2016: Last Stop on Market Street

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

Last Stop on Market Street, the highly acclaimed winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal as well as numerous other awards, is aimed at early elementary school children. As such, it’s a bit hard to judge against other Newbery Medal winners because it’s written at a completely different level.

The story told is that of a young boy and his grandmother, who have an entertaining bus ride to the final stop of the Market Street bus route. Along the way, the grandmother gently instructs the kid on how to interact with people. Everything is infused with her optimism and unique worldview. At the end of the bus ride, the duo arrive at a soup kitchen, where they help serve a meal.

The story is very simple; what really sells it are the beautiful illustrations, depicting a diverse community going about its daily life. The optimism is contagious and touching. I highly recommend this for younger kids; the language is simple enough that it’d likely work as a read-together book for those first learning to read.

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1982: A Visit to William Blake’s (Insane) Inn

VERDICT: Trash

Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5/5

A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won the 1982 Newbery Medal and received a Caldecott Honor (losing to Jumanji). Only one of these awards was deserved, and it wasn’t the Newbery. While the images are whimsical and entertaining, the poetry is merely scattered and bizarre. It’s not crazy enough to be enchanting – a la Where the Wild Things Are – but it’s too weird to check the conventional boxes.

I will admit, at this juncture, that poetry is NOT one of my favorite genres. However, I’ve read the original Songs of Innocence and Experience on which this is based and enjoyed those poems much more than this derivative. Outside of the reference to Blake’s name, this story has no relation to his work.

The frame for the story is that a babysitter sends the book to entertain a child who has the measles after the kid asks for a story about lions and tigers. It transports the child to William Blake’s inn, where dragons bake bread and angels do the housekeeping. With the high fever often caused by measles, perhaps the hallucinating kid was the one writing the narrative… Adventures are had by all. Each set of pages has an individual story. In one, the King of the Cats writes a letter home to his wife; in another Blake takes everyone for a walk in the Milky Way. The Wikipedia page has a list of all the “poems” included in this book as well as some additional information about it. Clearly, that author liked it far more than I.

This book is a minimal time investment as it’s something like 50 pages long, with half of those pages taken up by illustrations. It’s worth picking up to skim through and look at the pictures. For me, though, this is far from an essential read.