Andrea Wang (The Nian Monster) relates the memory of a childhood experience in touching narrative verse that is at once universal and distinctly personal. Paired with stunningly detailed watercolor illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Jason Chin (Grand Canyon; Your Place in the Universe), Wang's story--like the titular plant--takes root in the ground of humanity and blooms into nourishing fare.
Being embarrassed by one's parents is a ubiquitous rite of passage. That shame is enhanced when one already feels like an outsider; as the daughter of immigrants, preteen Wang is an authority on this distress. But when her parents stop on the side of the road one day to pick weeds from a ditch, Wang is truly mortified. "They haul us out of the back seat./ We are told to/ untie our sneakers,/ peel off our socks,/ and roll up our jeans." While her brother revels in the mud, dirty water and tiny snails, Wang stews: "A car passes by/ and I duck my head/ hoping it's/ no one I know." Throughout Wang's ordeal, Chin juxtaposes Midwestern Americana--cornstalks, a barn draped with the American flag, a Pontiac--with famine-struck China: in the gutter of one double-page spread, cornstalks turn into bamboo, with the embarrassed Wang on the left-hand page and an adult and child scrounging for food on the right. Ultimately, this humiliating field trip opens the door for her mother to share a story of her own youth, and Wang learns much more than family history. The time slips elicit an appreciation for the pain suffered by Wang's family in China and the cultural battle silently taking place in her psyche. Sincere and subtly inspiring, Watercress is transformative. --Jen Forbus, freelancer