Bonding over seaweed

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The Wakame Gatherers
The Wakame Gatherers

The Wakame Gatherers
By Holly Thompson, illustrated by Kazumi Wilds (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Shen’s Books, 2007, $16.95, 32 pp., hardcover)

Our young heroine Nanami lives in Japan with her parents and Bachan (her paternal grandmother). Her maternal grandmother, Gram, lives in Maine. This refreshing story is about getting the two grandmothers together.

Gram visits Nanami in March, the time of year for gathering seaweed. Bachan asks Gram and Nanami to help out. Nanami acts as translator. Both women live on a bay, so Bachan is curious about why Gram does not eat wakame or other types of seaweed. She thinks that is wasteful.
I learned along with Gram that wakame grows on fishermen’s ropes as well as on rocks and on the ocean floor. The ropes are seeded, and the fronds are harvested by fishermen who take boats out into the ocean, pull up the ropes, and cut off the wakame. Some of the cut wakame escapes the men and washes ashore. This is the wakame that  asks Gram and Nanami to help gather.

Wading into the sea and gathering wakame creates a bond between the three. When Nanami asks Bachan if she gathered wakame as a child, Bachan explains that during wartime food and clothing were scarce, but the sea provided fish and seaweed until she and her brother “were sent to the mountains to escape the bombs.”

Nanami translates this for Gram. As young girls the two women lived in enemy countries. Nanami says, “I come from both of them, but I can’t imagine parts of me at war with each other.” Bachan asks Nanami to protect the peace.

The emotional moment ends and the gatherers return to their jobs. They hang some wakame to dry, and eat some in soup and salad.

At the end of the story, after Gram returns to Maine, she sends a letter to Nanami letting her know that she used Bachan’s recipe for wakame soup and has also tried wakame lobster sandwiches.

Enclosed in a separate letter to Bachan are airplane tickets to Maine. Gram asks for help pulling lobster traps. Bachan has never flown. Judging from the dubious expression on her face, Nanami will need to convince Bachan to accompany her when she travels to Maine for her annual summer visit. Nanami, of course, looks jubilant.

Kazumi Wilds’ vivid illustrations of the two grandmothers show tall, slender, blonde Gram and short, stocky, white-haired Japanese Bachan. Nanami is a lively, freckled youngster eager for adventure. The detailed backgrounds in the illustrations show us the kitchen, garden, beach, surfers, and city traffic in Japan.

Included at the end of the book are three wakame recipes; a short science article about wakame and drying wakame; and a glossary of Japanese terms used in the book.

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