I came across a list of books targeting children as the audience with the subject being transracial adoption [link].
Can you now imagine or consider that these might have been helpful/hurtful reading as a child?
What books did you turn to (consciously or not-so) to help you deal with your adoption and/or these issues?
This is a difficult but very interesting question that you pose Daniel. Personally back in the 60s when I was adopted books specifically written about adoption were not available at least not to me – maybe the professionals but as fiction for children or indeed as guidance for APs – no. I was one of one hundred and six Hong Kong Chinese babies and small children that were transracially adopted by English families in the UK. We were the first organised group of tansracially adopted children. My literal experience of adoption came reading the classics as a child such as Dickens and Bronte tails of abuse and rejection. Not very positive. In this day and age part of me welcomes the range of literature available for children to read, but there is a part of me that cringes at some of the evangelical titles that I have seen. That are mere excuses for how and why certain APs have transracially adopted. I would say that there is no substitute for actually being able to read the words and share the thoughts and emotions of fellow adoptee. There is no substitute for being able to engage face to face with a fellow adoptee – irrespective of what their experience has been. Fiction that is third hand and removed or that comes from the APs perspective I am personally always wary of. As it very often speaks for the child or the baby making assumptions that no right thinking person can make. Each adoptee will go on their own journey of rediscovery. Anything that helps this journey for the individual I welcome as long the material does not hold some hidden agenda and is truly for the benefit of the adoptee and not some other cause
Because my mother was a librarian, she brought home “Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye” by Lois Lowry. It’s about a young woman who, instead of heading off to college after high school, decides to search for her birth mother. I remember enjoying the story; it was not hurtful. Then again, it was a young adult book and I was a teenager. I don’t remember the outcome (too long ago!) but I felt comforted knowing that I wasn’t alone in my questions about searching.
“…but there is a part of me that cringes at some of the evangelical titles that I have seen. That are mere excuses for how and why certain APs have transracially adopted.” I TOTALLY AGREE!
I was not read anything about adoption nor was it talked about – really. As a child I felt isolated, alone. It seems today the memoirs of adoptees are getting read by adult adoptees. But we have a long way to go…still…
Last year, I did a critical literature review of children’s adoption books. I know many of the title on this list. A Mother For Choco was one of my favorites growing up, as well as Mommy Near, Mommy Far. I gave these both great reviews. I read Star of the Week for the first time last year and would highly recommend it. There is strong father presence and a honest effort to explain/answer the girls questions. The protagonist expresses a vast array of emotions, true to the real situation. I Love You Like Crazy Cakes is a sweet story, but at second glance there are some questionable phrasings. Sweet Moon Baby and The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale are both books that I think could be very harmful to an adoptee. The focus of these is on the aspect of “fate” – essentially that children were destined to be adopted and removed from their original home and that this choice was the only and absolutely correct way of doing things. Sweet Moon Baby’s birthparents “place her in a basket and set her adrift: “We must trust the moon. Only good things will happen to our daughter.” Helped by a variety of animals as well as a beneficent-looking moon, the baby girl floats down the “winding river” to the arms of her loving adoptive parents.” The Red Thread additionally complicated the adoption story by making the girl a princess and the birthparents King and Queen, trivializing and making a serious topic almost “fantastical” and too fictionalized.
I have full book reviews of some books here. http://redthreadbroken.wordpress.com/category/childrens-books-reviews/
* Can you now imagine or consider that these might have been helpful/hurtful reading as a child?
Although I had no youthful exposure to stories written specifically on/about transracial adoption, I can imagine that any information, whether pertaining to transracial adoption or other matters, will have an effect upon children. Some tales may provide palliation if they fit a child’s lived experiences, yet others may cause problems should the fictions (written by adults) not fit with reality. Children’s literature, no matter how carefully crafted to be ‘suitable’ for children, is always written by adults and, told from an adult perspective, frame the “transracial adoptee” as an object, an “other” by way of race and familial-legal-social status — apparently the reality of the matter does not sufficiently manifest itself in day-to-day life.
I suspect an AP would/will select a fiction that makes them feel good, that fits their worldview, and then, rather than articulating the truth of the matter, would/will say something to the effect of, “Here, little child, read this/we’ll read this together because I am incapable of helping you, of explaining to you why you are not truly a part of this family/community/society/nation-state.” By offering up the tales written by others, the AP is able to side-step the discomfort of recognizing they have no idea what it is like to be “an other”… it is too bad that excepting, perhaps, for Charles Dickens, tales of “Poor Laws” and the transportation of children are secreted away…
* What books did you turn to (consciously or not-so) to help you deal with your adoption and/or these issues?
The earliest books I “turned to” were those available in the children’s library of the church where he-who-raised-me was minister. Most of those books were of do-gooding and church history. All were written from the perspective of indoctrinating youths into a “peace church” worldview that, by the way, included civil disobedience when the laws of men collided with those of a higher moral nature. After reaching an age at which I was permitted to undertake selecting books on my own — starting around age five or six, subject to “age appropriateness”, availability and intellectual capability — I turned to tales written by Franklin W. Dixon, Victor Appleton, Carolyn Keene, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Plato, Isaac Asimov, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Johann David Wyss.
The effects of children’s literature might be considered in relation to childhood development and, in particular, the rather rapid brain pruning/planing during certain phases of growth. An article regarding children’s litereature [Roth, S. N. (2005). The mind of a child. Journal of the Early Republic, 25(1), 79-109.] suggests that “truth(s)” learned early in life may lead to long-term personal and societal effects. Perhaps the tales we are told as children become “hard wired” into our neural circuitry, molding and shaping not only our rational thought processes but also the corollary production of neuro-chemicals and hormones that affect/cause our emotions, and actions and inactions alike…
All told, it seems children’s books regarding transracial adoptions are written for the purposes of adults. They normalize the “truth of the goodness” of adoption, per se, and, further normalize the adoption of children of subaltern others. Such texts normalize what has been called “privilege” (primarily of wealth), while hiding the physical and social violence that the privileged have blinded themselves from seeing — such is the nature of “social truth”…
Like many here, I didn’t have any adoption-specific titles, and in a way I am thankful for that….as Brent is saying, I am glad I didn’t have that extra indoctrination in “my” language.
Plus so much of multicultural reading really gets to me in terms of the Great Lie they try to make everyone swallow.
There was Pearl S. Buck on the bookshelves at home; there were also picture books on Lebanon that showed me my “culture”, although here looking at them this is nothing if not completely ridiculous and laughable.
In thinking back, the most formative books I read were the Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass books illustrated by John Tenniel. The illustrations were what got me interested in illustration as an artform. The stories, of someone lost in worlds she can’t make sense of, just this side of dangerous, unlike those around her, with all the same a need to really pound her brains in order to make sense of things resonates now that I think about it. I have a really large collection of Alice books as well as Carrollania at this point.
The other story that sticks with me, that I would read again and again, was The Little Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Hans Christian Anderson [link]. The edition I had was illustrated by Arthur Szyk (Grosset & Dunlap, 1945). The translation was pretty over the top—”great, fat, sprawling spiders spun webs of a thousand years round and round her feet”—and to this day and I put my learning of the word “noisome” to having read this story so many times.
The tale is of a girl who is indentured to a wealthy family since hers is too poor to take care of her. She grows up arrogant and proud, and instead of soiling her shoes in a puddle of mud, she puts the bread down that her poor mother made as a gift in order to use it as a stepping stone. She sinks down into Hell for all intents and purposes, which is populated by the vilest of creatures as well as the lower classes. Her purgatory is to be transformed into a bird that during the winter must gather enough crumbs to make up the loaf of bread she so wasted, at which point she goes to Heaven.
Good God. How did kids survive this stuff?
How weird that in thinking of these now they make so much sense in terms of their resonance….need to think of anything else….
Funny you mention Hans Christian Anderson–I was obsessed with The Ugly Duckling (as well as the Danny Kaye movie musical about Anderson). I knew I wasn’t a duck, that I was a secret swan. And I was fixated on that story. When I finally found my parents a couple years ago, I thought, especially with my paternal side, I’d found my swan family. Now I’m a very torn and bewildered hybrid. More like a mule with wings.
I despised “Annie” and her damn 1/2 locket and people-pleasing. I hated “Oliver” and his damn compliace and overcoming adversity. And Pollyanna. Well. Screw her, too. Grateful orphan goody-two-shoes.
I loved Alice. And I loved anything Twilight Zone and Hitchock–bewildered people not understanding the rules of their new world, or how they got there, or what their role is. Daphne Du Maurier’s/Hitchock’s “Rebecca” is the ultimate adoption movie. No one will tell our protagonist the secret of Rebecca. Is she replacing Rebecca? Should she try to be more like Rebecca? I ate it up as a kid, and upon a recent viewing, I realize why.
“Konrad” by Chtistine Nostlinger made a huge impression on me as a little kid. About a boy who is manufactured in a factory and arrives at his “family’s” house in a tin garbage can. I think they just add water and then, presto: a son. But poor Konrad never feels “right,” even though he is guaranteed to be perfect in every way. Ring any bells, adoptees?
I’m not a transracial adoptee–I’m just NJ-born, but finding out my father’s side is Irish/Swedish after being raised Jewish/Atheist, feeds the perpetual feeling that I’m a fraud. And always will be.
Thrice-weekly therapy helps.