Gregory Maguire turns his trademark wit and wisdom to an animal adventure about growing up, moving on, and finding community. When Papa doesn’t return from a nocturnal honey-gathering expedition, Cress holds out hope, but her mother assumes the worst. It’s a dangerous world for rabbits, after all. Mama moves what’s left of the Watercress family to the basement unit of the Broken Arms, a run-down apartment oak with a suspect owl landlord, a nosy mouse super, a rowdy family of squirrels, and a pair of songbirds who broadcast everyone’s business. Can a dead tree full of annoying neighbors, and no Papa,
Gregory Maguire turns his trademark wit and wisdom to an animal adventure about growing up, moving on, and finding community. When Papa doesn’t return from a nocturnal honey-gathering expedition, Cress holds out hope, but her mother assumes the worst. It’s a dangerous world for rabbits, after all. Mama moves what’s left of the Watercress family to the basement unit of the Broken Arms, a run-down apartment oak with a suspect owl landlord, a nosy mouse super, a rowdy family of squirrels, and a pair of songbirds who broadcast everyone’s business. Can a dead tree full of annoying neighbors, and no Papa, ever be home? In the timeless spirit of E. B. White and The Wind and the Willows—yet thoroughly of its time—this read-aloud and read-alone gem for animal lovers of all ages features an unforgettable cast that leaps off the page in glowing illustrations by David Litchfield. This tender meditation on coming-of-age invites us to flourish wherever we find ourselves.
A lavishly illustrated woodland tale with a classic sensibility and modern flair—from the fertile imagination behind Wicked
- Candlewick Press
- March 2022
- 224 Pages
“Who knew that rabbits and squirrels had so much to teach us about both the hard and tender times of life? Gregory Maguire, that’s who. Cress Watercress is a clear-eyed lesson in picking up and moving forward, living with unanswered questions, and making new friends. I will recommend this beautifully written (and perfectly illustrated!) book to everyone.”—Ann Patchett, New York Times best-selling author of The Dutch House
“Maguire’s narrative offers wry puns, rich vocabulary, and entertaining dialogue, and Litchfield’s glowing, slightly stylized, full-color illustrations present an enchanting, magical peek into this woodland world. . . . Warmhearted and utterly charming.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“In this richly imagined woodland adventure, a grieving rabbit family—Mama, Cress, and baby Kip (with stuffed carrot “Rotty” always in tow)—must leave their comfortable warren to start over without their lost Papa. . . . Dark and shimmery full-color digital illustrations build on the text’s singular atmosphere. . . . With its brisk plot, witty details, and thought-provoking concepts, this gloriously illustrated chapter book makes an ideal family read-aloud.”—The Horn Book (starred review)
“A surreal episodic narrative. . . . Maguire channels multiple children’s literary golden ages, with allusions to Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame alongside nonsense notes of Norton Juster and Russell Hoban. Theatrical situations abound. . . . Suitable for sharing and reading aloud, this exuberant tale revels in the performative and the flavor of language.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A hungry fox, a sneaky snake, a blundering bear, and “human beanpoles” add drama and suspense to Cress’ mini adventures, which are luminously depicted in Litchfield’s color illustrations. . . this novel of family and friendship will please fans of animal fantasies.” —Booklist
1. At the beginning of the book when the three rabbits go outside on the way to their new home, Cress sees the moon (page 4), but she isn’t sure if that is what it is. The moon is a frequent theme in the book. How does the author tie the moon to the rabbits’ lives?
2. Agatha Cabbage is certainly a character. She is haughty, stuck-up, and rude. Why do you think the author chose a skunk for this role? If you were choosing a forest animal to play the part of a self-proclaimed great lady, what animal would you choose?
3. On page 19 the Watercress family meets Mr. Owl, who tells them, “My hearing is keen. Make a note of it.” This is the first time anyone says, “make a note of it,” but far from the last. How is this phrase used throughout the book?
3. The Broken Arms does not feel like home for Cress at first. What makes a place feel like home for you?
4. Cress frequently puts herself down because she feels she has no talents. She can’t make things like her mother, who weaves; she can’t make up stories because she has no imagination; she is too young to babysit her little brother, Kip. What do you think her talents are?
5. Is life fair? Cress’s mother doesn’t think so. She says, “Tell me what’s fair in life” (page 42). What do you think about this?
6. When Finny and Cress are shipwrecked and then lost in the woods, Cress falls into a funk. To quote Finny, she goes “all very-bitter-berry” on him (page 83). To get her out of it, Finny bites her on the tail, and then they chase each other. Biting your friends is not a good way to get them out of a funk; what’s an alternative way to cheer them up?
