Watercress and dandelions

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

I was scanning the children’s book reviews in Horn Book Magazine when my eyes fell upon the title Watercress (2021) by Andrea Wang. “A girl in cutoffs and a T-shirt is embarrassed when her parents stop the car to pick wild watercress growing by the side of the road; she doesn’t understand why her family has to be so different from everyone else,” read the summary in the review.

I knew I had to get my hands on this book—the word watercress plunged me deep into nostalgia. (“Watercress!” I hear my Puerto Rican grandma happily declaring in my childhood memories as she presents a bowl full of funny greens that look too wild and different for consumption.)

Watercress is a beautiful and layered picture book telling the story of a young girl ashamed of her parents’ actions—stopping the car randomly to pick watercress—because she doesn’t know the story of her parents’ past. But when her parents finally do share the trials they have suffered, when they reveal the secrets they have kept in order to spare their children from pain, the girl learns and grows. She sees her parents in a new light because she knows their story.

[When] her parents finally do share the trials they have suffered, when they reveal the secrets they have kept in order to spare their children from pain, the girl learns and grows.

With my grandparents, Eva and Luis Oliver.

Reading this book to my children also sent me straight back to another memory of backyard weeds. My grandparents used to scour our yard for dandelions. They were everywhere, of course, as all children adore plucking the flower stem when it goes to seed and blowing it to the winds. My grandparents would eagerly pluck the dandelion leaves and then wash them in our kitchen sink. “Look at all this! In your backyard!” my grandpa would joyfully exclaim. They would try to share their dandelion salad with us, but we couldn’t get over that it had grown uncultivated in our yard.

There’s an author’s note in the back of Watercress that I found just as beautiful as the story. In it, Wang explains that her parents kept their memories of China hidden from her, as they were painful and not easy to discuss with children. But then she says “Perhaps if I had known about the hardships they had faced, I would have been more compassionate as a child. Maybe I would have felt more empathy and less anger. More pride in my heritage and less shame. Memories have the power to inform, to inspire, and to heal.”

I so enjoyed this book. I loved it for my own watercress memories. I loved it for the unique way it presents history tucked into a family moment. I loved it for the parenting advice it gave me: share your story with your children.

About Cécile Engeln

Cécile joined NEHGS with nearly ten years of editorial and project management experience in academic publishing. She has developed a variety of books, ranging from a guide to U.S. citizenship to graphic novels, and managed the production of complex foreign language programs. She graduated with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in French from Andrews University in Michigan. She received her M.A. in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College.

3 thoughts on “Watercress and dandelions

  1. I love your story! Letters that my great grandparents, grandparents and parents wrote have given me such a new understanding and appreciation of them as people with joys, love, frustrations and challenges. I feel blessed to have so many letters, which I am in the process of scanning and transcribing.

  2. Dear Cecile,
    I was so touched by your story as my mother-in-law whom I love dearly and is 97-years-old tells a story of her father taking her to pick dandelion greens for a salad at dinner. She too was embarrassed but shares the story with us as an example of how patient and lovingly her father explained it to her. It is a lovely story that I never get tired of hearing.

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