I have received many inquiries from families living overseas asking for children’s book recommendations on the theme of adoption. Since we do not have adopted children, I asked for advice from several families I know who have, as well as researched and read stacks of adoption books on my own.
I am thankful to Cindy Tirey who has shared with me her own personal and family favorites. Thanks, Cindy! I have also drawn on the expertise of several others, including Kelley Raudenbush, founder of The Sparrow Fund, a fund that give grants to families adopting internationally so that they could enroll in programs that would give them preadoption support, counsel, and medical reviews or referrals (http://sparrow-fund.org). Kelly has put together an extensive list of Adoption-Themed children’s book for the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota. You can read her list and recommendations at https://chlss.org/blog/favorite-adoption-themed-books/.
In reading through reviews of various adoption-themed books, there is a wide range of opinions concerning what should and should not be included in adoption books, especially related to the issue of how to explain to a child why they were adopted. There is controversy over the use of certain words like “give away” or “give up”, as well as how the topic of grief and loss is handled or not handled. I have added some notes after certain books that are overall positive and well loved, but have also received negative feedback from adoptive families for certain aspects of the book.
I know from emails I receive that many family living overseas are choosing adoption. I think that’s awesome and I want to help by providing resources here at Kids Books Without Borders. I recently talked with a friend who lives overseas and has two adopted children. She was sharing that for an adopted third culture kid, take the losses one feels from being a TCK, and double that. Given the losses I feel or have felt at times, I can’t even imagine!
Someone needs to write a book for children about being a adopted TCK. Anyone? Until then, here are some great books that I would recommend:
God Found Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren, art by Laura J. Bryant (2009)
For Ages 3-7
From the author of the bestselling God Gave Us You, comes this simple tale told from the perspective of a little fluffy white fox cub who asks his mother one night: “Mama, tell me again about the day I came home.” The story unfolds with the Little Fox asking questions and Mama telling the story of how God brought Little Fox into their home and hearts. As Mama shares his adoption story, they cuddle and snuggle under a starry night. The book ends with “When God found us you, Mama Fox whispered in his dreams, “you made me the happiest mama in the world.” Laura J. Bryant’s art work, filled with warmth and tenderness in hues of pastel greens and blues compliments this story beautifully. Many adoption books are about adopted girls, this one is about a boy.
Note: some adoptive parents have issues with the following in this book:
⁃ the focus is not on how the child felt or is feeling, but on the mother, her feelings of longing and loneliness before little fox came home
⁃ Some readers with adopted children have had a strong reaction to to the term used about the birth mother when Little Fox asked why he couldn’t stay with his birth mother. The mother responds “She must have had very big reasons to give you up.” The term to “give up” or “give away” can be hurtful to a child. A better way would be to say “She must have very big reasons to find a forever family for you”. If this is an issue for you, you could edit this when reading it to your child.
Sisters by Judith Caseley (2004)
For ages 5-10
International adoption – siblings
The focus of this book is both on adopting an older child and on the relationship with siblings. Kikka has just been adopted – she appears to be around 6 or 7 – and she could be from a variety of countries with dark skin and curly black hair. She is feeling anxious – new language, new home, new foods. She misses her friends and the lively and noisy life at her orphanage. Melissa, her sister, is excited about having a new sister, but she learns that being a sister is not always easy – it means sharing and accepting others just as they are. Told from both Kikka and Melissa’s point of view in alternating chapters, this story offers a window into adoption from different perspectives and would be a great book for both the adopted child and older siblings. Another book along about an older adoptee I recommend Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption and Brownies With Sprinkles by Darlene Friedman, illustrated by Roger Roth.
