Given that holiday shopping is in full swing and a bunch of folks have asked for children’s book suggestions to give to adoptive families, I’m sharing these reviews of books about adoption. There are many open doors to conversations between those covers. Hope my little reviews here inspire you to overflow your own bookshelves.
I really like this one. Not only did Valerie write and publish a great book here, but she has a terrific website to go with it with all sorts of add-ons for the book, including a coloring and activity book and translation downloads in seven different languages. General enough to read to children adopted domestically or internationally and specific enough to lead them to believe it was written just for them. As I read Searching For The You We Adore aloud, Lydia follows the glossy red ribbon with her finger as it travels around the globe. It’s a story of a family’s journey and unconditional love and a must have for every adoptive family.
It’s the story of a fruitless apple tree, an abundant apple orchard, one wise farmer and the gift of family — that’s A Gift for Little Tree by Colleen Marquez. The book captures the pain of childlessness in the fruitless apple tree whose branches would droop and her whole trunk ache. The book captures the sovereignty of God as the wise farmer reminds the tree that he has not forgotten her and masterfully helps a tree who cannot bear its fruit and grafts in a new branch to the fruitless tree. Colleen gently brings in birth families and the community that adoption builds between families. Appropriate for domestic and international adoption and interracial or not, this book would make a great gift for a waiting mommy who has felt the ache of infertility, a young child to open doors to talk about adoption, a sibling waiting for a new brother or sister or even a high school or college graduate who joined your family through a grafting process. Since this book reads like a parable and is full of beautiful art you would want to hang on your wall, it really is one worth having. It’s actually one I’d like to have several of on hand for when the right situation warrants a special gift.
Grab your tissues and sit down to read Motherbridge of Love. Written to benefit well known author and women and children’s advocate Xinran’s charity The Mothers’ Bridge of Love, the text of this book is a poem that was written and given anonymously for this purpose. With amazing illustrations, the poem tells the story of a little girl and the two mothers who have been a part of that story. From the first page, I was hooked: “Once there were two women who never knew each other. One you do not know. The other you call Mother.” Specific to China (with the poem translated into Chinese in the front), it would be appropriate to read with any girls who were adopted and wonder about the birth mothers they likely will never know. This book would be a really nice Mother’s Day gift for a waiting mommy, a nice tradition to read with your daughter in recognition of the day you became a family, a good way to open a door to talk about birth mothers or simply a good read if you just want a little reminder of who you are and your calling as a mother…or if you simply need a little cry.
Karen Henry Clark’s book reads like a fable that will invite all sorts of interesting conversations for your family. When Karen faced the fact that her daughter’s whole first year of life in China would forever be a mystery, she created a story of her own, a fairytale, to inspire her daughter’s imagination. That story about a perfect baby girl’s journey down the Pearl River to her forever family struck such a chord with her little girl that she shared her story for everyone in an adoption folktale Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale. Using beloved items in her daughter’s life, she tells the tale of a Chinese man and woman who release their baby girl because they cannot care for her as they would want. She floats in a basket over the river guided by a turtle, a peacock, a monkey, a panda and even some fish until she is welcomed into the arms of her new parents on the other side of the river. This one is a beautiful, figurative fable and a good one to use to open conversation up with your child if the timing is right.
I love books that open up doors to rich conversation. This one does not disappoint. Elfa and the Box of Memories, published by BAAF (a London based adoption/foster care charity) and written by their marketing officer, is seriously a must-have book for foster families and an excellent book for any families with children who struggle with navigating memories — both good and bad. Elfa the elephant carries a box of memories on her back that starts to interfere with life. Marvin the monkey offers to sit with her to go through the box, full of pictures and mementos of his childhood. But, there are memories not there, ones she’s lost and she doesn’t know how. She goes back to some caregivers (zebras from a nursery, a rhino doctor, and hippos – who fill the role of foster parents though the verbiage is never used, and a giraffe teacher) who give her more little tidbits to help her remember. When the gaps are full enough, she thanks Marvin for his help and tells him, “I would never have been able to remember all those special times on my own. It’s not easy when you haven’t got anyone to share your memories with.” Marvin then helps her take the box off her back and put it in a safe hiding spot so that she can “play with the other animals and run through the trees without worrying about the heavy box on her back.” Excellent opportunity to talk to your children about releasing burdens and the freedom we can experience in that release. And, to make it even more practical, the book comes with a little book in the back called “My Book of Memories” where your child can write his or her own information. I’m imagining a great bonding day for parent and child — a special lunch out, completing the book together as best you can, and then hiding it somewhere safe…together.
Brilliant. Love Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles by a husband–wife team dealing with how a kindergarten girl adopted from China handles being “star of the week” in school, an exciting yet challenging experience that entails a poster all about her. Darlene deals with birthparent questions and feelings beautifully, setting a great example for the rest us parents who may feel unprepared. Told by Cassidy-Li’s perspective, she explains how they’ve talked about “all the reasons people can’t take care of their babies. They might be very poor, or maybe too young.” No promises are made. No over dramatizations or emotional imagery. Just acknowledgment that a child can love her parents but still feel sad about birthparents. And, that is totally okay. Only thing missing? Maybe a few discussion questions or conversation starters for parents at the end…and a boy version…and maybe some versions for kids from other countries or domestically adopted or in foster care. Darlene and Roger, more please.
Kids Like Me in China gives an inside view of an orphanage in Changsha, Hunan Province through lots of photos and the sweet words of an 8-year-old girl named Ying Ying Fry. It’s a bit outdated but still one that I think it worthwhile to have and use to open great conversations with your child (who out there may want to publish an updated version of this? Could be a great fundraiser!). Ying Ying tells about her experience of being adopted and her American parents and then shares about the two weeks she spent visiting the orphanage where she spent her infancy and the ayis who cared for her until her parents took her home. It’s a fascinating book that is pretty compelling. There are a lot of pages and words, too much to read to a toddler. But, when my little one was younger she enjoyed flipping pages and simply touching the faces of “her friends” in China. I’m pretty much a sucker for the last page: “China isn’t my home anymore, but it’s where I was born. Even though that was a long time ago, it’s a really important part of my life. If I hadn’t been born in China, I wouldn’t be me.” Well said, Ying Ying. Interesting to point out, the photographs are all their own since the Chinese authorities would not let their professional photographer in to take pictures; expect snapshot-looking pictures, rather than professional looking ones. And, Ying Ying, who you see throughout in her cute glasses, used proceeds from the sales of the book to pay for vision exams for all the children from her orphanage and glasses for all the kids who needed them.
Red in the Flower Bed is a hidden gem. A poppy seed falls from the flower upon dry ground where it cannot grow and so it travels from east to west by the wind until she lands in the perfect garden. “What a tiny seed. It’s just what we need,” chimed the garden flowers as they wondered what that tiny seed would become. With some rain and lots of sun, you watch the seed grow and become a beautiful red poppy, the red flower that the garden was missing to make it a beautiful rainbow. A beautiful, subtly communicated story of adoption and one that will allow you as the parent the freedom to talk about how he or she “landed in the perfect spot,” what a joy it has been to watch him or her grow, and the blessing he or she is to your family in a totally unique way.
I found Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born at a yard sale which turned out to be a good find. The story of an infant domestic adoption, each page starts with “Tell me again…” to string together the story of how a baby joined her family from the phone call in the middle of the night to the fun adjustments of having a new baby at home. The family tree page in the middle showing a birth dad and birth mom along with the words: “Tell me again how you couldn’t grow a baby in your tummy, so another woman who was too young to take care of me was growing me and she would be my birth mother; and you would adopt me and be my parents” may be inappropriate for some. But, you can skip that page if you want. My kids all love this book and the fun illustrations. My favorite part? The page showing the parents arriving at a chaotic hospital and the words, “…when you got there you both got very quiet and felt very small.” Sums it up well.
See page 2 for more great books on adoption.
I’m cheating. Nancy Tillman’s On the Night You Were Born is not an adoption-themed book. But it has become one for us since it was one of the first gifts given to us for Lydia way back when, actually two years before she was even born. With beautiful illustrations, the words emphasize what a beautiful moment it was when the child was born (not mentioning an actual birth or birth family at all). Instead, this book gives simply lovely prose explaining how “you are the one and only ever you” and how “Heaven blew every trumpet and played every horn on the wonderful, marvelous night you were born.” Check out Nancy Tillman’s other titles as well. She’s got a handful that work well for adoptive families.
Published in 2000, I Love You Like Crazy Cakes has become a Chinese adoption book classic. It’s the story of a single mother and a Chinese baby girl as they become a family. Not really applicable for a lot of families (married parents with other kiddos or adoptions from the special needs program, for example) and not great for reinforcing attachment practices (talks about passing the baby around at the airport and “more and more” people coming to visit at first…eek!), but some of you will find it sweet all the same. I like it for a few poignant quotes: “How did this happen? How did someone make this perfect match a world away?” and on their first night together, “I held you tightly, kissed you softly, and cried. The tears were for your Chinese mother, who could not keep you. I wanted her to know that we would always remember her. And I hoped she knew you were safe and happy in the world.”
Rose Lewis strikes again with Orange Peel’s Pocket. Confronted with a classroom wanting her to tell them about China and realizing she didn’t know much of what to say, a girl nicknamed Orange Peel (adopted from China) decides she’ll learn some things as she runs errands with her mom that day. As they visit their regular haunts (tailor, antique store, florist, noodle shop, ice cream shop, etc.), the shop owners slip little trinkets into her pocket that she can use to teach her classmates about China. She then nervously but excitedly takes the treasures into school and stands up front to teach her friends about all the things she knew all along about the place she was born. I love this book. The illustrations are adorable, and the story is even better. It’s a great one to read if/when your child is struggling with how to explain her birth place to others. And you could use it as a great starting point to gather your own little bag of treasures that help her to share about China with her family or friends. Love it (and recommend that you grab a good used copy fast as it’s now out of print).
Looking for a book for a waiting mom…or a mom no longer waiting? God Found Us You is a good one. I can identify with that Mama Fox who prayed and prayed, wondered and dreamt, and waited through the seasons for God to find her her child. As Mama Fox tells the story, Little Fox asks her, “Did you ever want to give up?” to which she replies, “Sometimes…But I trusted that God knew you, and knew me, and knew when we’d fit perfectly together.” (sigh) Little Fox does ask about his birthmother, and Mama Fox’s first response is just right: “She must have had very big reasons to give you up. She must have thought it was best for you.” But that’s followed with Mama Fox’s belief that she “prayed like crazy” that Little Fox would be safe: “I think she prayed for me as much as I prayed for her.” Not a promise I can make my daughter, so I usually change the words a bit here. Beautiful illustrations and beautiful words that remind me of our own story and my journey as a mother. And I love that cute foxes can apply to domestic or international adoptive families AND that Little Fox is a boy (finally, an adoption book that features a boy! Not that I need one personally…).
Foxes, kangaroos, birds, and now….lizards. Oliver: A Story About Adoption is unique to the other books we have in that it shares about the feelings and thoughts Oliver (a young adoptee) has when he’s punished, wondering what it would be like if he lives with his birthparents instead of his adoptive parents. He imagines all the things his birthparents might be doing, what they might be like. In the end, he’s comforted knowing that his nonadopted parents also wondered when they were kids what it would be like to live with another family and decides to stay put right where he is. Not one I’m going to start reading to our almost 5-year-old now, but one I want to have on hand for when I feel like she’s ready for this type of conversation…not sure what readiness looks like yet but trusting I’ll know it when it’s time. Illustrations are simple sketches that you could even allow your child to color in to customize it if you’d like.
The Name Jar is a Korean book, and it isn’t about adoption. So, why is it on my list? It’s the story of Unhei, new to the country, new to her town, new to school. When her first trip on the school bus ends with kids making fun of her name, she decides in class she’s going to pick a new name, but doesn’t know what to pick. Her classmates start a name jar for her with all their suggestions for good names, stumped by this new girl who doesn’t have a name already. When a classmate overhears a Korean store owner use Unhei’s real name, he becomes the hero by kidnapping the name jar and encouraging Unhei to introduce herself as herself. Though this isn’t about adoption, I think it’s such a great book to read with older adoptees newly home who may be struggling with their English skills or, if they kept all or part of their original name, how to fit in with all the American kids. Yangsook Choi is a favorite of mine.
My older kids LOVE books they can fill in about themselves…okay, maybe some adults do too. It’s fun to have a book about you. For families bringing home older kids, Me and My Family would be helpful. This large, spiral bound book is divided into 3 sections: (1) to introduce yourselves and welcome the child before he or she actually joins your family, (2) when the child is “moving in” and getting to know all of you and (3) living together for the long haul. You may need to adapt it some if you are doing it together once the child is home, but the beauty of the spiral binding is that you can remove pages easily that you don’t want in there. You can view sample pages from the book here courtesy of BAAF. I formally requested that they reprint this book with content in different languages and a little different layout so that it could work with children adopted internationally. The powers there weren’t interested since the target population is getting smaller. Boo. I’m thinking I may have a project in front of me. Stay tuned.
Ellen Levine’s I Hate English! isn’t directly about adoption, but is an awesome resource (seriously) for families adopting a child from China who is old enough to be fully verbal in Chinese and struggle with the transition to English in his or her new family. The book is about a girl from China who moves to New York and finds herself angry that no one knows Chinese. It deals with the anxiety of losing something special as well as the frustration of learning something new. Great book at a great price. Grab it quick as well as it’s also out of print.
I Don’t Have Your Eyes is a good book for children who look physically different than their families — bio or adoptive. (Don’t be fooled by the cover, by the way. Lots of diversity represented, not just Asian.) The illustrations aren’t my favorite, but the text is simple and easy to read. And the message is a good one for toddlers and preschoolers as well as their older siblings, in our case: Though there are many ways we look different, there are just as many ways we are the same. This book helps families celebrate their differences while also emphasizing that our hearts are what matter most.
Book reviews continue on page 3.
A book about international adoption of an older girl. Sisters is a cute story about Melissa, the bio older girl, and Kika who has just joined the family through adoption (country isn’t named, but parents do travel for a couple weeks to bring her home and she has dark, wavy hair and fair skin). In simple language and cute pictures, Sisters touches on Kika’s fears and adjustments as well as Melissa’s. In the end, they argue and make up…just as sisters do. This one is getting harder and harder to find, too, as it’s been out of print for a while now. If you’re at all interested, snag a copy now.
The Day We Met You in very simple, easy language tells the story of a family hearing they have a child for the first time and then meeting that child. Not my favorite illustrations or book in general, but since it’s gender and type of adoption neutral, you can easily read this one aloud and personalize it and expand it as you see fit for your little one. A good attachment prop, in my opinion.
Since when does 1994 qualify to be called “the olden days”? Fred Rogers’ Let’s Talk About It: Adoption has great content, very matter of fact about what a family is, what adoption is and feelings a child may have about it. But, the pictures? Really? Real photos of children and families that are as early 90s as you can get. Call me shallow (no, please don’t), but I can barely stand the mom jeans and big hair. This one is staying on my shelf for now since the content is so good, but I am officially requesting that the awesome people at the Fred Rogers Center republish this one with either illustrations or new photos (that someone else can cringe at in another 15-20 years).
A Mother for Choco celebrates transracial adoptive families through a bird, a bear, a hippo, an alligator and a pig. Choco sets out to find a mother and learns that his mother doesn’t have to look like him, she just has to care for him. Good for all adoptive families — especially transracial ones and ones with adopted boys.
A Blessing from Above…literally…when a baby bird falls out of the nest and into the empty pouch of a kangaroo. Cute little story with adorable illustrations. Note that in this book, the mama blue bird keeps a nestful of babies but is okay with her “littlest one” being adopted by a kangaroo since she knows “her nest was not big enough for all her chicks.” That’s hard. But that alone makes this book a helpful resource because that’s something our children may have to process through at some point, as hard as it is.
A king and queen who have it all feel like something is missing and set out to find it in The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale. They follow a red thread clear across the world — at the advice of an old peddler — to a baby in a basket. They question the villagers there who she belongs to, and an old woman tells them she belongs to them. They take her home where she becomes the princess, and they “never felt the pain in their hearts again.” When they try to seek out the old peddler to reward him for his help, they find that he’s traveled to another kingdom to help another king and queen with pain in their hearts. It’s not my favorite adoption book since the missing piece of birth parents leaves a lot missing to me. But fairy tales are what you make of them. My advice? This isn’t a “let’s-read-a-quick-book-before-bed” type of book. You are going to need to take some time afterwards to talk about who could have put the baby there with the red thread tied to her foot and why.
If you want simple language for little ones and simple drawings to catch little ones’ attention, We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families by Todd Parr is one you’ll want for your shelf. Every page set starts with “We belong together because…” and starts with “you needed a home and I had one to share” and then goes through a handful more including “you needed someone to kiss your boo-boos and we had kisses to give.” Designed to work for all sorts of adoptive families with pronouns that change and people of different colors (think blue and purple!). I like this one and find myself wanting to take it and make my own book for each of my kids from it, bringing in what I believe are the reasons we belong together.
Finding a Family for Tommy was written for young kiddos (18 mo-5 years old) in very simple language with lift-up flaps (and a spiral bounding…which I like). Tommy needs a family, and each page shows places with families that wouldn’t work — the farm, the pond, the zoo, etc. In the end, just when you think Tommy will never find a family, a picture with lots of people with friendly faces is revealed with the text, “Hooray! Here are some families. Not too smelly or soggy or scary. Which one is right for Tommy?” I’m well aware of the lack of good books for foster kids; this is a good one. And what I like about it, too, is that you can read it with children adopted domestically or internationally from birth or as toddlers, etc., just to open up the discussion about what makes a family and how a child new to a family may feel. Another good resource from BAAF.
I haven’t gotten my hands on It’s Tough to be Gentle, The Redo Roo, or Cindy R. Lee’s other titles yet. But, they are sitting in my Amazon shopping cart for when I free up enough money to buy them all. Lee has written eight children’s books so far to help parents teach their kids TBRI® principles (as developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross at the Institute of Child Development). Proceeds from the books are being donated to HALO Project, an intensive intervention program for foster and adoptive children of which Cindy is the director, and the Institute of Child Development which is super cool.
Kelly Raudenbush is a mother to four children and cofounder of The Sparrow Fund, a nonprofit committed to encouraging and equipping adoptive families. Learn more about her family's adoption story, how she's been changed by it and what life for as a parent to four children with all sorts of unique needs and gifts at My Overthinking.