________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 3. . . .September 18, 2009



Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Hechen Yu. Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.
34 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.99 (pbk.), $21.98 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897458-13-6 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-9738799-9-5 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Flea markets-Juvenile fictions.
Immigrants-books-Juvenile fictions.
East Indians-books-Juveniel fictions.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Claire Perrin.

*** /4


Not many picture books have truly sad endings, but after reading Ajay, one feels a surprising sadness. The story is told from the point of view of a boy who visits the flea market with his family. During these visits, he notices that some of the vendors have disappeared and new ones have taken their places. The narrator discovers that a young boy named Ajay and his father have taken over the booth where Stingy Suzy had been. The new family has just arrived from India and is trying to make ends meet by selling their wares at the flea market until Ajay’s dad can find a job. Although the narrator finds the Indian goods to be beautiful, he doesn’t have enough money to buy anything. Ajay looks at him with pleading eyes, and his new friend vows to return soon with some money. Upon his return, he is incredulous that Ajay’s booth is no longer there. A nearby vendor informs him that the Indian goods were not selling well enough and that the family had to abandon their small business.

internal art      “We came from India ten months ago.” Pointing at the things they were selling, Ajay went on to explain: “Dad hasn’t found a job. He said we have to sell things here to earn money to support our family.”

“Do you have a big family?”

“No, not really. I have three younger sisters and a brother, and my mom…”

“But my family back home in India was bigger. We lived with my grandparents. I miss my home. And I miss my grandparents very much.” His face turned cloudy, and tears welled up in his eyes.

I felt bad and quickly changed the topic. “How do you like the school here?”

     Rather than providing us with a happy ending, Wang leaves the story open-ended. The reader cannot help but feel the incredible disappointment of the narrator who returns with good intentions only to find that it is too little too late. Instead of feeling frustrated by the lack of closure, the reader can’t help but imagine a variety of possible explanations and scenarios that may have played out for Ajay’s family. Part of the book’s appeal is that the loose ends are not neatly tied up by the author.

     There are many themes in the book that make for good discussion or reflection: immigration, poverty, family, multiculturalism and empathy. This book would be a good addition to libraries that serve a multicultural clientele because these issues are addressed in such a sensitive way.


Claire Perrin is a teacher-librarian with the Toronto District School Board in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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