Sweet Baby Moon – An Adoption Tale by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton (2010)
For ages 3-7
Sweet Baby Moon, written like a fairy tale, with soothing poetic lyrics, would make a great bedtime story. Patrice Barton’s illustrations with backgrounds in shades of blue and grey, with splashes of bright primary colors interspersed creates a sense of warmth, love and gentleness. I love how she uses red as the blanket the baby is wrapped in, the symbolic color of happiness and good luck in Chinese culture. The story takes on a fantastical twist that children will enjoy, as the baby is placed in a basket and sent down the river. As she peacefully sleeps on, various animals from a turtle to a panda take turns caring for her and helping her on her journey under the moonlight until she reaches her destination, opens her eyes and sees the “smiling faces of her mother and father.” Reassuring and filled with love both from the birth parents as well as the adoptive parents, this lullaby is sure to be read over and over again.
Note: The birth parents do give some reasons as to why they choose to find adoptive parents for her, some which may not fit the story of your adoptive child, however, as it reads like a fairy tale, this may not be an issue, but be prepared to answer questions about the child’s birth parents as the child gets older.
Tell me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis (2000)
For ages 4-8
Although I’m not big on celebrities writing children’s books, this one is a treasure, a story birthed from her own life experience. Jamie and her husband have two adopted children. Although this book focuses on domestic adoption, it is broad enough to also connect with children who were adopted internationally (the parents do travel by plane to meet their new daughter).
In Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, a little girl asks her mom to tell the story about that first night and how she came to join her forever family:
“Tell me again about the night I was born.
Tell me again how you would adopt me and be my parents.
Tell me again about the first time you held me in your arms
and called me your baby sweet. Tell me again how you cried happy tears”
Told and retold with lots of humor, this lively and upbeat story resonates with the excitement, joy, and love of those first few days. The watercolor illustrations by Laura Cornell are a jumble of humor, chaos, the unexpected, relatives, emotions and the every day ups and downs of being new parents. I also like the fact that the father is included and is part of the story, not just the mother. A must-read (and own)
Kids Like Me in China by Ying Ying Fry with Amy Klatzkin, photographs by Brian Boyd, Terry M. Fry and Ying Ying Fry (2001)
International Adoption – China
For ages 9 and up
This book is great for an older child who start to ask those questions: where was I born? Who were my birth parents? What was it like at the orphanage? What is China like?
Ying Ying, an eight-year-old girl, adopted from China writes a travel journal about her trip back to China to visit and help at the orphanage where she lived as a baby. This is more than just a book on orphanages from an outsiders perspective. Ying Ying shares her thoughts on her own journey and questions about her birth parents and family:
“Maybe I have a sister in China somewhere. Maybe I have a brother. I wish I knew. I hope someday I’ll find out. I wish I knew what my birth mother looks like. Does her face look like mine? Sometimes I think a lot about stuff like that. But I don’t talk about it much.”
She also wonders what is would be like to live in China, with people that look like her – She remarks after visiting a school, “I hope I can go to their school again some day. I kind of feel like I belong.”
This book will offer your adopted child a glimpse into the thoughts and emotions of another adopted child and their response will most likely be, even if they don’t verbalize it: “she’s the voice inside my head. It’s good to know someone else who feels the way I do.”
A Blessing From Above by Patti Henderson, illustrated by Liz Edge (1999)
From ages 3-7
A very simple and lighthearted story of a Kangaroo who longs for a baby of her own to love and care for. When a baby bird falls from her overcrowded nest right into Momma-roos pouch, little bird became her little one. The overall message is love and joy shared by both the mother and her little one, as well as an answer to the Kangaroo’s prayer. The book ends with: “And now, every night before they fall asleep, Momma-Roo and Little One thank God for all their blessings … but especially for each other.” Several verses from the Bible are included in this Little Golden Book. A good preschool introduction to the topic, conveying loving and caring emotions.
Note: there are certain issues with this story:
– Emphasis seems to be more on the mother and her longings and prayers, and less about what the child is feeling.
– The story seems to make light of the birth mother’s decision to give her child to the Kangaroo. She does not appear to be sad or upset about this.
