The Ugly Vegetables

The Ugly Vegetables

  • 1695

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Ugly Vegetables!

By: Grace Lin

It's easy to appreciate a garden exploding with colorful flowers and fragrances, but what do you do with a patch of ugly vegetables? Author/illustrator Grace Lin recalls such a garden in this charming and eloquent story.

The neighbors' gardens look so much prettier and so much more inviting to the young gardener than the garden of "black-purple-green vines, fuzzy wrinkled leaves, prickly stems, and a few little yellow flowers" that she and her mother grow. Nevertheless, mother assures her that "these are better than flowers." Come harvest time, everyone agrees as those ugly Chinese vegetables become the tastiest, most aromatic soup they have ever known. As the neighborhood comes together to share flowers and ugly vegetable soup, the young gardener learns that regardless of appearances, everything has its own beauty and purpose.

The Ugly Vegetables springs forth with the bright and cheerful colors of blooming flowers and bumpy, ugly vegetables. Grace Lin's colorful, playful illustrations pour forth with abundant treasures. Complete with a guide to the Chinese pronunciation of the vegetables and the recipe for ugly vegetable soup! Try it . . . you'll love it, too!

Look Inside the Book:

Author Bio:

Grace Lin

Grace Lin grew up in Upstate New York with her parents and two sisters. While the other sisters became scientists, Grace became an artist. Surprisingly enough, being an artist was not Grace's first choice. She first dreamed of being a champion ice skater, and drew many pictures of herself twirling and dancing on the ice. Unfortunately, Grace had neither the talent nor coordination to make it to skating stardom. However, the pictures she drew of herself held much promise and quickly became Grace's career focus.

Read more about Grace.

Awards & Honors:

  • ABA Kids' Pick of the Lists
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • Children's Books Mean Business
  • Austin Young Engineer's Award

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

A savory storytime companion to Helena Clare Pittman and Victoria Raymond's Still-Life Stew(1998). In a bright landscape of small houses and backyards, a girl and her mother dig a garden, as do their neighbors. The green shoots come up and grow, and the daughter notices that while the neighbors are cultivating flowers that fill the air with sweetness, her mother is growing ugly dark green leafy things. They are labeled not with pretty seed packets but with Chinese characters. At the end of the season, her mother picks the vegetables, and makes them into a soup that smells so good it brings all the neighbors to their porches looking as if "they were trying to eat the smell." They come to the girl's house bearing gifts of flowers, and mother and daughter invite them all in to share the soup. The next year, mother and daughter grow a few flowers alongside their vegetables, and the neighbors have small plots of vegetables next to their flowerbeds. The gouache paintings emphasize pattern: florals, grasses, stripes, and dots on clothing and rooftops. The colors are of a sunny world, with an emphasis on rose, purple, brown, and a multitude of greens. Pictures of all of the vegetables with their Chinese and English names along with the soup recipe are included. Lin tells her charming story simply, and the pictures reflect its many joys.

Publishers Weekly

In this debut children's book, a girl and her mother chart their own course in spring planting--and reap the benefits. The girl narrator is clearly disappointed when, unlike her neighbors who prepare flower gardens, she and her mother plant Chinese vegetables that, her mother insists, are &qout;better than flowers." While the other backyards yield colorful blooms, her garden becomes crowded with "ugly vegetables," lumpy, bumpy and "icky yellow." But when the girl's mother uses them to make a soup, its "magical aroma" attracts neighbors to their door--carrying bouquets of flowers from their gardens. Though the pacing of the text is a bit uneven, the mother's confidence in the garden's success and Lin's message of community togetherness buoy up the narrative. A charming, childlike quality infuses the artwork; boldly hued gouache pictures feature skies and lawns as patterned as the girl's kitchen wallpaper and curtains. For ambitious young gardeners and would-be-chefs, an illustrated glossary of the vegetables and their Chinese characters along with a soup recipe conclude the volume.

School Library Journal

A Chinese-American girl and her mother grow a vegetable garden in a neighborhood where everyone else grows flowers. The girl thinks their plants are ugly compared to flowers, but soon learns that vegetables can make a very delicious soup--one that the whole neighborhood wants to try. Soon everyone is growing Chinese vegetables as well as flowers. A recipe for "Ugly Vegetable Soup" is included. Lin's brightly colored gouache illustrations perfectly match her story, creating a patchwork-quilt effect as the neighbors' backyards all converge. Families of all kinds engage in all sorts of activities while children play happily together. Each double-page spread is a different color with a different pattern scattered lightly across it, serving as a frame for the illustrations and as background for the text. A lovely, well-formatted book with an enjoyable multicultural story.


While the neighbors' gardens burgeon with bloom, a troubled child sees nothing but wrinkled leaves and dark vines growing in hers. She doubts her mother's claim that what she is growing is actually better than flowers--until the harvested sheau hwang gua, torng hau, and other Chinese vegetables have been chopped into the soup pot, and neighbors, drawn by the delicious smell, appear at the door with armloads of flowers and big appetites. Filling spaces with curlicues and dabs of color, Lin places her characters in a tidy suburban setting replete with happy families playing on unfenced, wildflower-dotted lawns. Closing with a recipe and glossary, this brief consciousness raiser makes a mouth watering companion for Rosemary Wells' Yoko (1998) or books like Nora Dooley's multicultural standby, Everybody Cooks Rice (1991).

Horn Book

While the gardens in her suburban community look like "rainbows of flowers," and "the wind always smelled sweet," the unnamed narrator is disappointed with her family's Chinese vegetable garden. All she sees are "lumpy," "icky yellow," "thin and green" vegetables, and she wonders why her family doesn't grow flowers instead. Her mother patiently reassures her that the ugly vegetables are better than flowers, telling her "wait and see." As the plants grow and finally produce vegetables, readers experience vicariously the simple pleasures of gardening. The simply told first-person text is well matched with the lively, color-saturated paintings. With slightly distorted, flattened perspectives and rounded, comforting shapes, Lin's style borders on the naive with a fresh folklike quality. Each page bristles with movement enhanced by pattern: swirls of blue in the sky; variegated brown and green hues of the trees; imaginative designs on fabric; even the washes of background color on which many of the paintings are set are lightly decorated with such motifs as vine, seed, leaf, or flower shapes, adding energy to the design and the illustrations. Most readers will identify with the narrator's feeling of mild discontent about her family's differences, and some will be introduced to another culture and cuisine. After the vegetables have been harvested, there's a new scent in the air: ugly vegetable soup, which, the young girl says, "seemed to dance in my mouth and laugh all the way down to my stomach." A final page features a glossary/pronounciation guide for the vegetable's names in Chinese as well as a soup recipe. Grace Lin's debut picture book serves up the savory delights of the harvest in a satisfying story.

China Sprout

Grace Lin is one of our family's favorite authors. We started out with Round is a Mooncake, graduated to The Seven Chinese Sisters, and for the past year, WeiWei has picked up and re-read The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat more times than I can remember. I finally signed WeiWei up for Grace's monthly email newsletter so that she would stop asking ME when Grace was going to release a follow up to her favorite books (like I know).

While reading Grace's March newsletter, I discovered that The Ugly Vegetables turns 10 today. I know that there are many families who have enjoyed this award-winning book together over the past decade. If your copy is as worn as ours, you'll be glad to know that the publisher is releasing a special anniversary edition that includes a new cover design and an updated pinyin glossary to make pronouncing the book's vegetables much easier.

Even better, Grace has created Ugly Vegetable activities that include a coloring page, a scripted play by FCC-Portland Maine, audio pronunciations of the vegetables, and a lesson plan and recipe for Ugly Vegetable soup.

Our Girl Scout troop, which is made up primarily of girls adopted from China, is planning to use Grace's lesson plan as an activity next month. I look forward to sharing how the girls react to bringing this book to life. In the meantime, be sure to check out Grace's website where you can find out more about her first book The Ugly Vegetables, as well as many others that will undoubtedly be enjoyed for generations to come.

Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup

Mmmmmm!! What's that tantalizing aroma?

Could it be a delicious soup made with Chinese spinach and bitter melon?

It's so intoxicating that I have a sudden urge to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and smell the sky. AH! It's simply magical -- I definitely want to eat that smell!

Last week, when I posted a list of my favorite gardening picture books, I purposely left one title out, because I wanted to feature it in a post of its own. It's such a timeless, savory story that its nourishing goodness has already been enjoyed by millions of hungry readers.

You may know that the 10th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of Grace Lin's The Ugly Vegetables was released this past spring. This was Grace's first published picture book -- a charming gem that never loses its freshness and appeal with its enduring themes of diversity, acceptance and community. The Anniversary Edition has new cover art and an updated glossary that makes it easier to pronounce the names of all the Chinese vegetables used in the famous Ugly Vegetable Soup recipe.

School Library Journal "Food-Fixing Stories to Share

Throughout the growing season, a Chinese-America girl prfers her neighbors' beautiful flower gardens to her family's patch of Chinese vegetables--until harvest time, when her mother cooks up a pot of scrumptious soup. Childlike storytelling and folksy, vividly hued paintings delineate nature's bounty and a special mother-daughter relationship.


In The Ugly Vegetables, author and illustrator Grace Lin's narrator is excited about planting a garden with her mother, but her joy quickly turns to concern as she notices all of the things that her mom is doing differently from their neighbors. Why, she wonders, does it seem that everyone else is doing it differently? Her mama patiently reassures her that they are growing something better than the flowers everyone else is growing--their garden is dedicated to growing Chinese vegetables!

As the summer progresses and it comes time to harvest the garden, the narrator learns that her mom's garden does indeed yield something more special than flowers. When the lumpy, bumpy vegetables are cooked together in a soup, the neighbors come knocking, entranced by the smell. And, importantly, they bring an abundance of flowers from their own gardens to share. Ms. Lin's bright illustrations depict a lively communal meal in which even the dog gets her own bowl of Ugly Vegetable Soup.

There are several reasons that this book is a great choice. The unique-to-us vegetables are fun to think about (and pronounce, even if you do not have fluency in any of the Chinese languages). Ms. Lin has skillfully reproduced the nuances of the child's perspective, from the initial crabiness at doing things differently to the eventual pride that she feels in the fact that the smell of the soup, which wafts throughout the neighborhood, is coming from her house. The celebration of the neighborhood and illustrations of the sharing that occurs in their community are also compelling components of this tale.

The end of the book contains a guide to the vegetables described in the story and a decidedly non-vegetarian soup recipe, (although if you are lucky enough to obtain all of the vegetables, it wouldn't be difficult to veg up the soup by swapping vegetable broth for chicken broth and seitan, tofu or Gardein for the chicken/seafood if you feel inclined).

Parents may enjoy reading Ms. Lin's blog, which is aimed at the grown-up demographic.

This book is a great treat for ages 3 and up.


ISBN: 978-0-88106-336-3

ISBN: 978-1-57091-491-1

ISBN: 978-1-60734-070-6 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 4-7
Page count: 32

If you like this book, you’ll enjoy these:
Our Seasons
The Vegetable Alphabet Book