order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

cap

Last Stop On Market Street, 2016 Newbery Medal Winner, Revised

December 2, 2016

last-stop-medals

Everybody loves Matt de la Peña’s 2016 Newbery Medal Winning book Last Stop on Market Street. I love it too! I’ve read it to my girls countless times, they love it as well! What’s not to love? Why stop at a measly Newbery Medal anyway? Give that book a Caldecott! Wait, it won a Caldecott Honor too? Sure! Why not! While we’re at it, can we give Matt de la Peña an NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award? Absolutely! What’s one more award! Can we get him a Congressional Medal of Honor as well? Why not throw that in too? Can’t hurt, can it? Everybody loves Matt de la Peña! I love Matt de la Peña! I met Matt de la Peña once at the Rochester Teen Book Festival in 2013, and discovered Matt de la Peña is tall! Like, really tall! Like, he’s twice my height! Everybody loves tall people! They deserve to be successful! It’s only fair!

The book was illustrated by Christian Robinson. I bet he’s tall, too!

But here’s the thing. I’ve read Last Stop On Market Street many, many times. And I do love it. What’s more, I’ve gotten a fair number of excellent movie submissions based on it for my 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. But something has occurred to me, on my umpteenth time through the story. Something that had been nagging me about the story from the very first time I read it. And now I can’t let it go.

It is this: the “nana” character, which everyone bends over backwards to praise for her gentle whimsical wisdom, is one of the most infuriating characters in all of children’s literature.

Luckily, Last Stop On Market Street clocks in at a mere 757 words. So I found it easy to make the necessary fixes. Just had to interpolate a few lines here and there. Heads-up to Penguin Books: for future editions of Last Stop On Market Street, you can just cut-and-paste what I’ve written below.

Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson: YOU’RE WELCOME.

CJ pushed through the church doors,
skipped down the steps.

The air outside smelled like freedom,
but it also smelled like rain,
which freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose.

He ducked under his nana’s umbrella, saying,
“How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?”
“Trees get thirsty, too,” his nana told him.

“I’m not talking about the trees,
I’m talking about my reasonable physical needs.
I am wet and uncomfortable,” replied CJ.
But nana just kept going on about trees, pointing at one:

“Don’t you see that big one drinking through a straw?”
CJ looked for a long time but never saw a straw.

“This is the very definition of gaslighting,” said CJ.

From the bus stop, he watched water pool on flower petals.
Watched rain patter against the windshield of a nearby car.
His friend Colby climbed in, gave CJ a wave,
and drove off with his dad.
“Nana, how come we don’t got a car?”

“Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire,
and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you.”

“Why can’t you just be forthright with me
and admit that we can’t afford a car?” said CJ.
“There’s nothing shameful about not having enough money for a car.
But when you dance around the issue like this in such a transparent way,
You make me suspect that maybe there is something to be ashamed of.”

The bus creaked to a stop in front of them.
It sighed and sagged and the doors swung open.

“And this bus has never breathed fire once,” said CJ to himself.
“Plenty of exhaust coming out, though.
If you’re going to try to sell that as fire to me,
you have an uphill battle.”

“What’s that I see?” Mr. Dennis asked.
He pulled a coin from behind CJ’s ear,
placed it in his palm.
Nana laughed her deep laugh and pushed CJ along.

“I wonder if Mr. Dennis feels obligated to keep doing this,
or if he genuinely enjoys it,” thought CJ. “He’s done it like two
dozen times with me. We both feel that the trick has kind
of run its course, but nana seems really into it.
Still, how can he afford to be giving away quarters to
every kid who comes on the bus? It’s awkward.
I always feel like I’m taking advantage of him.”

They sat right up front.
The man across the way was tuning the guitar.
An old woman with curlers had butterflies in a jar.
Nana gave everyone a great big smile
and a “good afternoon.”
She made sure CJ did the same.

Which is what a psycho would do,
if you think about it for more than three seconds.
Has Matt de La Peña actually ever taken public transportation???

