A friend of my husband very sweetly gave A the book, Last Stop on Market Street (written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson). Unlike my reviews of Tubby (part 1 & part 2), I actually love how this book presents race and family. The picture book is about a boy and his grandmother leaving church and traveling in a bus. Nana, the grandmother, has an unrelentingly positive and curiosity-seeking demeanor that she uses to gently encourage CJ, her grandson. The last stop on Market Street, we eventually learn, is a soup kitchen where they volunteer every Sunday.
Nana and CJ look African American (though the reader is never explicitly told how they racially identify). Many children’s books with characters of color deal with race in one of two ways: First, there are children’s books that use characters of color to discuss the Civil Rights Movement or slavery. Racial struggle is the central theme; these types of books have their place. They can be powerful tools to help kids understand huge topics like slavery or Civil Rights. Second, there are books with characters of color that fall into a “colorblind” narrative (the whole “my kid doesn’t see race” idea). In this type of book, characters of color and White characters interact without any recognition of White privilege or how American society organizes power along racial lines. They become weird post-racial utopias. This type of colorblind book is actively dangerous, because it risks exacerbating racial inequality. (I get this might be controversial for some. Read more about colorblindness here and here.)
It is important to me, however, to have books showing characters of color going about their ordinary lives but still relishing in and respecting their culture. Last stop does exactly that. For example, at the beginning of the book, CJ’s friend (a White boy) gets in the car with his father, and CJ asks his Nana “how come we don’t got a car?”. Those few lines, combined with the visual representation of race in the illustrations, hints as the economic realities of race in the US. There are lots of other subtle examples that prove how delicately this book deals with race.
We can’t just read this book to our kids and expect that exposure to be enough (that falls into colorblindness, which, as I said before, I believe we should strive to avoid as parents). We still need to have active, explicit conversations with them about the book and how race is shown. In a future post, I may put together a few examples of how I might use Last stop to stimulate conversations about race with A or other young kids.
I didn’t even get to touch on how disability and blindness is portrayed in the book, which is beautifully done as well! Overall, I would highly recommend the book for any parents or people looking to buy a present for a young child.