Why I can’t get enough of Andrea Wang

Updated: Jul 26

By Suzanne Covington, Second Star Educator Review Group

Andrea Wang has written children’s books, nonfiction books and middle grade chapter books. She has written about oil spills, she has brought Chinese folk tales to life, and in her multi-award winning picture book, Watercress she takes a childhood memory and weaves a tale that allows all of us to see our humanity and encourages us, as a student in New Jersey told their librarian to “be happy with what you have. Be proud of who you are.”

In 2018 I discovered her book The Nian Monster and arranged for her to come to my school and talk to my Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students about Chinese New Year. Since then every time I see she has a book coming out, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. And while her first middle grade novel, The Many Meanings of Meilan has sealed my love for her writing, it’s the nuances of Watercress that show the depth of her talent as a writer. In April, I was able to sit down with her and talk in depth about her writing, Watercress, and how life has changed since becoming a Caldecott AND a Newbery Honor winning author.

When I asked her what it is like to be a Newbery and a Caldecott winning author, she replied, “It’s surreal. It’s weird. I think this is (only) the fifth picture book to have Newbery and Caldecott recognition.” It’s true. For the readers who don’t know all about book awards, there are two major awards for children's literature: the Caldecott and the Newberry. The Caldecott Award honors illustrators for their work, and the Newbery Award honors authors. Until 1977, it was impossible for a book to win both awards, but that year the American Library Association changed the rules so that books could be eligible for both awards. Between 1977 and 2022, only five books have received both awards:

A Visit to William Blake’s Inn (Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor) 1982

Last Stop on Market Street (Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor) 2016

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor) 2018

The Undefeated ( Newbery Honor, Caldecott Medal) 2020

Watercress (Newbery Honor, Caldecott Medal) 2022

Because she writes so many different types of books, I asked her if she had a favorite. She said she doesn’t have a favorite because the different types of books she writes are “satisfying in different ways.” Writing nonfiction allows her self-proclaimed “nerdy side” to come out - she loves to lose herself in the research and she finds history fascinating. And while her chapter book, the Many Meanings of Meilan, allowed her to build Meilan’s world in detail, she also loves that picture books force her to think more about word choice.

{While writing the Many Meanings of Meilan} I really enjoyed…exploring topics and themes in more depth that I couldn’t get into with Watercress. At the same time, I really like Watercress because it’s so spare. But it relies a lot on the illustrations, and I think that’s what the best picture books do…it's a collaboration.

She talked in depth about working with the illustrator Jason Chin and how it was a partnership built on trust. She didn’t want to give him too much direction or “notes” as she called them, because she wanted to give him the space to bring the story to life, and in turn he worked very hard to create a story that honored her words and her memories of her childhood without making the book too autobiographical.

She then went into detail about the importance of the words she uses in Watercress. She chose the adjectives that describe the landscape specifically because the harsh consonants reflect how she remembers the Ohio landscape from her childhood. Though Watercress started as a personal essay about a memory she had from her childhood of picking watercress, it took a long time for her to get it - as she said - “right.”

I was writing it kind of as a conversation with myself and with my mom, and I couldn’t figure out the ending and it was driving me insane…so (for) years I would take it out and tweak it a little.

Then she read the book A Different Pond by Bao Phi and saw how lyrical it was and the poetry of the story and she re-read her original manuscript and started with a blank page. That blank page turned into a very short story that became the picture book we have today - with only minimal word changes.

Our conversation lasted over an hour, and we talked about everything from teaching to books to the importance of representation. Her contributions to books for young readers that center Asian characters and culture is, in this librarian’s humble opinion, an integral part of helping students see themselves in literature and helping them understand their place in the world. And because of this, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get enough of her books and will always rush to purchase whatever she writes. Her books, and really her presence in general one hundred percent speak to the idea that New Jersey student so eloquently stated: Be happy with what you have. Be proud of who you are.

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