Books And More

A Medal for Market Street

Newbery Medal winner Matt de la Peña talks to TFK about his book, Last Stop on Market Street

January 15, 2016
HEATHER WARAKSA; DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS

Matt De la Peña won the 2016 Newbery medal for his book Last Stop on Market Street.

The 2016 Newbery Medal, which honors the best book for children, went to Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. The book follows a boy named CJ and his grandmother as they ride the bus through their city. CJ asks his grandmother about the many sites and people he sees on the way and learns to be grateful for what he has instead of envious of other people around him.  

The choice is notable because the Newbery Medal rarely goes to picture books. It’s also a big moment for diversity in children’s books; de la Peña is the first Latino author to win the Newbery Medal. While the Newbery focuses on the book’s words, Last Stop on Market Street also won a Caldecott Honor for Robinson’s illustrations.


De la Peña talked to TFK on Tuesday, just one day after the announcement. “I want to be an advocate for kids growing up on the wrong side of the tracks.” he told TFK. “This has given me an opportunity to have more of a voice.”

TFK:

How did it feel to get the call that you had won the Newbery Medal?

MATT DE LA PEÑA:

I stayed up late (the night before), until about 3:30 a.m., working on another book. I had been hearing that maybe this book had Caldecott potential, so I left my phone on. The phone rang at 4a.m. When they said Newbery instead of Caldecott, I was completed shocked. It’s such an honor.

TFK:

What is The Last Stop On Market Street about?


DE LA PEÑA:

It’s a book about a young boy growing up in a rundown city learning to see himself as beautiful—not just himself physically but where he’s growing up, his family, and his settings. Luckily for him he has a wise grandmother who gives him tools for new ways to see himself.

TFK:

Where did you get the idea for this book?

DE LA PEÑA:

I write young adult (YA) books that take place in an urban settings so I end up going to a lot of under-privileged schools. Sometimes kids will look at me when I go into their school and ask me, ‘Why would an author come down to our rundown school that doesn’t mean anything?’ It crushes me because I grew up in one of these places. I want these kids to see that their lives are just as meaningful as the kids on TV. That’s what I was looking to do in this picture book. I was matched with [the illustrator] Christian Robinson. I looked at his blog and one illustration that was very powerful to me was a boy on the bus with his grandmother. It gave me a physical tangible place to put my idea. The bus is such a great vehicle because it underscores the internal journey that he takes.

TFK:

The main characters in your book are African American. Is your story about race?

DE LA PEÑA:

My goal as a writer is to write stories that feature diverse characters but have nothing to do with diversity. When I wrote this book I thought of the city with diverse characters. This is a kid who’s family doesn’t have that much. I’ve been excited about having kids read a character like him or her and see themselves in the book.

TFK:

You’re the first Hispanic to win the Newbery medal. What does that mean to you?

DE LA PEÑA:

That’s a powerful part of this whole thing. It’s humbling. I’m mixed [ethnicities]—my dad is Mexican and my mom is Caucasian. I get so excited about the possibilities for the future. I hope that maybe this encourages young Hispanic kids to read their way through the world.

TFK:

Are you working on any other books?

DE LA PEÑA:

I turned in a YA book with Random House that should be coming out next year. I’m also going to start working on a picture book tentatively titled Carmella Full of Wishes. It’s about a young Mexican-American girl.

TFK:

What message do you hope kids take away from Last Stop on Market Street?

DE LA PEÑA:

I hope that kids see that there are different ways to see the world. [In the book] Nana says sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, you’re a better witness to what is beautiful. I want kids to see the beautiful in the world.


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