7. Lady Cabbage, the skunk, locks Cress and Finny in her basement where they try to figure out how to escape (page 95). What would you have done in those circumstances?
8. After Cress and Finny return home, there is a celebration. But Cress doesn’t understand: “Papa was still gone. Now he felt even more gone. And yet the world was dancing. She was still here. There was music, joking, laughter. What did this mean? How could this be?” (page 112). Have you experienced happiness in the midst of sadness? Or sadness in the midst of happiness? Can you give an example? Why do you think these conflicting emotions arise in such circumstances?
9. Cress changes a lot during the course of this book. “Cress felt as if she were becoming someone different. She wondered who. Maybe that is what growing up was all about—not knowing yourself, over and over again” (page 141). How would you describe growing up?
10. Did you think Cress’s father would be found? Why or why not?
11. The chapters in this book are very short, some just two pages long. What do you think about this format? Does it move you along quickly, or break up the story too much?
Mama yanked down her homemade drapes and stuffed them into the carryall. The windows stared squarely out into the newness of how things were now. Mama said, “I think it is time.” She pulled her apron strings tighter. She didn’t look at her children. “Is everyone ready?”
Cress shrugged. Her mouth was dry, her words locked silent.
“You’ll need to carry him, Cress,” said Mama. “I have my arms full. Can you manage?”
Kip was disagreeable, all sour milk on salty soap. “NO GO.”
“Don’t fuss,” said Mama. “This is hard enough. Be a good little bunny for Mama.”
Kip threw himself in the middle of the empty warren. Gone now, the rag carpet that had made the floor soft. When Kip kicked, he hurt his feet. He cried harder.
Mama put down the map, the parcels tied in string, the carryall, the valise full of carrots. She picked up her little Kip. Since the rocking chair was gone, too, she rocked on her heels.
“Why won’t you settle down, cuddles?” asked Mama. “I don’t know what to do with you.”
“He wants his stuffed carrot,” said Cress.
“Want ROTTY,” said Kip.
“I must have packed it and sent it ahead,” said Mama.
“No,” said Cress. “It’s stuck in the hood of his onesie. Look, Kip! Here’s your carrot.”
“ROTTY,” said Kip. There were more tears, and from more than one pair of eyes.
“And now we’re ready,” said Mama. Kip went into the snuggly. Cress grabbed Mama’s paw and held on tight.
They left their home for the last time. No one bothered to lock the door or to look back at nobody waving goodbye.
The setting sun was a lumpy clementine in a net bag of string clouds. The air, so cool and damp. A few birds moaned in falling tones. “Where are we going?” asked Cress.
“You’ll see when we get there,” said Mama crisply. Cress knew that was the end of talking for now.
Kip, sucking on the tip of his stuffed carrot, fell silent. But Cress thought she heard him murmur, “Papa?”
She couldn’t bring herself to say, “No Papa,” so she said, “Look, Kip. There’s a little broken circle in the sky. Mama, is that the moon?”
“You’ve seen the moon before,” said Mama. “You know the moon.”
“I don’t remember,” said Cress. “You never let me go out at night.”
They didn’t talk any more. The grass looked like dinner and then it tasted like dinner. Dinner by moonlight, thought Cress. Papa would love this.
Papa would have loved this.
Mama had lost her map.
On the other side of the water, the ducks slept. They were too far away to wake up for directions.
Nearby, thorny branches tangled, a dark sword fight profiled against cliffs of silvery moon-cloud.
The family froze when Monsieur Reynard came by with a mouthful of hen, but his jaws were busy. He couldn’t bother with Mama and her children tonight.
“We made it,” said Cress as they hurried by, trying not to stare.
“Just luck,” said Mama. “The fox had already chosen his meal.”
“Do you think we should have helped that poor hen?” asked Cress.
“She was too dead, I’m afraid,” replied Mama.
“Oh.” Cress thought about it. “Did a fox get Papa?”
“Hush your lips!” Mama glanced at the baby. But Kip was asleep, dreaming of dipping carrots in honey.
Mama put her paw on Cress’s shoulder. “We may never know what happened to Papa,” she said. “But here we are, and the forest is home to more than one fox. So we must take care. If only I hadn’t lost the map.”
“Do you know where we’re going?” asked Cress.
“Of course I know where we’re going.” Mama paused to stroke her whiskers and look around. “I just don’t know the way.”