Author Andrea Wang on Using Mentor Texts- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author and EMLA agency sister Andrea Wang, here to chat about her newest picture book, Watercress, illustrated by none other than Jason Chin, published by Holiday House/Neal Porter Books. Check out her author journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Andrea is generously giving away a copy of her book (signed by her and Jason Chin)! All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 8, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Watercress?.
When I wrote down my memory of picking watercress for the first time, it was in the form of a personal essay. I had taken a course in writing personal essays during my MFA program and thought it would be a good form to use. But I didn’t know how to end the essay, so after some time, I rewrote it as a fictional picture book. That worked better, but the ending still wasn’t right. I shoved it into the proverbial drawer and didn’t look at it again for about seven or eight years. I was inspired to take it out after reading A Different Pond (written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui) and rewrote it again, entirely from scratch. It was a long journey just to revise the manuscript, but I needed those years to find the heart of the story.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I was inspired by a childhood memory of being forced to pick watercress by the side of the road. It was a memory that haunted me. I had to write the book in order to understand why I couldn’t let this memory go and what it really meant to me. I also wanted to honor my parents and their experience as immigrants from China.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from the book.
Mom and Dad press me to try some.
“It is fresh,” Dad says.
“It is free,” Mom says.
I shake my head.

Free is bad.
Free is
hand-me-down clothes and
roadside trash-heap furniture and
dinner from a ditch.

This excerpt shows the depth of misunderstanding and miscommunication between the main character and her immigrant parents. The gap feels insurmountable, until the mom shares a story from her past.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My process does vary depending on the project and whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Most of the time I start by writing down ideas and notes in a notebook and then progress to doing a lot of research and making more notes. I’ll jot down phrases or sentences that might work for the story, and once I feel ready, I’ll write a very rough draft on the computer. I’ll revise it numerous times, often based on feedback from critique partners, and then I’ll either share it with my agent and editor if it feels submittable, or shelve it until I find my way into the story and can rewrite it again, as I did with Watercress. I find that I need to let most of my stories marinate in the back of my mind for a while before I can move forward with writing them.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m super excited to have my debut middle grade novel releasing this August from Kokila. It’s a contemporary coming-of-age story called The Many Meanings of Meilan, about a Chinese American girl whose sense of self fragments after her extended family has a falling-out. I have another picture book coming out next year, also from Neal Porter Books, that is called Luli and the Language of Tea. It’s about a young girl who bridges a language gap through a shared love for tea. I’m also working on another contemporary MG as well as two nonfiction picture books. As for my career, I’d love to keep writing books that explore identity or have to do with food – preferably both at the same time.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
As I mentioned above, A Different Pond was a huge inspiration for me and also served as a mentor text for Watercress. There are so many brilliant PBs that it’s impossible to pick favorites, but I rely on the works of Chris Barton, Hayley Barrett, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Maria Gianferrari, Minh Le, Theresa Robeson, Lisa Robinson, Barb Rosenstock, and Carole Boston Weatherford. For MG, I’m especially inspired by J. Anderson Coats, Debbi Michiko Florence, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Lisa Yee.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Don’t be afraid to write from a place of vulnerability. Embrace what you don’t know and write until you understand it. Readers deserve complete emotional honesty.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Can I be a plant instead? I’m borderline obsessed with ginkgo trees and would love to be one. They’re long-lived, scrub pollution out of the air, are possibly fire-retardant, have medicinal seeds, and are graceful (something I am not!).

Andrea Wang is the award-winning author of The Nian Monster (APALA Honor, PW starred review) and Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (Freeman Book Award Honor, Sakura Medal, JLG Selection, SLJ starred review). She has two books releasing in 2021: Watercress (JLG Gold Standard Selection, multiple starred reviews); and The Many Meanings of Meilan, her debut middle grade novel. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. She is also the author of seven nonfiction titles for the library and school market. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in the Denver area with her family.

Twitter: @AndreaYWang
Instagram: @AndreaWhyWang
Linktree (including buy links):

38 thoughts on “Author Andrea Wang on Using Mentor Texts- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

    dinatowbin said:
    September 27, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    Watercress is such a lovely book and a heartwarming story of a young girl trying to assimilate into a new culture, while her parents keep pulling her back to their past. I watched an interview with Jason Chin about the journey he went through for the illustrations. It was fascinating. Congratulations!


    jcamp2020 said:
    March 1, 2021 at 9:19 am

    I first became aware of “Watercress”, when a teacher posted that his school was opening back up the next Monday, and to wish him luck. He said that he had the perfect book to use on his first day. “Watercress”. (he had an ARC) So, of course, I had to go look it up. And then had to wait for it’s Book Birthday. I can’t wait to read it. I just love a book that provides a prompt for rich discussion. My daughter is a teacher and I put this book on her “to purchase list”. And I must add, that the cover by Jason Chin is just wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    Lauri Meyers said:
    February 28, 2021 at 7:48 am

    I love that you mined your childhood and let yourself be vulnerable to bring this pretty book to the world.

