I feel like a bad Asian for not leading with this book for February, so Happy Year Of The Tiger, all! Hope your Lunar New Year celebrations have been aces, marking the start of a prosperous year!
Watercress is an autobiographical chapter from author Andrea Wang’s life, detailing the time when her Chinese immigrant parents spotted the titular vegetable growing in a roadside Ohio ditch when her family were all out in the car one day. Her parents immediately pull over to harvest the bounty, and press gang Andrea and her older brother to help as well. Andrea is mortified by the entire experience, later going so far as to refuse to eat any of the watercress her parents prepare for dinner. This prompts Mom to tell her a story about growing up in China, an experience Mom doesn’t often discuss. The memory, like the watercress, is both delicate and bitter. Ultimately, however, it is nourishing, regardless of how eager or reluctant you are to experience it.
Gosh, this was just such an outstanding book about generational divides and feeling like you don’t fit in and not wanting to be seen as poor. The immigrant experience is well-trodden territory but Ms Wang uses this unusual and highly effective watercress metaphor to communicate in just a few short pages a story of both alienation and reconciliation. Jason Chin’s watercolor illustrations are a marvel, dead-on depicting both Ohio and China in beautiful blues and yellows and greens.
This children’s picture book has won loads of awards, including a 2022 Caldecott Medal, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Picture Book, and a Newbery Honor. It’s also my first five-star read of the year, and one I loved sharing with my kids, especially my middle child. Joseph really loved Ms Wang’s earlier biography of Momofuku Ando, moreso than I did, but we both agreed that Watercress was beyond question an excellent book.
Watercress by Andrea Wang & Jason Chin was published March 30th 2021 by Neal Porter Books and is available from all good booksellers, including