– Some question how an adopted child would react to being as different from their adoptive parents as a bird is to a kangaroo. I think the story would have been better if the Kangaroo adopted another kangaroo.
A Mother For Choco by Keiko Kasza (1992)
For ages 2-6 and up
Transracial and/or International adoption
If you are looking for the perfect introduction to adoption for preschoolers, A Mother For Choco is a good book to start with. I give it very high marks on the “cuteness” scale alone! Choco, a chubby yellow bird with striped legs is searching for his mother, but no one seems to look like him. When he despairs and begins to cry, Mrs. bear is there to wrap her big arms around him and welcome him in her family. Mrs. Bear asks: “if you had a mommy, what would she do?” Choco describes mommy to her: “She would hold me.. she would kiss me … she would sing and dance to cheer him up”. When Mrs. Bear does all those things and does them well, Choco decides she is the perfect mother. I love the fact that when Choco follows her home, he discovers that her other children include a baby hippo, a baby crocodile and a baby pig. The last illustration is my favorite – Mrs. Bear hugging all her children!
Note: I haven’t read this in reviews, but I do wonder about how a child would react to the beginning of the story where he literally seems abandoned by his mother. …and again, no mention of the father.
Over The Moon: an Adoption Tale by Karen Katz (1997)
For ages 2-8
This book has received rave reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, as well as from many adoptive families. Presented like a fairy tale, Over the Moon chronicles the baby’s birth, the long wait before the arrival and the magical moment of the grand reunion of baby and parents. Great for preschoolers as well as any child who loves a true-to-life fairy tale ending (or beginning) that celebrates the joyful bond of love between parent and child. I love Karen Katz books and this is one that will work well with preschoolers.
“An ebullient tribute for families whose members may have come from a faraway place.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Katz’s exuberance is contagious, bursting forth to make this as sunny as a warm summer day.” ―Booklist
My Adopted Child There is No One Like You by Dr. Kevin Leman, illustrated by Kevin Leman II (2007)
For ages 4-8
Part of a Birth Order Book series, Dr. Kevin Leman is an Christian psychologist, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author of over fifty books, including Have a New Kid by Friday, The Birth order Book , and Making Your Children Mind Without Losing Yours. With warm and humorous illustrations by Leman’s son, this is the story of a young Panda who has to make a family tree for a class project. He feels anxious because his family is different from the other families in the class. Although he is a Panda, his adopted parents are brown bears. When Panda returns home from school dejected, Mama Bear tells Panda the story of how he joined their family and how much he is loved. This story is a great one for transracial adoption. Mama Bear explains that he came from a different forest than the one they live in now. Mama Bear shows him the location on a map and suggests that he might want to learn more about Pandas and how they live. I like the emphasis that is placed on how special their family is and the deep and unending love the parents feel towards him. There is a page that explains why the birth mother chose adoption – she was so young and all alone and wondered how she could care for her cub. Leman describes adoption as “the most loving thing she could do”. I also like the fact that in this book, there is no emphasis on the mother’s feelings before Panda arrived, but only deep feelings of joy, love and excitement over Panda’s arrival and her abiding love for him as his mother. If your child is not ready for the story of his/her birth mother, or if this particular story does not fit their story, that page can be modified. An overall great book that will leave your adopted child feeling special and loved.
Note: The only issue that is not addressed in this book is the loss that comes with adoption and the need to allow the child to feel sadness and grieve that loss.
I love you like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis, illustrated by Jane Dyer (2000)
International adoption book classic
This book is a beautiful and adorable tribute to the bond of love between a mother and her adopted baby. Based on the author own experience, she recounts the events that led up to the adoption, her trip to China and her first encounter with her adopted daughter:
“When you looked at me with those big brown eyes, I knew we belonged together.
I love you like crazy cakes,” I whispered.
How did this happen? How did someone make this perfect match a world away?”
Jane Dyer’s large watercolor pastels capture perfectly the tender heart of the mother and the softness of her rosy-cheek baby girl. I loved the part where the mother is rocking her baby girl to sleeping, holding her tight and shedding tears for the Chinese mother who could not keep her, wishing she could let her know that she will always be remembered, and that her baby is safe and happy.
A great book for read-aloud.
Orange Peel’s Pocket by Rose Lewis, illustrated by Grace Zong (2010)
For ages 5-7
From the author of I Love You like Crazy Cakes, this picture book depicts an older school age (Kindergarten or first grade) adopted child. Orange Peel (her nickname because when she was little she would try to eat the peel of the orange) and her classmates are learning about China. Her classmates have lots of questions for her, but she doesn’t know the answers. That afternoon, as she runs errands with her mom, she learns about China from merchants in her own neighborhood – the tailor Mr. Fan, the poet and calligrapher Ma Sang, the florist Mrs. Liu, the cook Mr. Yu and from Jasmine’s ice cream shop. Each merchant leaves drops a little something in Orange Peel’s pocket. The next day, using all the little treasures from the shop keepers, Orange Peel confidently shares what she has learned about her birth country, China. I appreciated that this picture book is not focused on why the child was adopted, but about learning about the adopted child wanting to learn more about her birth country. I also love the focus on community and learning from others. Children will also enjoy trying to figure out what treasures are hiding in Orange Peel’s pocket.
Happy Adoption Day by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Julie Pashhkis (1996)
For ages 4-8
John McCutcheon is a talented musician and song writer. This book is inspired by his friend who celebrates her child’s adoption day every year. Depicting an international adoption with a trip overseas on a plane, happy adoption day is a celebration of family life and loving homes – “no matter the skin, we are all of us kin – We are all of us one family.” If your family celebrates adoption day, this book and song are the perfect addition to the day:
“So it’s here’s to you and three cheers to you!
Let’s shout it, “Hip, hip, hip, hooray!”
For out of a world so tattered and torn,
You came to our house on that wonderful morn…”
There is a youtube of John McCutcheon singing the adoption song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjFD5Q6G7zI)
Searching for the You We adore by Valerie Westfall –
For ages 4-8
This book has received rave reviews from adoptive families. It can be used both for domestic and international adoption. A red glossy ribbon travels the globe in search of the “one we adore”. The red ribbon shaped like a heart floats out the window of the house and through the skies searching through space and around the world for the “the one and only you”. It travels through Asia and a forest of Panda, to the islands and a sea of dolphins, to Africa and a medley of splashing elephants, to South America’s rain forest, even down under searching in a kangaroo’s pouch, to the arctic regions and inner cities, until you came, the “one we adore.” The message, the soft lyrics, the bright, colorful and stunning illustrations by best-selling artist, Richard Cowley, makes this book one of my favorites. Your child will enjoy following the red ribbon with their finger as you read.
My Mei Meiby Ed Young (2006)
For ages 6 and up
International adoption – China
Based on the author’s own experience, this picure book was written by Ed Young, a Chinese-born American children’s book illustrator and writer. He won the Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood story from China (1990) and for his lifetime contribution as a children’s illustrator, he was twice the U.S. nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. My Mei Mei shares the story of their older daughter Antonia’s adoption from China, followed by their return to China years later to bring home a “Mei Mei” or younger sister, for Antonia. Told from the perspective of the older child, this book follows the initial disappointment and jealousy that Antonia felt –
“She couldn’t walk.
She couldn’t talk.
She couldn’t play.
She took all the attention away from me.”
to the close bond that forms between the two girls as they grow. Beautifully illustrated, with double spreads of up close portraits of the girls, against floral and patterned backgrounds, creates a sense of warmth and unity. I especially love the illustration of them lying on the floor, their legs intertwined reading a book together (see above)
As I mentioned earlier, this list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other great books on adoption. Please share any other books that have been helpful to you or your children in the comments… or any thoughts on the list of books above. Thanks!