A Chinese American family pulls their car over to gather wild watercress growing by the roadside.
As the family sheds their shoes and rolls up their pants to wade into the gully, the narrator of Wang’s poignant free-verse text is anything but happy. Mud squelching between toes, holding a soggy brown bag full of what looks like weeds, the preteen ducks down as a car passes lest their family is recognized. But for Mom and Dad, the moment is emotional. In one exceptional double-page spread Chin paints the faded red 1960s-era car parked on the left, with cornstalks bordering the road transforming into bamboo stalks and a soft-focus sepia-toned image of rural China on the right. “From the depths of the trunk / they unearth / a brown paper bag, / rusty scissors, // and a longing for China,” reads the text. In another, Mom and Dad praise the watercress for being both fresh and free, but to the next generation, “free is / hand-me-down clothes and / roadside trash-heap furniture and / now, / dinner from a ditch.” It isn’t until Mom finally shares the story of her family in China that her child understands the importance of this simple dish of greens, this “delicate and slightly bitter” watercress. Wang’s moving poetry paired with—and precisely laid out on—Chin’s masterfully detailed illustrations capture both an authentic Midwestern American landscape and a very Chinese American family, together infusing a single event with multiple layers laden with emotion, memory, and significance.
Understated, deep, and heart-rending—bring tissues.(author's note, illustrator's note) (Picture book. 5-10)