Thursday, February 4, 2021

Common Challenges of Adoption Books Written for Children

I started to write out my thoughts in an Instagram post, thanking those who had sent me books from my Amazon Wishlist. Although I have not looked at my new books yet, I reflected upon all the ways in which me looking at these books is necessary. I started to share that in an Instagram post, and it became too long.

I make it a priority to review children's adoption books because there are so few out there. Sure, there are plenty of books that involve adoption and adoption-like scenarios as a part of a fictional plot. However, when it comes to using a book to help a younger adopted or fostered child understand adoption and their place within it - these books are few and far between. There are some tendencies in children’s adoption books that make them really hard to recommend or use:

First, some are too general and don’t impart any one solid theme that a given child may need. This is the best case scenario because I can adapt these books easily with my own exercises. This is why I request books in the first place. I often can't just recommend one or the other outright. I create guides, questions, and activities to adapt them to make them appropriate for a greater number of adopted and fostered children.

Second, some are too specific. Some details of some books are highly dependent upon certain circumstances in order for the lessons they teach to be relevant or appropriate. For example: a book where the only scenario mentioned is a child adopted as an infant by parents of the same race. The book wants this child to know they are loved because their first parents “made an adoption plan.” This type of book is going to be relatable to the absolute fewest number of adopted children as this specific adoption scenario is the rarest form of adoption there is.

I’m not that saying that some children don’t benefit from a book like that. It's hard to recommend a book like this as a general resource because it is not a general resource. And it should not be the majority of books out there available.

Third, some books lack an adoptee/fosteree perspective. I do like some books written by non-adoptees and fosterees. This includes books by adoptive, first, or foster parents. For example, I like An-ya and Her Diary by my good friend Diane Rene Christian. Diane is a trained writer who has spent years working hard to understand adoptees. And she has shared almost every part of the fruits of her labor directly back with the adoptee community.

When parents are authors, they tend to write books that focus on these three main intentions:
  • What I want my kid to think about themself.
  • What I want my kid to think about adoption.
  • What I want my kid to think about me and my role in their adoption. 
These intentions may or may not be relevant to an adoptee’s actual perspective and may not create space for them to think their own independent thoughts.

Last, some adoption books are not inclusive and do not offer adequate representation. White kids can read a book where children and families of color are represented and benefit wonderfully from it. Themes of difference between people are relevant to them - even if they don't share those differences directly (i.e. being a BIPOC kid in a white family). However, BIPOC kids do not benefit from the issues and themes spoken of in books that represent only white kids in the same way. A book that shows how a white child is aware they do not look like their white parents because their eye color or nose shape is different does not translate to the gravity of the experiences of a transracially adopted children. The theme of this book does not respectfully translate to experiences of kids of color who are oppression based on their appearance in ways their white family does not experience. 

I don't know how I will adapt these books, or if I even can, before I dive into them. But I am happy to do so because it is so necessary. Expecting BIPOC, or disabled, or queer (etc) children to create their own representation and meaning within books where they are not represented is disrespectful and tone-deaf. Unfortunately, sometimes diverse books kids need simply do not exist and they are left with what is available. 

When I create exercises around adoption books, discussions of who is left out of a book, how we would like to include them in the book if we could, and why are always included. Acknowledgement that a child's experience and representation is missing from available books is always included in my work with every child and family as well as an apology from me as an adult and professional on behalf of the surrounding world, to the child, because this is not OK.