Empathy. Can't teach it, surely can model it. "Market Street", 2015, a Newberry, Caldecott and winner of other prestigious prizes, reads as a modern masterpiece for children of all ages.
Not only does it appear to be a gentle intergenerational love story between a boy and his grandma, we experience diversity, kindness and empathy throughout this simple story.
And the most lovely descriptions of a beautiful world maybe not so readily apparent until we really look beyond the obvious. Which is what we all certainly need to do.
Let's take a bus ride, a very special one. Just us, like Nana and CJ, main characters in this heartwarming urban tale.
Yesterday I went on the bus with Morgan's first grade field trip. She was so excited! I did a sleepover the night before. She woke me up about two hours before time for school, all dressed and lunch sack ready.
Going on the bus for her was a one time event, for other children in this world it is routine, mundane, or maybe not, depending who Grandma is.
Before bed we shared "Last Stop On Market Street". Had to get ready for our bus ride. Singing 'Wheels On The Bus' was good enough before, but at seven, maybe opening our eyes to possibilities of that bus ride would be a good thing. And it was.
Watching the world swirl by the bus, instead of staring at a Kindle. Life lesson number one. Really live it.
I wasn't sure if a seven year old could comprehend the complexities of this story. Wrong. Morgan totally blew me away with her responses to what the main characters thought, felt and did.
Turns out she had some schema, or background knowledge about seeing the world with a different lens. Her mama had taken her to visit a family friend she helped out, who lived pretty close to where people came for food, clothes and shelter from cold. Real life. Empathy for those in tough times, short or longer.
Morgan also knows about people who have no places to live. How can we shelter our children from the misfortunes of others when we see people in tents or on street corners? Empathy for those less fortunate.
Look at the cool front and back covers of this book. Can you make a prediction what the story is about? Do you know the author and artist? Such beautiful pictures!
"Last Stop on Market Street" offers us a magical time to look at what's really important in life. An opportunity to do a little soul searching and values clarification.
This story is perfect for everyone. For kiddos who may have too much, here's a real eye opener. For all of us, looking at the world with Grandma offers a rare chance to truly see the myriad characters not only on the bus or the neighborhood, but in life.
Where's the Bus Going?
The story begins with Nana and CJ leaving church to take a bus to where? We don't know. All we know is that CJ is tired of the Sunday routine, longs for a car like his friend Colby. Wants what he doesn't think he has.
Early in the story we meet Mr. Dennis, a rich, colorful character, who happens to be the bus driver. He is quite entertaining and does little magic tricks for CJ and other passengers.
More unique people are on that bus and come on the bus at each stop. One by one, Nana makes sure to greet everyone and models that for CJ, who follows suit.
What a bus ride! A guy plays the guitar, we meet a lady with butterflies in her jar. People are chatting about everyday friends and interesting places. There is a hum of friendship and love in that bus.
Being with CJ's Nana we share the world through her eyes, such beautiful figurative, lyrical language. That's worth a choral response, chanting some of the lines together, as: "He saw sunset colors swirling over crashing waves. Saw a family of hawks slicing through the sky. Saw the old woman's butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon."
Feel the empathy for life through mind pictures, first Nana, then CJ. It takes a little time for CJ to open his eyes and heart, though. At first he is stuck what he doesn't have and wants, before he understands Nana's worldview.
CJ asks Grandma why he can't just do nothing after church like his friends. Grandma said she felt sorry for those boys, if that was the case. "They'll never get a chance to meet Bobo or the Sunglass Man."
Then the blind man boards the bus. CJ learns he can, however see the world in other ways, which helps CJ start to tune into the world he is missing.
CJ is learning there is a beautiful world around him, not about having a car, an I Pad or doing nothing, but living the best life through meeting new interesting people, enjoying the clear air and dancing butterflies.
And CJ starts hearing the songs in his head played by the man with the guitar; the new rhythms are easily replicated, using all his senses.
An amazing world, because of a bus ride into empathy for himself and others. We still don't know what the final bus ride into empathy really entails, but each step of the way tantalizes and evokes a small or maybe not so small response in our heart and soul.
As we experience CJ's life lessons from Nana and the characters met along the way, each bus stop reminds me of each stop in life, where we may hesitate, take a breath, then open ourselves to what's new, interesting and of greater value than anticipated or even noticed before.
Finally comes the call "Last Stop on Market Street". What in the world can that stop be? I had no idea when I made my prediction, but Morgan did, right away. She even figured out the ending. I'm not giving that away. I know you'll want to read and share this book.
A life of purpose
Anyway, off the bus, in a not so great, pretty dirty and raggedy urban neighborhood, CJ acts upset again. Nana makes everything better. Nana knows how to do it. And then.... CJ sees familiar faces popping out of the windows. Old friends counting on him to show up and be the good person he is, every Sunday.
CJ feels warm and excited. He knows why he is there. His sense of purpose clearly has been there all along, but here it is, for real! And his empathy glowing and growing stronger. He is important to others and that is what counts in life.
He has a wonderful Nana teaching him the true meaning of life. Not a car, not a part of town, not riches in the fancy sense. Knowing life's beauty through rainbows, joy and love. And a giving heart.
"Last Stop On Market Street" offers us a lyrical, sweet bus ride into Empathy. That last stop taught CJ the true meaning of life, humility and humanity.
I'm certain he discovered hope, purpose, and a life filled with meaning. That last stop was his best, but the others prepared CJ for the ending, helping, really just the beginning.
May we all find joys each day, as we continue to serve. Just like Nana and CJ, every day, one way or another.
Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita