Goldfish and Chrysanthemums

Nancy is helping Ni Ni (Grandma) in the kitchen when a letter arrives from China. Ni Ni grows sad when she reads that her childhood home is being torn down, along with the chrysanthemum-filled garden and fish pond she has always loved.

After Nancy wins two goldfish at the summer fair, she comes up with an idea to keep Ni Ni's memories of the garden alive. Nancy gets to work the very next morning, and as the surprise takes shape, the familiar beauty of home brings the entire family together.

Goldfish and Chrysanthemums shows us all how one young girl can make a difference in the lives of the people she loves. This tender story is a testament to the special bonds that tie us together within families and across generations.

Ni Ni
Author perspective

My daughter and I once asked Grandma Ni Ni about her childhood. She told us about following her grandfather around his yard in Su Zhou, helping him tend his goldfish and chrysanthemums. She told us that he entered his flowers into competitions and often came away with prizes. Even eighty years later, she seemed so proud of him. I wondered how she would feel now if she went back to Su Zhou and found that the house she remembered was gone. When we were in China in 1997, many of the old houses were being torn down to make room for new buildings. I decided to write the story that Ni Ni told us.


"After a trip to the summer fair to search for ideas, Nancy decides to build a miniature goldfish pond in the backyard, complete with the yellow flowers Ni Ni remembers from her father's garden. With help from a neighbor and brother Greg, Nancy completes her surprise. They take pictures to send to China, and Ni Ni finds a special way to say thank you. Cheng's story of intergenerational connection is a sweet one... a good choice for older storytime audiences or collections in need of culturally different stories."

Publisher's Weekly

"Cheng returns for another intergenerational tale after her tender Grandfather Counts. In spare evocative prose she again explores the relationship between a Chinese-born grandparent and a westernized granddaughter. This time, however, she focuses less on forging a relationship than on nurturing it with thoughtfulness. Debut artist Chang charts Nancy's progress as she creates, with the help of a gardener neighbor, a miniature pond in the backyard for the fish, complete with chrysanthemums, a stone path and bench. The posed photographs in the final spread make the most successful compositions, here the close up of Ni Ni smelling a mum and united with her grandchildren communicate the book's uplifting theme of the importance of familial ties and continuity."

School Library Journal

"In this warm story of inter-generational love, a girl re-creates a piece of her grandmother's childhood home in China. This portrait of a caring family resonates with scenes of sharing and togetherness. The rich golds, greens, and browns of the oil paintings add to the spirit of warmth and security. Use this book in multicultural and family story programs."

Bulletin Center for Children's Books

"(Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books) Nancy's Grandma Ni Ni receives a letter from her brother in China explaining that the city is tearing down their father's old house to make way for a new apartment building. Ni Ni shows Nancy and her brother photographs, sharing her fond memories of her old garden: 'Ba Ba had a fishpond in the middle... All day I follow him, help him pinch the buds and feed the fish.' It is clear to Nancy that Ni Ni mourns the loss of her father's house and garden, and later that day at the schoolyard fair she wins a cheer-up present for her grandmother - two goldfish. Nancy decides to dig a goldfish pond under the backyard honeysuckle bush, and, with the help of her brother and their neighbor, Mrs. Zalinsky, she does just that. A delighted Ni Ni christens the pond 'Ba Ba's Garden in America,' and they take pictures to send to China. The story is warmhearted... the obvious affection among the various family members make Nancy's efforts both touching and credible, and the not-so-far-fetched conclusion is quietly but solidly satisfying."

Book type: 
Picture book
Lee and Low Books
Michelle Chang
Publication date: 
Apr 2003
Interest level: