Written by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015
Awards: Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor
CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy and his grandmother take the bus across town.
It’s raining when they leave church, so CJ’s Nana opens her umbrella and together, they walk under it to the bus stop. Watching a friend get into a car, CJ asks why they don’t have one and Nana tells him that they have no need for a car, since the bus is always available. When they board the bus, the bus driver does a magic trick and pulls a coin from behind CJ’s ear. Nana greets everyone on board and then knits as the bus moves along. CJ gives up his seat to a man with a guide dog and wonders why he can’t see. A man on the bus starts playing his guitar and singing. CJ closes his eyes to listen to the music and he imagines colors and birds and magic. He drops the coin from the bus driver’s trick into the guitar player’s hat. When they reach their stop, they get off and talk about the neighborhood as they walk. CJ sees a rainbow over their soup kitchen and thinks about how Nana always finds beauty where he never even looks. He tells her he’s glad they came and she agrees, then they go in to help serve in the soup kitchen.
Author Matt de la Peña became the first Hispanic author to win the Newbery Medal with this wonderful book that also took home a Caldecott Medal and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor at this year’s American Library Association awards. I think it’s easy to see why people love it, as it’s a simple story about really relatable characters. It’s a story about positivity and hope and there’s absolutely nothing heavy handed about it. CJ is honest and open in his questioning of the things he doesn’t have and his grandmother gently reminds him of everything they do have, staying upbeat and encouraging to everyone around them.
Christian Robinson’s artwork, in acrylic paint and collage, creates these wonderful characters and fills their urban neighborhood with real diversity. I particularly love the way that Nana is drawn, with lines on her cheeks that indicate a face that smiles more than it frowns. Everything about her exudes a calm hopeful outlook so it’s easy to see how she can rise above the things that weigh CJ down. When they get to their stop, they pass a building with ‘One Love’ in graffiti on the wall and it’s perfect for this book, which never feels preachy or condescending, but instead is respectful to everyone, as we all should strive to be.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that some people see beauty in the world and others bring it with them wherever they go.