I can’t take a road trip vacation out west, down south, up north, or out east without thinking about childhood vacations with my mom. While most mothers packed a variety of clothes for in-climate weather conditions, a spare roll of toilet paper for unexpected situations, fresh-baked snacks to save money and ensure healthy alternatives, and the usual toiletries, my mom also packed a bucket, garden gloves, and a trowel. I don’t think she went on vacation with the thought of digging up botanical specimens, but, as it turned out, we often returned home with something new to add to her rock garden.
On walks through forests, Mom always identified a bark she could boil into something medicinal, an edible weed, or a snack.
“Oh, look! Wild raspberries.”
We picked the berries until the red juice stained our fingers. If we were close enough to the road, I wondered if people, in passing cars, thought we were too poor to afford food.
I recall one vacation out west when my dad had the wheel and was cruising at 50 through the mountains. My mom startled us when she ordered my dad to pull over.
“I saw a (long Latin name for a seriously tiny flower),” she said. “If that flower grows here, then the (a long Latin name for another little flower) must be growing nearby.”
She opened the trunk, fetched her bucket, gloves, and trowel, and hiked up the hillside. The part that amazed me was that the flower wasn’t near enough to the road to be detected by standard human eyes, yet…when Mom returned to the car, her bucket held the precious flowers, and her face held a satisfied expression.
These botanical gatherings were a common part of my childhood, and the memories returned stronger than ever when I read Andrea Wang’s picture book, Watercress.
Written by – Andrea Wang
Illustrated by – Jason Chin
Published by – Neal Porter Books 2021
Suitable for ages – 4-8
Theme – Harvest and Family life
We are in the old Pontiac, the red paint faded by years of glinting Ohio sun, pelting rain, and biting snow. The tops of the cornstalks make lines that zigzag across the horizon.
Mom shouts, “Look!” and the car comes to an abrupt, jerking stop. Mom’s eyes are as sharp as the tip of a dragon’s claw.
Dad’s eyes grow wide.
“Watercress!” they exclaim, two voices heavy with memories.
Amazon Review – A story about the power of sharing memories—including the painful ones—and the way our heritage stays with and shapes us, even when we don’t see it.
While driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s Chinese immigrant parents spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. They stop the car, grabbing rusty scissors and an old paper bag, and the whole family wades into the mud to gather as much as they can.
At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family just get food from the grocery store, like everyone else? But when her mother shares a bittersweet story of her family history in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged—and the memories left behind in pursuit of a new life.
Together, they make a new memory of watercress.
Why do I like this book? — Maybe it’s because I have memories of gathering plants along the road that I feel a strong pull to this story, but I also love how wonderfully Andrea Wang’s writing style guides the reader through a unique part of her family’s history, bringing the importance of the watercress to life in words that will hold a child’s attention from the first page to the last. A picture book would not be complete without illustrations, and Jason Chin’s stunning watercolors offer plenty of details while perfectly capturing the emotions of the story in this award-winning book.
Learn about Andrea Wang HERE.
Learn more about Jason Chin HERE.
A source for watercress seeds is HERE.
Until next Friday,