________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 12 . . . .February 8, 2008


Little Joy.

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Wei Xu.
Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.
24 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-0-9738799-7-1.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 2-6.

Review by Huai-Yang Lim.

*** /4

Reviewed from f&g's.



Mommy tickles Little Joy on her ear.
Little Joy smiles, but does not laugh.
Mommy tickles Little Joy's hair.
Little Joy smiles, but does not laugh.


There is an expanding body of children's picture books that deal with adoption, a topic which is particularly salient as more North American families today are adopting children from Asia. These books often address this topic from the perspective of the foster parent, sibling, or adoptee and explore the issues that surround the process of adoption or of growing up as an adopted child. For example, these include the family's varied and fluctuating emotions that result from the adopted child's arrival, the difficulties that arise from adopted children's perceptions of their physical differences from other family members and people, as well as the struggles and rewarding efforts of adopted children to fit into their new family. Picture books that focus on adopted children from Asia include Deborah Hodge's Emma's Story, Eve Bunting's Jin Woo, Jean Davies Okimoto's The White Swan Express, Ed Young's My Mei Mei, Patricia I. McMahon's Just Add One Chinese Sister, and Stephan Molnar-Fenton's An Mei's Strange and Wondrous Journey, and Jan Czech's An American Face.

     Ruowen Wang's story Little Joy is ideal for members of a younger audience who are just beginning to develop their English comprehension skills. Structured as a simple story told in simple language, Ruowen Wang's book depicts the developing bond between a white mother and her adopted Chinese girl, Little Joy. This is not to discount the difficulties that adoptees have when they grow up or the desires that they have to locate their birth parents, which books, such as Ting-xing Ye's Throwaway Daughter, sensitively depict. Instead, Wang's story depicts the relationship between a foster mother and her child in a way that young children can comprehend and that new parents of adopted children can also appreciate and enjoy.

      The story is charming in its evocation of a mother's interaction with and love for her adopted baby. Emphasizing the reciprocity and universality of love, the book works well as an early reader or as a read-aloud for young children under the age of five due to its repetition of phrases and simple vocabulary. It is a straightforward narrative that is divided into two main parts: the first portion focuses on the unsuccessful attempts of Little Joy's mother to make her laugh while the second part reverses the situation and shows Little Joy's attempts to make her mother laugh. Teachers can read the book aloud to develop children's language acquisition skills while librarians could use it as a read-aloud in a public library's programming for young children and could encourage children's participation by asking them to finish the phrases.

      The picture book's watercolour illustrations by Wei Xu complement the story effectively by conveying a suitably gentle and lyrical mood to accompany the text. Wei Xu creates a homely atmosphere with little details in the foreground and background such as house plants, toys, a portrait hanging on the wall, and Little Joy's baby bottle. Wei Xu's varied and plentiful usage of colour in the pictures will keep the attention of young readers, but the pictures are appropriately subdued with Xu's avoidance of flashy colours and use of gentle black and coloured outlines. Close-up shots of Little Joy evoke her cuteness, and these complement the images in which her mother is hugging and playing with her. A particularly striking image is the one that shows Little Joy's mother holding Joy's hand while tickling her child with her other hand. There are also a couple of outside scenes on the beach and in the neighbourhood that round out the story's atmosphere.

      Mother-daughter relationships are prominent in Ruowen Wang's other published work, including Little Wen and Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?, both of which Wei Xu also illustrated. Readers may recognize this story's illustrative style and colouring from previous picture books that Xu illustrated, but she has suitably modified her style to suit this story's realism.

      For more information about Ruowen Wang, readers can visit her official site (http://www.ruowenwang.com) or the website of her publisher, Kevin & Robin Books (http://www.kevinandrobinbooks.com).


Huai-Yang Lim has a degree in Library and Information Studies and currently works as a researcher. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children's literature in his spare time.

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

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