In the year 2000, Cary Fagan published his second book for kids, The Market Wedding. The book won the Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature and the World Storytelling Award, and was singled out as a Sydney Taylor Honor Book. Fast forward fourteen years, and Cary has twenty-two kids’ books to his name (we publish many of them at Groundwood!) and seven books for adults. His books have earned many distinctions, including two Silver Birch Awards, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, and a long-listing for the prestigious Giller Prize.
The setting of The Market Wedding is Toronto’s Kensington Market, one of the most vibrant and storied neighbourhoods in the city. The market also happens to be a short walk from Groundwood HQ, so when we decided to re-release Cary’s book, we knew we had a perfect opportunity to get a tour of this special place from the author himself — and to see what some of the locations depicted in Regolo Ricci’s illustrations look like today.
The first thing we did was to fuel up for the tour at Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin Street. Over delicious cappuccinos, Cary showed us the original inspiration for The Market Wedding. His picture book is based on a short story for adults by Abraham Cahan called “Ghetto Wedding.” That story was set in Manhattan’s Lower-East side and written in pseudo-Yiddish slang. When Cary read the story, he knew it would be perfect for kids, so he re-wrote it and set it in the neighbourhood he visited often as a child and where his mother grew up.
Which brings us to our first stop. Like our heroes in The Market Wedding, Cary’s mom grew up on Nassau Street. Can you see any similarities between Morris and Minnie’s second-story flat and Cary’s mom’s yellow-painted brick home?
In Cary’s book, Morris and Minnie are married in a synagogue modelled after the Kiever Synagogue on Bellevue Avenue, right in the heart of the market.
While we gazed at the synagogue, Cary talked about Regolo Ricci’s rich illustrations. Regolo came to Canada from Italy, so like many of the characters in The Market Wedding, he knows what it is like to be an immigrant. His empathy with the characters really comes through in the small details in his pictures. In early sketches, Morris and Minnie looked too glamorous, and Cary asked Regolo to make the couple look more working class. For inspiration, all the illustrator needed was a mirror: Morris’s look is based on the artist himself!
Kensington Market has changed since Cary’s childhood, when he remembers Jewish butchers and live chickens crowding the sidewalks — and it’s changed even more since Morris and Minnie’s time, almost a hundred years ago! These days, Kensington’s narrow streets host vintage clothing stores, student bars, public art, and incense shops next to the corner groceries and fish mongers. But in all its iterations, the colorful neighborhood has always captured Cary Fagan’s imagination.
Pick up a copy of The Market Wedding, and it will be sure to capture yours too.