Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin

Hello, Andrea Wang! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you for stopping by to discuss and celebrate Watercress, a GORGEOUS picture book written by you and illustrated by Jason Chin. I looked on Twitter to see when I read it for the first timeDecember 27, 2020. I am writing these questions on March 18, 2021, which means I've thought about it for 81 days in a row. In your author’s note, you share it is a story about the power of memory. 

Andrea Wang: Hello, Mr. Schu! Thank you for hosting me and for your lovely words! Watercress is like a slice-of-life memoir in picture book format – it wouldn’t exist without one specific memory. I’ve been unable to forget picking watercress by the side of the road as a child. It took me a long time to figure out why my feelings about that experience were so different from my parents – and that realization was based on my mother’s memories of her own childhood in China. Her memories changed how I saw my parents, the same way the girl’s attitude toward her parents and eating the watercress changed when the mother in the book shares one of her own memories. Memories are essentially stories, and just like fictional stories, they can transform people’s lives. Not only did I develop more empathy for my parents, I think I became a more compassionate person after they eventually shared their memories with me.

Scenario: Imagine you’re booktalking Watercress to 150 elementary school teacher-librarians. 

Andrea Wang: I’d tell them that Watercress is, at its heart, a story about feeling like you don’t belong and feeling disconnected from your heritage. And that learning more about your family history can grow and change your outlook on your own life.

The girl in the book is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who want to protect her and her older brother from the sadness of life. So they don’t share many of their own memories about growing up in a country that suffered from war and famine. The girl is unhappy about picking watercress in the wild – she sees it as something shameful. When her mom realizes this, she finally shares a story about losing her younger brother to hunger. This memory sparks in the girl an awareness and deeper understanding of her parents and her heritage. It also marks a new beginning in her relationship with her family – one filled with forgiveness and hope. It’s a story about guilt, loss, redemption, and love.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Jason Chin’s illustrations leave me speechless, in the very best way. I don’t even know where to start or how to describe how amazing the illustrations are. The art captures and evokes all the different emotions the girl and her family experience. I am in awe of how Jason depicted all the different memories, especially the ones set in China. There’s a dreamy quality to them, but they don’t sugarcoat the hardships the mom faced as a child. I cried while writing the book, and now I cry while reading it because the art packs such a powerful emotional punch. I have the honor of owning the original paintings of the cover and an interior spread, and they are even more incredible and luminous in real life. I get choked up just looking at them.

Watercress is now one of my favorite vegetables. I’ve never been a huge fan of soup, but I love watercress soup with tofu and shiitake mushrooms. I also think it’s surprising and wonderful that you can find it in lots of grocery stores now – not just the Asian markets, but the Western ones as well. Funny memory: The first time I read about watercress in a book was in The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. I remember thinking watercress sandwiches sounded so strange! Like, how could you eat it raw? What about all the snails?? Now I’ve eaten both raw watercress and snails (not raw), although not together.

Story is everything. Stories are how I escape from reality, but also how I process my own life. I wrote Watercress because I had a memory that felt pivotal in my life, but I didn’t know how or why. The act of writing it was cathartic – it allowed me to let go of a lot of resentment and guilt. Stories are everything Rudine Sims-Bishop says they are: windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors – not just into other people’s lives but into the writer’s own life as well. With Watercress, I feel like I stepped through a sliding glass door and took my childhood self by the hand.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if my brother remembers picking watercress with me. He does not! It just shows how selective and subjective memory can be – an event that makes an impact on one person doesn’t always have the same effect on another person who was also there. We all have different stories to tell and we should share them.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! It’s been an honor!

Thank you, Andrea!!!!

Look for Watercress on March 30, 2021. 

Holiday House's Description: 

Gathering watercress by the side of the road brings a girl closer to her family’s Chinese Heritage.

Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can.

At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress.

Andrea Wang tells a moving autobiographical story of a child of immigrants discovering and connecting with her heritage, illustrated by award winning author and artist Jason Chin, working in an entirely new style, inspired by Chinese painting techniques. An author’s note in the back shares Andrea’s childhood experience with her parents.


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