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The Wakame Gatherers

Shen's/Lee and Low Books, 2007; Lee and Low Books 2022
A bicultural girl in Japan goes wakame seaweed gathering with her Japanese and American grandmothers. Nanami must serve as translator for the two women, whom she comes to understand were at war when they were her age. Included after the story are an author’s note about wakame, a glossary of Japanese words used, and recipes for wakame by Nanami and each of her grandmothers.

View The Wakame Gatherers Read-Aloud Video with info about wakame cultivation and harvesting.

Download the Teacher's Guide for The Wakame Gatherers, featuring

-Summary and background information
-Prereading focus questions
-Discussion questions
-Ideas for literature circles
-Ideas for reader’s response and writing activities
-Strategies for ESL/ELL
-Interdisciplinary activities and connections

And visit Texts and Contexts: Teaching Japan Through Children's Literature online curriculum, a collection of teacher-developed, standards-based, cross-curricular K-6 lessons, featuring The Wakame Gatherers.

Comments and Reviews


The 2024 Read Maine Agriculture Book The 2024 Read ME Agriculture program will be held March 18 - 22, for Maine grades PK-4 students. "Inspired by our current focus on aquaculture, this year's book is "The Wakame Gatherers," written by Holly Thompson and illustrated by Kazumi Wilds. Every [Maine] classroom that participates will receive a copy of the book and accompanying educator's guide, with aligned classroom activities."

"A Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2009" selected by the National Council for the Social Studies in cooperation with the Children's Book Council

"This is a heartwarming example of how being from different cultures, countries, and races and speaking another language are not really barriers to appreciation and acceptance..." --Multicultural Review, Fall 2008, Vol. 17, No. 3

“Nanami is the translator when her Japanese and American grandmothers harvest wakame, a seaweed eaten in Japan. Their pleasant collaboration inspires each woman’s memories of seaside living and World War II. Though their granddaughter is momentarily upset by her conflicted heritage, all three quickly promise ‘to protect the peace.’”—School Library Journal, East Meets West, April 2008

“The loving relationship between grandchild and grandparent takes on an added dimension in this touching story of intergenerational communication and connection. Japan-based author Holly Thompson, originally from New England, demonstrates a comfort level with both cultures by providing accurate details of life in coastal Maine and shoreline Japan. In the Author’s Note, more information about types of edible seaweed, a small Japanese glossary, and wakame recipes add heft to the cultural richness of the book. The Wakame Gatherers is a good example of how common experiences can bring people together across oceans and through time. It reminds us that reaching greater understanding of one another is always worth the journey.”—PaperTigers, March 2008

“Holly Thompson’s warmly told, richly detailed story, illustrated by Japanese artist Kazumi Wilds, is a celebration of family.”—Children’s Cooperative Book Council, Choices 2008

“Enthusiastic color paintings illustrate this wonderful tale about family togetherness and forming connections between cultures.”—Midwest Book Review, Children’s Book Watch, March 2008

“Seaweed binds two grandmothers and two cultures together—one in Japan, one from Maine. A delightful book with kindness and union after a long-ago yet personal war. A granddaughter translates; there are just enough words to flavor the narrative and bind the two cultures together. Both story and pictures are awash with detail and imagination. Illustrations brighten the text—a solid blend of both talents. Back matter, consisting of information, recipes and glossary are extremely useful. The book, The Wakame Gatherers, is highly recommended.”—Juneau Public Libraries Juvenile Book Review Committee

Holly Thompson’s The Wakame Gatherers is a marvel, a story of two grandmothers—one an American, the other Japanese—narrated by their mutual granddaughter in whom the two disparate cultures and blood merge. And what better catalyst for the happy union than food? The story revolves around the harvesting of wakame, a variety of seaweed much loved in Japan and, until recently, quite unknown in America. The Wakame Gatherers is very good for the heart.
—Allen Say, author of Kamishibai Man and the Caldecott Medal-winning Grandfather’s Journey

Two grandmothers, one Japanese and one American. They cannot speak each other’s language and live—literally—oceans apart. The tie that binds them is their young granddaughter, Nanami. Gentle yet compelling, The Wakame Gatherers is a moving tribute to the power of family love that will resonate with any child of two cultures.
—Pamela Turner, author of Hachiko and Gorilla Doctors

With detail and grace, this ambitious picture book presents the food, language and love of two grandmothers, one Japanese and one from Maine. Bicultural families especially will identify with the special challenges and rewards experienced by their growing ranks. Share this story then indulge your cravings for miso soup and a lobster sandwich!
—Matthew Gollub, author of The Jazz Fly and Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs!

A tasty and memorable story that will lift your eyes, take you beyond two different oceans, and celebrate two cultures. These playful wakame gatherers harvest at the heart!
—Yangsook Choi, author of Behind the Mask and The Name Jar

Order The Wakame Gatherers from Lee & Low Books

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Order The Wakame Gatherers from Amazon Japan

A woman hangs wakame to dry in Kamakura, Japan

About Wakame
For various blog posts with photos and video about wakame gathering and wakame cultivation, search posts with the label "wakame" in Holly's HATbooks blog.

Seaweeds are large algae that grow in salt water all over the world. There are three main types of seaweed: green, brown and red. Wakame is a brown seaweed, but when boiled, it changes color to bright green.

The Latin name for wakame is Undaria pinnatifida, and it is one of the most commonly eaten seaweeds in Japan.

Harvesting Wakame
In Japan, wakame is harvested from winter through spring and into summer in some colder areas. Fresh wakame can be found in markets during this harvest season, and dried wakame is available in Japan year-round. In North America, dried wakame can be found in Asian and natural food stores (the Atlantic equivalent of wakame is alaria).

Most of the wakame eaten in Japan is cultivated on ropes in the open sea and harvested several months later, but fishing communities also still cut and gather wakame that grows naturally on rocks not far from shore. And people like Nanami’s grandmother still wade into the surf to gather wakame that washes ashore in early spring.

Cooking with Wakame
Dried wakame needs to be soaked in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes to be rehydrated; it will swell to about twice its size! After soaking, cut away any midrib or other tough sections (not necessary if your wakame is the pre-chopped variety). If you want your wakame to turn bright green, drop it into boiling water, then remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and quickly rinse in cold water. You can also drop chopped wakame into soup just before serving. Wakame is high in nutrients and should not be boiled or simmered for more than a minute, or it will lose these important nutrients. Wakame has a nice crisp texture and is delicious in soups and salads. Click on the link at the left for a PDF file of Koshigoe, Kamakura, wakame recipes.

Eating Wakame
Wakame is eaten in many forms—chopped in soups and salads, minced and mixed with salt and sesame seeds as a rice topping, toasted and dried as snack food, and even sweetened in candies.

Koshigoe Wakame Recipes (213 KB)

In addition to the recipes at the back of The Wakame Gatherers here is a collection of local wakame recipes donated by the Koshigoe community of Kamakura, the model setting for The Wakame Gatherers.