Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A is for Adoption, C is for China

Foreign adoption, which used to be a rare niche in the world of adoption, has now become more common and a better-known practice. Because not much had been written about the experience prior to the late 1990s, we are in the last ten years seeing a number of books written by parents who have adopted from overseas themselves (marked with an *) and now want to address the topic for their children and for other families.

Many countries are home to children who need families, and adoptions from Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, and Eastern Asia are becoming more prevalent, particularly as celebrities open their homes to children from around the world. China, in particular, has seen a large number of its baby girls leave its own borders, while Korea has also had a relatively high rate of foreign adoptions. This translates into stories readily available about adopting from these countries, so today we shine a spotlight on a few of these.

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, by *Rose A. Lewis, ill. Jane Dyer (2000)

Told as a story and illustrated with Jane Dyer’s stunning watercolours, this is an early and lovely entry in this niche. This story talks a bit of the journey to China and the adoption, but more about the process of bonding between the mother and her new baby. While I’m not a fan of sappy, I think this strikes a nice tender note as a love story to share with a child as she grows.

White Swan Express, by Jean Davies Okimoto and *Elaine M. Aoki, ill. Meilo So (2002)

This colourful book focuses on the actual journey that four families take on the same day to pick up daughters from an orphanage in Guangzhou. There is not a lot of discussion about why they adopted or how they became a family, though.

An Mei’s Strange and Wondrous Journey, by *Stephan Molnar-Fenton, ill. Vivienne Flesher (1998)

Told from the perspective of baby An Mei, the tale gives only vague impressions of her mother leaving, a man taking her to somewhere new, and a new place becoming familiar until she felt safe. It is a bit abstract for using as a discussion tool, but has a soothing rhythm that might make it a nice story ritual for parents and children to share.

Waiting for May, by *Janet Morgan Stoeke (2005)

Told from the perspective of a brother-to-be, this book walks through the process of adoption from China and answers a lot of the questions a child might have about becoming an adoptive sibling, including why it all takes so long. The brother makes the trip to China to pick up his new sister, too, so this journey is also described. This brother is, it must be said, uniquely excited and eager, even when considering the negatives, but I like that the book does talk about the whole experience, including baby May’s distress at leaving her familiar orphanage, so it makes for good preparation. I also liked the illustrations for this – simple, but quite lovely. This may be my favourite of the bunch.

Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story, by *Carol Antoinette Peacock, ill. Shawn Costello Brownell (2000)

Elizabeth and her sister Katherine were both born in China, and one day, Elizabeth discovers that she has two mommies, one in China, and one here. This book recounts many rituals and conversations between mother and adoptive daughter that cover why her birth mother would have given her up, why her “near” mother wanted her, and how they are family because of love, just like their dog is part of their family because they wanted her and love her. It also discusses seeing a Chinese mother and daughter one day and feeling sad because she was reminded of her “far” mommy and how she had been given up. This book has nice illustrations, and strikes a really nice note of understanding while really communicating a feeling of deep love between the mother and daughter.

Jin Woo, by Eve Bunting, ill Chris Soentpiet (2001)

The story of adopting Jin Woo, a baby boy from Korea, is told from the point of view of the only child who will become his older brother. As preparations unfold in the week before Jin Woo’s arrival, the boy has some doubts and mixed emotions which are told in language and symptoms that make sense for a young boy’s description of his own reaction to his parents’ excitement. This baby, rendered in stunning watercolour, arrives on a plane with an escort, who explains his name and some of his traditions. The brother begins to feel better when he helps out with the baby and hears tales from the neighbours of the commotion when he was adopted, but a letter “from Jin Woo” explaining that the attention he needs won’t detract from his parents’ love is the final piece to help him feel okay about the new family member.

Families are Different, by *Nina Pellegrini (1991)

Not specifically about foreign adoption, though it is mentioned that Nico and her sister are from Korea, this book focuses on how a girl’s anxiety over being different from her parents is eased when she realized that families come in all different shapes and sizes and looks, but what they have in common is being held together by love.

Parents may also want to take a look at Nancy Carlson’s My Family is Forever, which is about adoption and families. While it does not address adoption from China or Korea directly, it takes on many of the questions a child might have, reinforces the strength and love of an adoptive family, and features an Asian-looking child in the illustrations, so it makes a nice place to start discussions.

These books and more about adoption – in both fiction and non-fiction – are available at your public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ais for Adoption, B is for Books

This month, look for a two-part series on adoption. This first part presents books on adoption in a general fashion, while the second part will focus on overseas adoption, particularly from China and Korea.

Adoptive children often have questions about their origins, and parents just as often have a difficult time addressing the questions or the issue as a whole. Parenting books on talking to your child are very helpful in giving suggestions for opening the topic and thinking in advance about what you as a parent might want to tell you child. But how to start the conversation with your child? Sometimes it helps to have a starting place, something to raise the subject, and something that lets your child know at the same time that they are not alone. This is where a children’s book on the topic at hand can be a wonderful tool. I have included books that I really like and books that I am not so fond of here, with notes about those I found particularly good, so that you can get a sense of what is out there for you, should you want to talk about adoption (theirs or someone else’s) with your child.

The Day We Met You, by Phoebe Koehler (1990)

A very simple book about the preparations that were made to receive the new baby, this would be a good first read for a very young child. With bright and simple illustrations of everyday things in the home, this book is designed to comfort while beginning to address the issue of where a child has come from.

Steven’s Baseball Mitt, by Kathy Stinson, ill. Robin Baird Lewis (1992)

Here, Kathy Stinson works the same magic that made Red Is Best so wonderful – she somehow puts a child’s feelings into just the sort of words a child might use. Steven talks frankly about how he feels different – sometimes good, sometimes bad – and how he wonders about his birth mother, even though in the end, he couldn’t imagine living in a different family. I think this book tackles the emotional side of growing up adopted in a more straightforward manner than most, and does it in a way that makes it clear it’s okay to both wonder about where you came from and love being where you are. I heart Kathy Stinson!

A Koala for Katie, by Jonathan London, ill. Cynthia Jabar (1993)

This older book is perhaps my favourite of the lot. In it, Katie asks her parents about where she came from, and it is clear that the conversation has happened before – and indeed, it is the sort of talk that will have to happen again and again over a child’s life as they grow and understand in different ways. Katie’s mom tells her that her first mommy was too young to take good care of her, but loved her and wanted a good life for her. On an outing to the zoo, Katie applies her questions to a baby koala she sees and furthers her understanding by “adopting” a stuffed version. She playacts taking care of her koala, becoming its mommy. I like the way this shows how a child assimilates information in imaginative play, as well as the informative note from the Northwest Adoption Exchange at the beginning of the book. Note: This is no longer widely available at the library, as it is an older book, but is still in print in paperback (0807542105).

Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born, by Jamie Lee Curtis (1996)

I like the warm tone of this sweet and sometimes funny remembrance of the excitement adoptive parents feel about the birth of their long-awaited child. In it, a child asks her adoptive parents to tell her the story of her birth. This one particularly has a warm and familiar feel without straying into the sappy – it’s clear from the telling that the tale is well-worn and much told.

Over the Moon, by Karen Katz (1997)

This colourful book is a bit about waiting for an adoptive baby, a bit about the voyage to pick one up, and a bit about learning to take care of a new baby. There is a brief mention of talking about how she grew in another woman, but by and large, this book does not seek to address those questions, just to recount a bit about how the family became a unit. Note: This book, too, is not widely available in libraries due to its age, but is still in print in both hardcover (0805050132) and paper (0805067078).

We Wanted You, by Liz Rosenberg, ill. Peter Catalanotto (2002)

Luminously illustrated, this simple book is focused exactly what the title puts forth – that the adoptive parents wanted and waited for their child. Some mention is made of preparing while waiting, and of the fact that they were not the child’s first parents, but it is very brief. This books does not take on any of the issues or discussions a family might have, but seems very much geared towards reassuring a child that they are cherished, ending in the phrase, “And we still do.”

You’re Not My Real Mother! by Molly Friedrich, ill. Christy Hale (2004)

This book focuses on the many things an adoptive parent does that make them a “real” mother, with only a brief stop to discuss that the mother doesn’t look like the daughter because she was not her birth mother, to whom this “real” mother is grateful every day. This book puts the emphasis squarely on the idea that a mother is born of love, not just of pregnancy, which I like. That said, I don’t love this book that much. Perhaps because of the structure (starting with a child telling her mother she’s not her “real” mother and her mother proving that she is), perhaps because of the way love is demonstrated through recounting the things she’s done for her (though I understand that urge, as a mom!), it feels a bit defensive, though I do feel that the love comes through nonetheless.

Megan’s Birthday Tree: A Story About Open Adoption, by Laurie Lears, ill. Bill Farnsworth (2005)

The only book I’ve seen among these that directly talks about open adoption, this young girl counts her birth mother among her family friends. The two share a connection, made tangible by Megan’s “birthday tree.” When her birth mother is going to move house, Megan is worried that she will forget about her and looks for a replacement tree to send along, but she soon finds that the original is already packed to move, too. The book ends on a nice note of shared caring and connection.

Mama, by Jeanette Winters (2006)

This lovely, folk-artish book uses the story of Owen and Mzee, the famed hippo-and-tortoise duo from the Tsunami of 2004, in nearly wordless form to show how a new family can form as the young hippo adopts the tortoise as his mother. This story is sweet and very understated in the parallel it draws.

Find these and more books about adoption at a public library near you!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.