Watercress – Andrea Wang, pictures by Jason Chin. Neal Porter Books, 2021. 9780823446247
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? As her family drives down a dusty Ohio road in their old car, the narrator is embarrassed by her parents’ decision to stop the car when they spy watercress growing wild in marshy water by the side of the road. She and her brother help her parents pick the plant, despite the swampy surroundings and the mud and snails that cling to its roots. They bring it home and cook it for dinner, but the girl refuses to eat. The shame she feels at the other-ness of her family, eating free food from the side of the road rather than the grocery store, is too strong. But when her mother shows her an old picture of her family from China and explains why the watercress is so important to her, she decides to try it after all, to “make a new memory of watercress.”
Watercress is a moving memory from the author’s childhood and reflects the experiences of her Chinese immigrant family in the 1970s. Rife with descriptive language, the text is deceptively simple; Wang conveys a lot of emotion in few words, and Chin’s detailed watercolor illustrations bring more of the story to life. For example, the death of the mother’s brother during a famine is merely implied in the words (“we ate anything we could find…but it was still not enough”), but Chin’s stunning two-page spread, showing first a family of 4 and then a family of 3, makes it clear. Both heartbreaking and hopeful, Watercress is a must for all libraries seeking to enhance their culturally responsive titles, as it spans generations and countries, and addresses the challenges immigrant families (from any cultural background) face daily in the United States. Notes from both author and illustrator will further enhance readers’ understanding.
Anything you did not like about the book? no
To whom would you recommend this book? Classroom teachers in grades 1-3 should consider this an essential choice to read aloud and discuss when introducing units on family, culture, or the immigrant experience. It will also serve well in upper grades as a lead-in to studies on the similar or a class that is reading a book such as Front Desk.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Picture books
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? yes
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: 6/2/2021