Authors: Vanita Oelschlager, Kristin Blackwood (illustrations)
This book tells the story of a little girl, adopted from China, and her reaction to her adoptive sister’s comment that she was literally “made in China.” Her sister tells her, “you’re made in China, it’s stamped right on your head,” and “you’re like my shirt and my favorite plaid skirt!” The girl goes to her father, expressing her hurt and confusion. He acknowledges the land of her birth, but concludes that she should not be sad because her adoptive family loves her so much.
This book addresses a very real phrase that adoptees from China will come across. The idea of being “Made in China” will come at them through words and even the physical sticking of “Made in China” package labels on them. Another beneficial quality of this book is that the father is the parent explaining adoption to the little girl. He emphasizes that her birthmother loved her and that giving her up was a very hard decision. In many pieces of literature about adoption, the mothers are the ones who are most present with very passive or completely absent fathers. This could help open up a dialogue on this topic between daughters and their adoptive fathers. The book also deals with another element of familial relationships, attempting to address the less commonly discussed topic of sibling relationships between adopted and biological siblings. Lastly, the book features beautiful illustrations of linoleum cut prints with computer coloring.
Through both illustrations and words, there are several troubling elements to this book. On page 16, the lines read, “He said, Sweetheart, you’re not made like a toy. You were ‘Made in China’ to bring us joy.” By having the father say this, it connotes that the daughter was brought into this world simply for their pleasure, suggesting that the parent’s need for joy was greater than the child’s needs. Additionally, this places a huge burden on the child if they feel that they are responsible for their adoptive parents’ happiness.
Another alarming statement the author makes is, “Please, my dear one, don’t ever be sad. You were ‘Made in China,’ so I’d be your dad.” Sadness and grief are natural feelings for children who have lost their parents and culture. Asking a child to not “ever be sad” places yet another burden on the child when they do have these inevitable feelings of pain or abandonment. “Please, my dear one, don’t ever be sad” is an obvious way for parents to send a message across of closed communication. This could potentially make many adopted children feel uncomfortable and unwilling to discuss their true, intimate feelings with their adoptive parents because the book indicates that the father doesn’t want to hear his child’s sad thoughts. The second statement on this page is, “You were ‘Made in China,’ so I’d be your dad.” This line gives the birthmother the role of simply a surrogate, destined to lose her child to this man, solely so that he can father a daughter from China.
Another major complaint I have about this book is the repeated notion of “Made in China” as shown on the cover and several of the pages within the book. The offensive comment originally by the sister, is repeated again and again by the father when he continuously tells her that she was “Made in China” for several different reasons. The repetition of the statement that the daughter was “Made in China” emphasizes a theme of child commodification and making a transaction comparable to what a person would do for any other product that was “Made in China.” The author could have remedied this by acknowledging that the daughter’s origins lie in China, but that she was not processed and manufactured. The father should have made a distinction between being “made” versus “born” in China. If the child did not pick up on the wordage of this book, surely they would visually see the matching illustrations on the dedication page and again within the story in which there are several images of dolls wrapped in plastic boxes on a conveyer belt. The father tells his daughter that she was “not made like a toy,” but the corresponding image contradicts the father’s message.
My last criticism of the book is that the entire text of the book is explaining to the adopted daughter how she was “Made in China.” The father does not talk to the sister who made the comment about the importance of word choice or why she shouldn’t say insensitive remarks to her sister. In order for this book to effectively confront sibling dynamics of a multicultural home, some sort of consequence should have been given so that the biological daughter knows that she can’t say things like that and so that the adopted daughter knows that she is accepted by everyone in her family.
Initially, the father’s presence in this story could have been a great asset to the collection of adoption literature available to children. However, his points of dialogue erase the possible gain with harmful and confusing messages to the adopted child. Additionally, this book doesn’t show a healthy sibling relationship in which a sibling would typically get reprimanded for teasing the other. While one might be drawn to this book’s charming illustrations, the overall message presented in the book negate the positive elements.