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There’s a brand-new picture book in this brand-new year that I like an awful lot. It’s Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson (pictured above), and I’ve reviewed it for BookPage.

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That review is here, and I like the book so much that I wanted to follow up here at 7-Imp with some art and preliminary images from Christian, as well as some words from Matt (pictured right) about the book.

So, all of that is below—Matt’s responses to a small handful of questions I sent him and Christian’s behind-the-scenes images—and I thank both of them for sharing.

Let’s get right to it. … (Oh, and if you read the review over at BookPage, you’ll see some spreads from the book there, too!)

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Jules: Can you talk about how this story came to be?

Matt: A few years ago, Steve Malk (my agent) sent me a link to some art by Christian, saying, “You gotta check this guy out. He’s incredible.” This was before Steve had even signed Christian. Steve has impeccable taste, so I was excited. But when I clicked on the links, I was blown away. The work was so fun. And expressive. And quirky. But what struck me most was the depth. The soul. There was one piece that especially moved me. It was a boy on a bus with his grandmother.

 
Nana and CJ

Nana and CJ

Exploring CJ’s character

Exploring CJ’s character

Fast forward a year and Jennifer Besser at Putnam bought the book based on that one piece by Christian and a pitch from me. The story I wrote began from a very personal place for both of us. Christian rode the bus with his Nana throughout his childhood. My Mexican grandma was the matriarch of my own family. And I had a lot of experience riding the bus, too–especially during my five years in Los Angeles when I naively bought a stolen used car from a nice old man with a cane and an eye patch (true story!) and was left car-less in a city where there are three times more cars than people.

As I began writing the story, though, I quickly realized the heartbeat of the book was Nana. And the depth of even the briefest human interaction. And the hidden beauty of the city. Sometimes we have to be taught how to see the world. About a year ago, I was lucky enough to meet Christian’s real Nana. She was beautiful. And she had so much dignity. It made this book take on even more meaning for me.

Sadly, my Mexican grandma passed before the release of Last Stop. So I won’t ever get to send her a copy. This makes me sad. But I guess Nana would tell me to remember all the great moments I did have with my grandma. And maybe I’ll be lucky enough to read Last Stop in front of Christian’s grandma one day. That would be pretty cool.

Jules: Yes, Christian said it’s a very personal story for you both (and that he’s ecstatic to have recently sent his Nana copies of the book).

Nana studies

Nana studies

Dedication page

Matt: I’d also like to express my greatest hope for the book. I hope folks don’t view this as a book that should be set aside for diverse readers. I hope folks view Last Stop as a book for all readers.

…”‘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.’” … (Click to enlarge and see full text)

…”‘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.’” …

Jules: As I noted in my BookPage review, I do love how the book touches on issues of class without being didactic about it.

Matt: I set out to write a story featuring diverse characters that has nothing to do with diversity. Also, I guess my goal in all my work (including my YA novels) is to render moments of grace and dignity that exist on the “wrong side of the tracks.”

Jules: So, unlike most picture books, you knew who your illustrator would be as you wrote this text.

Matt: I know editors often want to keep writers and illustrators apart, but I feel this story really benefited from the fact that I knew Christian was going to be the illustrator. I printed out his piece with the boy on the bus with his grandma and had it next to me as I wrote the story. That piece set the tone, I think. I just followed it into the story.

Jules: This is your second picture book. And a very different one from the first one, which was nonfiction. What were the challenges, if any, in writing your first fiction picture book text?

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Matt: I was lucky enough to work with Kadir Nelson on a book titled, A Nation’s Hope: the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. My first book. With Kadir Nelson. Pretty crazy. One of the illustrations from that book hangs over my desk. Surprisingly, the process wasn’t that different, though. In both cases, fiction and non-fiction, you have to find the heartbeat of the character. Story comes from that place for me. CJ feels as true to me as Joe Louis.

Jules: What’s next for you?

Matt: Thanks so much for asking. The paperback version of my latest YA novel, The Living, comes out in early January. And the sequel to The Living, The Hunted, comes out in May. It’s only a two-book series, so The Hunted ends the story. I’m currently working on another YA and two brand-new picture books.

Also, it’s been an honor to answer your questions. We YA authors never get a chance to be on 7-Imp!

Jules: True, since I write primarily about picture books and illustration now, though I do read my YA novels too (when I’m not blogging)!

Thanks again for visiting, Matt. …

[Note for those who want to see more from Christian: He’s visited 7-Imp several times, but here’s the art-filled 2012 7-Imp interview.]

 

Early Cover Tests and Sketches from Christian

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Sharing the Book (Photos from Christian)

LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET. Copyright © 2015 by Matt de la Peña. Illustrations © 2015 by Christian Robinson. Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. All images from LAST MARKET are reproduced by permission of Christian Robinson.

Photo of Matt de la Peña used by his permission.

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Julie Davidson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at her acclaimed blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books. The above interview was posted at 7-Imp on January 6, 2015.