview: San Francisco as a backdrop, the relationship between Nana and C.J., the bus rides, etc. Have each student reconsider whatever books they may be reading individually for independent reading. What can they find out about the author or illustrator that helps them to understand this work of art as an outgrowth of some aspect of their lives? Resources like, interviews with authors and illustrators, and their individual websites are great starting points.

Critical Literacy
Diverse Characters. Either after completing the above teaching idea, or independent of it, have students consider what de la Pena says in the interview about diversity within this book. He wanted to write a picture book that featured a very diverse cast of characters, but he intentionally did not want the book to be about diversity. Did he achieve his goal? If so, how? How do the illustrations complete the portrait of diversity within the story? Have students consider what Robinson says in the interview as well, about the need for the book to be diverse, but also fun. Why are these important goals in a multicultural society such as the United States? Why does the interview conclude with de la Pena expressing his desire that this book be read in suburban classrooms filled with white students? Have students explore these questions in small groups; perhaps you could have them start with written reflections to get their thinking started on this important issue. Finally, as your conversation continues, share the WeNeed Diverse Books campaign with your students, and consider what you can do as a class to raise awareness of books with diverse characters in your own school and community.
Further Explorations
Digital Resources
Matt de la Pena’s Official Website
Christian Robinson’s Official Website
Matt and Christian on NPR, February 6, 2015
We Need Diverse Books Campaign
Bryan Collier
Steve Jenkins
Ezra Jack Keats
Melissa Sweet
Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.