Tag Archives: memories

PPBF – Watercress

With Earth Day approaching, I had planned to review a picture book with a more overtly environmental theme. But when I read today’s picture book, I had to share it straight away. And as I mention below, there is an environmental theme if you look for it, one of the many layers of this Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Watercress

Written By: Andrea Wang

Illustrated By: Jason Chin

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, a division of Holiday House/2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigrants, Asian-Americans, family, memories, family history

Opening:

We are in the old Pontiac, the red paint faded by years of glinting Ohio sun, pelting rain, and biting snow.

Brief Synopsis: Picking watercress for dinner becomes an opportunity to share some difficult family history.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask a parent, grandparent, or other adult to share a happy or sad memory from their childhood;
  • The family in Watercress prepares and eats sauteed watercress with garlic. Ask an adult to help you prepare a similar dish (note, fresh watercress is now available in some grocery stores);
  • Food and scent often bring back memories. Draw a picture of a happy time when you ate a favorite food.

Why I Like this Book:

In this gorgeous new picture book based on an incident from Andrea Wang’s childhood, an unnamed narrator recounts an afternoon when she unhappily helped her immigrant parents pick watercress by the side of a rural Ohio roadway. Wang sprinkles the text with descriptive adjectives  such as “biting”, “abrupt”, “jerking”, “rusty”,  and “dirty” that show the narrator’s distaste for the task and embarrassment that her family gathers food, rather than visiting a grocery store, as the narrator’s classmates do. But when the narrator’s mother recounts a difficult period from her past in China, the narrator tries the foraged watercress and realizes it is “delicate and slightly bitter”, much like her mother’s memories of China.

Reading Watercress will help children of immigrants, and other children, too, better understand the hardships their parents may have endured. With its Asian-American main character, reading and discussing Watercress is a wonderful way to encourage empathy for people of Asian descent. And as someone who grew up in a family in which money was often tight, Wang’s discussion of hand-me-down clothes, “roadside trash-heap furniture”, and “dinner from a ditch” resonated with me. I think it will resonate with children in households dealing with financial issues today, too.

Finally, the discussion of famine in China when the narrator’s parents were young may help children realize that climate change and its effect on weather systems and crop yields can affect some regions disproportionately. Perhaps this will lead to greater understanding of climate migration and empathy for those most affected by climate change.

Chin’s soft, earth-hued illustrations are gorgeous and wonderfully detailed. Interweaving scenes of China with scenes from the narrator’s life adds so much to the reader’s understanding of why foraging for watercress may not be as bad as the narrator first portrays it.

A Note about Craft:

In a note from the author, Wang reveals that Watercress is based on a childhood memory. Although the story is fiction and although Wang’s mother did not share her sad memories of life in China with Wang as a child, it’s clear that the feeling of being different is very real for Wang, and because of that, I think she is able to convey that very effectively.

Although not poetry per se, Wang uses very lyrical and emotion-filled language – Wang truly writes from the heart! Using first person point-of-view, it’s clear that the unnamed narrator views picking watercress as an unpleasant task, and she clearly is embarrassed by her heritage and ashamed of her family’s situation until she realizes what they’ve endured to survive.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – My Favorite Memories

Regular readers know that I gravitate to stories about moving, so when I find a new picture book about this topic, I just have to review it!

Title: My Favorite Memories

Written By: Sepideh Sarihi

Illustrated By: Julie Völk

Translated By: Elisabeth Llauffer

Publisher/Date: Blue Dot Kids Press/2020 (German edition, Beltz & Gelberg/2018)

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: moving, memories, change, resilience

Opening:

I was brushing my hair when Papa came in and told me we were moving. Mama was very excited. Papa too.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young girl and her family move to a new country, she wants to bring everything she loves with her.

Links to Resources:

  • What are your most favorite things? Make a list or draw a few of them;
  • Do your favorite things fit in a bag, box, or suitcase? How would you pack them if you, like the narrator in the story, were moving house or even country?
  • Have you and your family moved, or do you live far from close relatives or friends? How did you feel if you moved? How do you keep in contact with close relatives who live far away?

Why I Like this Book:

Change is difficult for everyone, especially when it’s a big change, like moving house or countries. And when leaving is expected to be permanent, it’s especially difficult to determine what to bring to your new home to remind you of your old life.

Such is the dilemma explored in My Favorite Memories. Narrated by an unnamed young girl in spare, direct text, this story draws readers in and helps children empathize with those who leave everything behind to seek safety and economic well-being in a new place.

The soft palette of the illustrations add to the beauty of this book. Whether you’re contemplating a move, just moved, or seeking to welcome others into your community, My Favorite Memories is a wonderful picture book to share at home or in the classroom.

A Note about Craft:

Sarihi’s use of first-person point-of-view brings an immediacy to the text which, I think, will help children empathize with the narrator. Per the jacket flap, Sarihi was born in Iran but immigrated to Germany in 2012. My Favorite Memories is thus an #OwnVoices work.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Grandparents & Balloons

I saw the first book featured today on a shelf in my local library, and I immediately thought of one of my favorite picture books from last year – the recipe, in my mind, for a perfect pairing! Note, too, the publication date of the first book featured and its inclusion of a multicultural family.

 

A Balloon for Grandad

Author: Nigel Gray

Illustrator: Jane Ray

Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, a division of Franklin Watts, Inc./1988

Ages: 4-7

Themes: intergenerational, multicultural, balloons, family, imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Unhappy when he loses his silver and red balloon, Sam is comforted by imagining it on its way to visit his grandfather in Egypt.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

The Remember Balloons

Author: Jessie Oliveros

Illustrator: Dana Wulfekotte

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2018

Ages: 5-9

Themes: intergenerational, memories, balloons, family

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

James’s Grandpa has the best balloons because he has the best memories. He has balloons showing Dad when he was young and Grandma when they were married. Grandpa has balloons about camping and Aunt Nelle’s poor cow. Grandpa also has a silver balloon filled with the memory of a fishing trip he and James took together.

But when Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, James is heartbroken. No matter how hard he runs, James can’t catch them. One day, Grandpa lets go of the silver balloon—and he doesn’t even notice!

Grandpa no longer has balloons of his own. But James has many more than before. It’s up to him to share those balloons, one by one.

Read a review at Children’s Books Heal.

I paired these books because they feature intergenerational stories in which balloons play an important role. In A Balloon for Grandad, the thought that his lost balloon may be traveling to visit Grandad far away consoles Sam, whereas in The Remember Balloons, the balloons symbolize the memories that bind James and his beloved grandfather. Both books feature loving families and deal with difficult topics: the distance that separates many loved ones and memory loss in older relatives.

Looking for similar reads? See Grandad’s Island.