A young girl whose parents are Chinese immigrants feels acute embarrassment because her family doesn’t fit into their Ohio community. Wearing hand-me-down clothes and picking up furniture from garbage piles at the side of the road mark her family as poor and different from their neighbors. One day as the girl and her brother and parents go for a drive in the country and stop to gather watercress—food her parents ate in China—from a water-filled, muddy ditch, the girl becomes embarrassed, sullen, and angry. She can’t understand why they have to gather “dinner from a ditch.”
When her mother prepares the plant and the family gathers for supper, the girl refuses to eat the watercress. Then the girl’s mother leaves the table and returns carrying a photo of her biological family, and the girl learns the reason for her parents’ excitement upon discovering the watercress. When they were children, they had survived the great famine in China, existing on whatever food their families could scavenge. Though the girl’s mother had survived, her mother’s brother had succumbed to starvation.
When the girl looks at the picture of her mother’s family, she is “ashamed of being ashamed” of her family. She tries the watercress and discovers that “it is delicate and slightly bitter, like Mom’s memories of home.”
In her author notes, Andrea Wang points out that her narrative is based on her own experiences as a child of Chinese immigrant parents growing up in a community where her family always stood out. She writes, “This story is both an apology and a love letter to my parents. It’s also an encouragement to all children who feel different and to families with difficult pasts—share your memories. Tell your stories. They are essential.” Illustrator Jason Chin’s emotive watercolor paintings bring this winsome children’s picture book to life. (Neal Porter Books)