When a book wins the Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King Honor and a long laundry list of other awards from groups all over the US, expectations tend to run high. Perhaps this is why many readers are wondering why Matt De La Pena’s book received so much recognition.
The story is simple. C.J. attends church every Sunday with his grandmother and then takes the bus to a local soup kitchen to help serve meals. Along the way, C.J. complains to his grandmother about their own personal situation: why they have to take the bus instead of a car, why they have to go to church, why he doesn’t have an iPhone. His grandmother deftly shows him the brighter side of things, teaching him to look below the surface. In the end, C.J. seems genuinely happy serving others.
Christian Robinson’s illustrations are colorful and cheery; simple but with just enough detail to seem realistic. But does the book merit the 25 awards listed on its Amazon page? Several customers who posted reviews say no. Their biggest complaint: bad grammar. While the author may be attempting to create an authentic character, many adults are not comfortable reading sentences like, “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?” to children. They raise an interesting point. In a book for children in this age group, which is the more important objective? That a story has true to life characters or that budding readers be provided with good language models?
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is currently a full-time wife and mother.