    Liked by 1 person

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      March 8, 2021 at 11:50 am

      What a lovely sentiment. And yes, that kind of raw emotional honesty makes a great story.


    Jennifer Rathe said:
    February 26, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    I’m super excited to read Watercress. Watercress appears in one of my books – but I just learned something new. I didn’t know it grew it ditches. Must mean I need more research.

    Liked by 1 person

    Terri Michels said:
    February 25, 2021 at 5:27 pm

    Well said and thank you for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    stiefelchana said:
    February 25, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    Wonderful interview! I loved learning about your process. MAGIC RAMEN is one of my favorite PBS. Can’t wait to read WATERCRESS!

    Liked by 1 person

    rozanark said:
    February 25, 2021 at 9:26 am

    Love this interview and the insights. That excerpt is powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    Cathy Ballou Mealey said:
    February 25, 2021 at 9:22 am

    I think of you Andrea every time I eat ramen, and now I will add watercress to my edible repertoire of book memories!

    When I was little my grandmother used to pull over the car to pick dandelion greens that she would boil and eat. I tried them once – so bitter! Eager to read your book and think more deeply about that experience again.

    Liked by 1 person

    Jill Purtee (P. J.) (@JillPurtee) said:
    February 25, 2021 at 7:23 am

    “Embrace what you don’t know” is a new way of looking at things. Thank you for that insight. And for the reminder to use a mentor text. I’m excited to read your book!

    Liked by 1 person

    seschipper said:
    February 24, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    Thank Lydia and Andrea! Great interview. I was very moved by the excerpt you selected! Looking forward to reading the book! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Mimi Bond @itsmimibond said:
    February 24, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    Thank you for this interview Lydia and Andrea. My family is from the island of Haiti. I was born in America but my parents were immigrants. The vulnerability and relationship between immigrant parents and their children I know all too well about. After reading this blog today, I feel encouraged by Andrea to share those moments and pieces from by childhood in my writing. Looking forward to reading, Watercress. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    dedradavis03 said:
    February 24, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    CONGRATULATIONS! Your book looks beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    rosecappelli said:
    February 24, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    Such great advice, Andrea! Thank you so much for sharing your story and your process. I volunteer at a local horticultural garden and one of my favorite trees there is a very old gingko. I visit it often.

    Liked by 1 person

    Patricia J. Franz (@patriciajfranz1) said:
    February 24, 2021 at 12:47 pm

    Thank you, Andrea (and Lydia)! I’m a big proponent of paying attention to what remains within. I’m learning that this is useful in writing picture books! I love the idea of letting a work “marinate.” In my brain space, things “percolate”. :). Looking forward to reading Watercress.

    Liked by 1 person

    Hanh Bui said:
    February 24, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful interview with Andrea. Loved learning about her process and appreciate what she shared. “Readers deserve emotional honesty.” I’m so glad Andrea is sharing more of her heartwarming family stories with us. Representation matters.

    Liked by 1 person

    Jany Campana said:
    February 24, 2021 at 11:38 am

    Write until you understand it! Great Advice!!! Thanks Andrea!

    Liked by 1 person

    Lisa Roullard said:
    February 24, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Thank you for sharing your publication journey. I, too, love gingko trees and am working on a concrete poem in the shape of a gingko leaf.

    Liked by 1 person

    Andrew Hacket (@AndrewCHacket) said:
    February 24, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Great post! I love Andrea’s advice for writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    Armineh Manookian said:
    February 24, 2021 at 11:09 am

    As an immigrant from Iran, I can totally relate to this! With my family, the same would happen but with fruit trees. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      February 24, 2021 at 11:10 am

      This is the magic of story- the universal thread that connects us all…


    Dianna Sirkovsky said:
    February 24, 2021 at 10:57 am

    This sounds like a wonderful story. Just from that excerpt I can feel the experience gap between child and parents.

    Liked by 2 people

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      February 24, 2021 at 11:01 am

      Yup! You’ll have to check it out 🙂


    Lindsey Hobson said:
    February 24, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Sounds amazing and looks beautiful! Can’t wait to read it.

    Liked by 2 people

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      February 24, 2021 at 11:01 am

      Powerful words, and Jason Chin illustrating….can’t go wrong there!


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