YALSA has announced the nominees for the 2021 Teens’ Top Ten. The Top Ten is a list chosen by teens where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year. Nominations come from members of teen book groups in 15 school and public libraries across the nation. Here are this year’s nominees:
Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (9780823446247)
Riding in their old car along a rural Ohio road, a young girl’s parents come to a stop when her mother spots something growing in the ditch. It’s watercress, so the entire family gets out and starts to harvest it into a paper bag. The girl finds it embarrassing to be in the ditch gathering free food, while her parents are remembering their time in China. The water in the ditch is cold and muddy, the watercress has snails among its roots. The girl finds herself partially hoping that the bottom of the paper bag falls through and this can just be over. That night, the family has the watercress for dinner, but the girl refuses to even try it. She wants food from the grocery store, not free food from a ditch that reminds her of furniture taken from the side of the road and hand-me-down clothes. Then her mother shares a story from China about her younger brother who died from not having enough to eat. The girl is inspired by her family’s history and ashamed of how she has been acting, so she tastes the watercress for the first time, a taste that builds new memories.
The writing in this picture book is exceptional. With delicate poetic words, Wang creates layers in her story. She weaves both the experience of shame for the young girl and the melancholy memories of China for her parents together into a story of generations in a Chinese-American family. From the previously unshared stories of her parents time in China to learning not to be ashamed of the way they live, this book will resonate for so many children.
Caldecott Honor winner, Chin pulls together images of China and Ohio in this book. By putting tall cornstalks against tall bamboo, the images are gateways to one another. The use of yellow to light the pages, works both in sunshine in Ohio and the sepia of memory in China. It is all so beautifully done, so well designed.
One of the best picture books of the year, this book reaches across generations and finds hope. Appropriate for ages 5-7.