The bus lurched forward and stopped,
lurched forward and stopped.
Nana hummed as she knit.
“How come we always gotta go here
after church?” CJ said.
“Miguel and Colby never have to go nowhere.”

“I feel sorry for those boys,” she told him.
“They’ll never get a chance to meet Bobo or the Sunglass Man.
And I hear Trixie got herself a brand-new hat.”

“You’re a master of infuriating misdirection,” said CJ.
“I didn’t ask about whether you feel sorry for Miguel and Colby.
I specifically asked for the reason why we’re going to this place.
Once again you muddy the waters by talking about a bunch of
irrelevant things. Why can’t you give me the basic respect
of answering my questions in a straightforward way?
I’m a child. I want clarity and honesty.
And you’re going on and on about how Trixie got herself a brand-new hat.
No five-year-old boy in the history of humanity ever cared about whether
or not somebody bought a hat. None. If you listened to me and
engaged with me in a sincere and candid way, you would know this.”

CJ stared out the window feeling sorry for himself.
He watched cars zip by on either side,
watched a group of boys hop curbs on bikes.

A man climbed aboard with a spotted dog.
CJ gave up his seat. “How come that man can’t see?”
“Boy, what do you know about seeing?” Nana told him.

“Holy crap, you couldn’t be any more condescending,” said CJ.
“I ask a reasonable question and you shut me down.
Let me guess: you’re going to redefine ‘seeing’ in some
tortured, poetic way that only applies in this conversation.”

Nana went on, “Some people watch the world with their ears.”

“Bingo,” said CJ. “Called it.”

The man said, “If you really want to know,
I’m blind because of macular degeneration.
It’s the deterioration of the central portion of the retina.
I have what’s known as Stargardt disease,
which is caused by a recessive gene.”

“Really?” said CJ, warming to the topic. “That’s fascinating!
That’s real information! Facts that depend not on the whims
of whatever’s flitting through my nana’s head, but actual solid—”

Nana interrupted him.

“I said, SOME PEOPLE WATCH THE WORLD WITH THEIR EARS.”

The blind man and CJ shared a silent moment of understanding.

The man shrugged. CJ nodded in resignation.

“That’s a fact. Their noses, too,” the man said, sniffing at the air.
“That’s a mighty fine perfume you’re wearing today, ma’am.”
Nana squeezed the man’s hand and laughed her deep laugh.

“Amazing,” said CJ. “Once again, she finds a way to make it all about her.”

Two older boys got on next.
CJ watched as they moved on by and stood in back.
“Sure wish I had one of those,” he said.
Nana set down her knitting.
“What for? You got the real live thing sitting across from you.
Why don’t you ask the man if he’ll play us a song?”

“No wonder grandpa died early,” said CJ.
“Your disingenuous responses to my reasonable statements
would make anyone long for an early grave.
I’m just saying I wish I could listen to music on headphones.
I’m not even asking for it, or whining for it.
I’m just acknowledging it’s just a nice thing to have.
But you won’t even let me express my own desires in a plainspoken way.
Instead, you’re putting me in the supremely awkward social situation
of asking a stranger to play a song for me.
And is that really your long-term solution?
Instead of me getting an iPod, I should have this guitar dude
accompany me everywhere and play music?
Your feigned whimsy
and oblique way of never actually answering my questions
makes you one of the most insidious villains in children’s literature.
Okay, fine, Jesus, I’ll ask the guy to play, since you’re giving me that look.”

CJ didn’t have to.
The guitar player was already
plucking strings
and beginning to sing.

“To feel the magic of music,”
the blind man whispered,
“I like to close my eyes.”
Nana closed hers, too.

When everyone had their eyes closed, CJ slipped off the bus
without anyone seeing him except Mr. Dennis.

But Mr. Dennis seemed to understand.

As the bus rumbled away, CJ felt a massive relief rush over him.

“Holy crap,” he said to himself. “It’s like getting out of jail.”