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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14 comments:

  1. I am so over-the-moon happy for you!
    That is all.

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  2. I´m one of your surely many anon readers. Just wanted to wish you and your family the best, I´m sure your son will grow up in a home full of love, and books (the best kind of homes ;)).

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    1. Thank you, it's really lovely of you to say so :)

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  3. Family of three? Don't forget your dogs! Wishing you and your family the very best. Cheers.

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  4. What wonderful news! Congratulations. I hope the transition for you all goes well. Omedetou!

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  5. Congratulations!
    I am so happy to read a blogpost like yours ! I am so tired of people considering adoption is a geneous act to the child, or that adopted children are a PRESENT! Especially the international adoption with people so full of themselves telling they will offer the child a better life in a better land yuck yuck! I am myself reading about adoption but now I have one child and it does worry me. What if it doesn't work out, what if my husband cannot get over the fact the child is adopted or that the child cannot get over the fact that I am foreign , that my daughter looks like us , that we speak three languages in my house etc.. I would not like that a child who already had a hardtime since birth and sometimes since pregnancy to go through more trouble and pain just because I did not think it through .. If you could talk more about your honest feelings with your new family , I'd be happy to keep on reading :)

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    1. Thank you :) Yes, there's certainly a lot to think about before making the decision to adopt and definitely something both partners need to be on the same page with~ keep in touch and let us know!

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  6. I'm very excited for you and wish your new family all the best!

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    1. Thank you. The dogs have actually been amazing, so much better behaved than I was expecting!

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  7. Congratulations! So happy for you! I'll look through our books to see what we like - and I totally agree with what you've written here. We'll be ordering All Bears Need Love, thanks to your post, and we absolutely love A Mother for Choco too. L likes to discuss how silly the other animals are to think they can't parent Choco, just because of outward appearances.
    One book I see every once in a while and cannot stand is Are You My Mother? I try to get that one to disappear just because it feeds into the idea that the only "real" families are families that are biologically connected and where the members look alike.

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    1. Thank you very much :) A Mother for Choco has been going down a treat, it is simple enough that I can translate it into Japanese on the fly and he loves the illustration where they imagine if the bear looked like the bird!

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