Margin Notes


What I was Reading:

Watercress by Andrea Wang, pictures by Jason Chin is an Caldecott award-winning picture book that tells “a story about the power of sharing memories—including the painful ones—and the way our heritage stays with and shapes us, even when we don’t see it.” (Publishers Weekly)

This book is available on SORA and there are many ways that it could be used as teaching points in the grade 6-12 ELA classroom. 

Text Form Analysis:

As Andrea Wang states in this interview with John Schu, “Watercress is like a slice-of-life memoir in picture book format – it wouldn’t exist without one specific memory. I’ve been unable to forget picking watercress by the side of the road as a child. It took me a long time to figure out why my feelings about that experience were so different from my parents – and that realization was based on my mother’s memories of her own childhood in China. Her memories changed how I saw my parents, the same way the girl’s attitude toward her parents and eating the watercress changed when the mother in the book shares one of her own memories. Memories are essentially stories, and just like fictional stories, they can transform people’s lives. Not only did I develop more empathy for my parents, I think I became a more compassionate person after they eventually shared their memories with me.”

This book would be perfect to introduce memoir writing, to use as a mentor text for the different forms in which memoirs are told, and to help students build a must/might chart for memoir writing (a sample lesson plan for building a must/might chart can be found here)

Additional suggestions are below:

Discussion questions to practice/model reading comprehension and text analysis and criticality:

  • What is the main character’s attitude toward watercress? Her mother explains that it is “free.” What does this reveal about the girl’s parents? What does “free” mean to the girl? What in the text or images makes you think this?
  • The main character compares the taste of watercress and her mom’s memories as “delicate and slightly bitter.”
    Discuss whether the mother is “slightly bitter” about her previous life. What do you see in the text or the images that makes you think this?  Why have the mother’s memories been difficult to share? What in the text or images makes you think this?

More discussion questions can be found here

Process/craft moves that students could notice, name and try:

  • Similes (“Mom’s eyes are as sharp as the tip of a dragon’s claw.”)
  • Repetition (the way the author repeats certain words like “free” and “ashamed”)
  • How the author goes between first person narration and dialogue to tell the story (this helps propel the story forward and helps us better understand the characters). 
  • Multiple meanings of words (using context clues – like the word “bitter”). 

Other books available on SORA that could be used as mentor texts for memoir writing include:

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