This week, Matt de la Peña became the first Hispanic author to win the Newbery Medal for children's literature with Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson. It may come as a surprise to some that the 2016 Newbery belongs to a picture book for 3- to 5-year-olds, but this profound little book addresses class in a nuanced, provocative way through the story of a young boy riding the city bus with his grandmother.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out you had won the Newbery?
“This has got to be some kind of mistake.” The imposter syndrome kicked in big time. And then I felt this wave of intense, visceral gratitude.
Who was the one person you couldn’t wait to tell about the award?
I'm going to cheat and say two. I couldn't wait to tell my wife, who has been so supportive of my work throughout my career. And I couldn't wait to tell my mom, who's the reason I've always tried hard at life.
Do you have a favorite past Newbery winner?
Not only do I adore Linda Sue Park‘s work, she has been a mentor to me for years. And I'm absolutely head-over-heels in love with all of Kate DiCamillo‘s work. And I believe Kwame Alexander is one of the smartest, trailblazing voices in the field. Oh, and Christopher Paul Curtis‘ Bud Not Buddy is a masterpiece.
What’s the best part of writing books for a younger audience?
I love watching young, open-minded thinkers grapple with ideas for the very first time.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers about this book?
My favorite reaction is when I go to underprivileged schools and diverse students take ownership of the story. The book feels validating to them. And I'm so excited about this new layer of validation, the fact that a story that these kids feel like they own has been recognized by such a prestigious way.
Have you read or listened to past Newbery acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I saw Kate DiCamillo give her speech for Flora & Ulysses, and I was deeply, deeply moved. I loved it back then, but now it petrifies me. I'm extremely nervous about giving my speech, to be honest, but I also find great energy in things that scare me.
What’s next for you?
I just turned in my next YA novel (I won't say the title because it may change), which I'm incredibly excited about. It follows an 18-year-old mixed-race honor student who will be the first in his family to go to college. But this journey is complex. In a way, he feels like a sellout for “succeeding.” I'm also about to send a brand new picture book to my agent called Carmela Full of Wishes.
Author photo credit Heather Waraksa