Watercress is a quiet yet profoundly moving picture book by the award-winning duo, Andrea Wang and Jason Chin. A young girl, traveling with her immigrant parents in rural America, is confused when her parents stop abruptly to collect wild watercress growing on the side of the road. Then a pair of rusty scissors and a brown paper bag are found in the depth of their old Pontiac trunk. The young Chinese girl and her brother have no choice but to roll up their jeans and follow their parents into the mud to gather the watercress. Later that evening, the dinner table holds a dish of watercress soaked in garlicky oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, peppered with unanswered questions and confusion. At first, the little girl is angry and even embarrassed. Why didn’t her family get food from the store? But when her mother shares a story about her family and heritage in China, the girl learns to appreciate the incredible journey her family endured many years before. The beautiful watercolors and poetic text are about the power of memories, even the ones that are so difficult to share.
THOUGHTS: It is common for children to be unaware of their parent’s stories and culture. But it is also imperative to understand how we have arrived at this very moment. Watercress is a beautiful nod towards healthy communication between generations and an exploration into forgiveness and empathy. It is explained in the author’s note that this semi-autobiographical story is both a love letter and an apology letter to her parents- with an emphasis on how essential it is to share our stories.
Tariq, Ambreen. Fatima’s Great Outdoors. Penguin Random House, 2021. 978-1-984-81695-5. 40 p. $17.99. Grades Pre-K-3.
Fatima Khazi is having a tough week. Her math quiz was challenging, her peers teased her about her accent, her friends wrinkled their noses at her lunch, and a boy pulled her long braid in the hallway. Her mood, however, is lifted while she eagerly awaits with her sister for her parents after school. She is beyond excited about a weekend camping trip to a state park with her family. Ambreen Tariq’s picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors celebrates an immigrant family’s connection and affection for nature and the outdoors. Fatima, who speaks Urdu and English, slowly builds confidence as she helps her family set up the camping tent, start a campfire, and adventure in a state park. Readers gain insight into Fatima’s family, who has immigrated from India, and will also learn of the family members that still live in India through memories and storytelling. Each memory teaches Fatima a little more about her strength and confidence. At the end of the weekend, Fatima is sad to leave her outdoor space, but her sister reminds her that sharing her experience at school may help keep the memories in her heart until the next adventure.
THOUGHTS: Author Ambreen Tariq is the founder of BrownPeopleCamping, which she launched in August of 2016 to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial. This storytelling initiative, found on Instagram, utilizes personal narratives and digital storytelling to promote diversity in public lands and outdoor communities. Her debut picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors reads like a love letter to state and national parks that encourage all ethnicities and races to explore and enjoy what nature has to offer.
Diaz, Alexandra. Santiago’s Road Home. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-44623-6. $17.99. 325 p. Grades 5-8.
Once more author Alexandra Diaz raises our consciousness about the plight of Central American immigrants in our country at this critical time. As she did in The Only Road and Crossroads, Diaz gives a fact-based novel of Santiago Garcia Reyes’s escape from domestic abuse in Mexico through the desert to the detention centers of New Mexico. She does not pull any punches describing the sacrifices and suffering Santiago endures as he makes his way to America with newfound “family” Maria Dolores and her five-year-old daughter, Alegria. After being thrown out once again from a relative’s home where he worked as a free babysitter, Santiago refuses to return to his abusive, neglectful grandmother. Instead, he makes the acquaintance of the kind and generous Maria Dolores and her young daughter and convinces her to take him as they migrate to the United States where Maria Dolores’s sister owns a restaurant. For the first time since his Mami died when he was five-years-old, Santiago feels loved and cared for; and he reciprocates by being the protective big brother. By working in the cheap tavern at the crossroads, he discovers Dominquez, the best coyote to help them cross. Unfortunately, rival coyotes kill Dominquez, leaving the refugees abandoned just shy of the border. Diaz describes the arduous and dangerous journey through the desert, dodging border patrol officers and experiencing dehydration and hunger under a blistering sun. Their efforts end in hospitalization and detention. Again, Diaz intertwines facts and realistic representation about the conditions children suffer in the detention centers, yet maintains both the negative and positive aspects. Some of the detention center guards are kind; some are arrogant brutes. Minor characters like an interested teacher and volunteering lawyers give the story balance. The distress and maltreatment of Santiago as he lingers in detention as well as his brave struggle to belong to a loving family is heart wrenching and sure to instill empathy and compassion toward a timely situation. Includes a glossary of Spanish terms and extensive resources.
THOUGHTS: Diaz’s writing has a way of creating a fully developed character and a well-rounded setting that arouses true sympathy in readers. This book can provide a reference point to discussions of undocumented immigrants, refugees, migration to America as well as current events around asylum seekers and their reasons for immigration.
Realistic Fiction Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Hannigan, Kate. The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes. First Second, 2020. 978-1-250-17425-3. 119 p. $19.99. Grades 4-8.
Everyone knows Mrs. O’Leary and her cow – at least everyone in Chicago does! The Great Chicago fire of 1871 was devastating and destructive to this wooden city. This graphic novel tells the story of the Great Chicago fire through the eyes of two children, Franny and John Patrick Fitzgerald, who get separated from their parents in order to get a puppy back to it’s mother. The story explains how the fire supposedly was started,how it traveled across the river, and the struggle to save the city. The duo must change course, help others, and stick together to outrun the blaze. The story also tackles the xenophobia of Irish immigrants and how it caused the people of Chicago to blame Mrs. O’Leary (and her cow). The illustrations capture the burning Chicago with detail and will delight the reader while pulling them into the past.
THOUGHTS: This historical graphic novel (by the creators of Science Comics) does a fantastic job of telling the story of the Great Chicago fire with colorful illustrations and short bursts of text. This series is sure to delight fans of graphic novels and history! The extra information provided in the back is a bonus for students who want to know more about the Chicago fire and the Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Favilli, Elena. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World. Rebel Girls, 2020. 978-1-733-32929-3. 305.$35.00. Grades 6-8.
This collection of short stories explores the real lives of one hundred women who have immigrated to countries all over the world. Each one-page biography notes the country of origin, the country the woman resided in after immigrating, an illustration depicting the featured woman, and often a quote. Although short, each biography explains how each person has found success in the career she is passionate about. Included are a mix of historical figures like Rose Fortune, who was Canada’s first female policeman; and contemporary figures like Reyna Duong, who currently employs people with down-syndrome at the restaurant she owns. Immigrants featured have found success in the fields of finance, psychiatry, engineering, art, politics, activism, and more. After reading these biographies, readers will believe that no dream is too large and no person is too small to realize their potential.
THOUGHTS: Teachers can use this collection of stories as a daily read-aloud or writing prompt. Each story is sure to spark conversation and further research. The book will inspire readers to be brave, independent, and to overcome adversity. Display with other books in the Rebel Girls series to attract readers.
305.4 Social Groups WomenJaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD