Monday, 5 August 2013

Picture Books About Adoption That Don't Focus on Parents' Desires


(This is the last post for a while, we're about to become a family of three and that's going to need all of my attention! I'll be back, just not for a few weeks. Be good while I'm gone.)

I wanted to buy our son, who will henceforth be referred to  as Tiger*, some picture books about adoption. He is a little too old for most of the picture books on the market, but he doesn't have the language skills for books aimed at his age group. I want him to have something visual not to "help him understand" (he is old enough to know exactly what is happening) but to show him that families like ours are common enough to feature in multiple books. I want him to know that he isn't the only child who looks different from his parents, and if he brings friends home I hope they will flip open the books and see the same thing.

When I began looking for books, I was surprised and honestly a bit upset to see how many titles of books purportedly for adopted children take the adoptive parents' perspective. I haven't read these books, but the titles alone ensure that I'm not buying them. My son isn't a present, he is a person. God didn't give him to me and his loss of his first family and everything he has suffered subsequently was NOT in response to my wish. My wish is that no child is ever in the situation of needing to be adopted by strangers. I wanted books that focus on the child's feelings and experiences, not the parents' loneliness or wishes for a child. One book, "A Blessing From Above", features a bird who gives her chick to a kangaroo because she "knew her nest was not big enough for all her chicks", perpetuating the deeply vile idea that those irresponsibly fertile poor people really ought to hand their babies over to wealthier families, because money = love. Just no. I'm one of five children who grew up in an intermittently welfare dependent household. Quite glad my parents didn't "choose a better life" for me thank you very much.

So what did I end up getting? Unfortunately I couldn't find any books I liked that featured people not animals (I think there are some issues with the way animal adoption stories are often inter-species,
but as an academic I am prone to over analysis I guess), but I did find some child-focused stories.

Here's what we bought:

My favourite is "All Bears Need Love". In the story a polar bear takes care of a brown bear who arrives at the zoo. The other animals raise objections and the polar bear responds to each:
The anteater sniffed. "No one will believe he's yours."
"He will know," said Mama Polar Bear. "That's what's important."
I love picture books where the illustrations contain additional story elements that aren't in the text. In "All Bears Need Love", the background shows the baby bear happily playing with the other baby animals while their parents are in the foreground talking and worrying about 'difference'.

"Rosie's Family" is actually a close contender for favourite and in terms of content the detail makes it the most age-appropriate for an elementary school aged child. The only reason I'm putting it second is that there isn't any kind of story. It's just Rosie talking about her family and her experiences, so I can't see us reading it for fun more than once. It's the only book I found that uses animals of the same species but different breeds (Rosie is a beagle adopted by schnauzers). It also shows a family with both adopted and biological children. The content is fantastic and obviously intended to prompt conversations between parents and children. Rosie talks about feeling angry with her adoptive parents sometimes, and wondering about her birth parents, and missing the place she was "before". These are important and normal feelings that are denied by gratitude-enforcing meta-narratives like "God gave you to us". 

"A Mother for Choco" is another sweet story that starts with a baby bird trying to find his mother by searching for animals with the same physical characteristics (the giraffe is yellow like him but doesn't have wings, the penguin has wings but doesn't have his cheeks etc) but eventually decides that what Mrs. Bear does makes her his mother, even if she doesn't look the same.

"Zachary's New Home" have my favourite illustrations (line drawings, but beautiful and subtly expressive rather than big bold block colours and cartoonish styling). It details Zachary's removal from his first family by a social worker and time in a foster home before his adoption. It's the only book I found where the protagonist has a clear memory of his biological parents and of losing them. The story is sensitive to Zachary having both happy and unhappy memories about life in his first home and a desire to return there. It also covers testing behaviours that strain the relationship between Zachary and his adoptive parents, and Zachary's feelings of rejection and self-blame about losing his first parents. There's a lot of emotional work tucked into a short story. Although not all the specifics are a good match for us, I like the matter-of-fact approach to difficult feelings and events in the book and the focus on Zachary not the adults in the story.

If you have any books to recommend, do please leave a comment! But I won't be replying to comments for a while.

*大翔 (Taiga, pronounced Tiger) is a commonish name around here and we thought it would be a funny 'bilingual' name so while we were waiting we called our son Tiger~ you can't spend a year (or longer) talking about "the child" and statistically he was probably going to be a boy, so Tiger he was until we got a match and a real name. I think it's pretty common for adoptive parents to have a pre-placement name. My eldest niece was Noodles. Anyway, I'm obviously not going to use my son's real name here so he is going to remain Tiger.
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Friday, 2 August 2013

Budget Vegetarian in Japan: August Edition


Previous Editions of Budget Vegetarian in Japan:

Summer is here for real now, with scorching sun, temperatures in the mid-30s and cicadas trying to send you deaf everywhere you go. I'm craving cold, fresh, crispy food that doesn't require much stove time. I apologize as always for the photos. I am not cut out for food photography...

In season this month we have: Capsicum (bell-peppers in American), cucumber, okra, bok choy and other leafy vegetables, and 新しょうが new ginger (no need to peel because the skin is so thin and mild enough to eat raw~ I munched on some like a carrot while cooking today).

Tofu and Herb Cream Cheese

Adapted slightly from Recipes of Japanese Cooking, replacing the gelatin with agar*.
Wrap 1/2 a block of silken tofu in kitchen paper, microwave for 1 minute then wring dry either in robust kitchen paper or a cloth.

Microwave 100g of cream cheese for 30 seconds. Mix with 1/4 of a red onion, finely diced, chives to taste and green herbs to taste.
The agar needs to be dissolved in boiling water, this is just to show you the ingredients
The recipe says three sprigs of Italian parsley but I used about 1/2 cup of basil and Italian parsley combined (what I happened to have in the garden). Stir through a little salt, sugar and the agar, and chill for two hours in molds.
These quantities made four muffin-liner sized cheeses

Savoury Tofu Jelly

Also adapted from Recipes of Japanese Cooking.
I used the remaining half of my silken tofu, cubed, with a small quantity of diced mixed-colour capsicum as the filling. Coloured capsicums are often quite expensive but I got a good deal on these, 30% off!

For the jelly itself , bring 1 2/3 C of stock to the boil, remove from heat and add soy sauce, mirin and cooking sake to taste (I used 2 Tbsp soy sauce and 1 each of the others). Mix through the agar and pour over the fillings. Set in the fridge for at least two hours and garnish with the chives left over from your cream cheese.

Cucumber Three Ways

1. Spicy Yuzu and Daikon Cucumber Salad

Cut new ginger into sticks and flash-fry in very hot olive oil until crisp. If you cook it too long it will become chewing not crispy. Very finely slice a your cucumber and daikon and add the ginger and frying oil when cool.

Use any tangy dressing and toss through with an equal quantity of lemon or other citrus juice. I used this spicy green-pepper yuzu dressing and it matched wonderfully with the sharpness of the daikon.

2. Fresh, Simple Cucumber Salad

On the left, the one on the right is #3
Shred cucumber and mix through some garlic, lemon juice, black pepper and a tiny whisper of olive oil. That's it. 

3. Chili-Fried Cucumber

Growing up I ate cucumber in salads and sandwiches. It was never cooked and never eaten hot. Not so in Japan. This tasty dish is just cucumber fried with salt, sesame oil, garlic and some dried chili~ simple but tasty.

Take care when frying because the high water content of the cucumber makes for lots of spattering. You can eat it hot or let it cool.

Noodle-Stuffed Grilled ピーマン

Cellophane noodles are super cheap, easy and perfect for summer.
Just soak for a few minutes in hot water and it is ready to use

How massive is this eggplant? It's as long as my arm!!

Cost about a dollar
I fried some eggplant with  油揚げ tofu skins that came cheaply in a big bag and added some really good texture contrast with a bit of left-over red capsicum and grated ginger and garlic in sesame oil.

After browning the eggplant I added some kombu dashi, soy sauce and the noodles. Once the stock had been absorbed/evaporated I stuffed the mixture into some crispy Japanese green capsicums

and grilled them until the skin burned. I chilled them in the fridge for a few hours and the flavours matured as they cooled (be careful not to over-season because it will taste much saltier cold than hot).

Mint Ice-Tea

I have an abundance of mint in the garden so I thought I'd have a bash at a minty spin on iced tea.

I ran a cup of fresh mint through the food processor with 3/4 C coarse brown sugar and dissolved the resulting mix into 3/4 C of boiling water.

I made about 8 C of tea using four regular tea bags and 4 Earl Grey. Once it was cool I mixed through the sugar syrup and 1/4 C of lemon juice. It was delicious but I want to try it again with orange juice to compliment the Early Grey. I didn't strain the mint leave out because I'm happy to, as my husband puts it, "eat twigs and leaves", but if I were making it for guests I would strain the syrup before adding it to the tea.

*Agar is called かんてん (寒天) and is available from most supermarkets quite cheaply. Read about how to prepare it at here.

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