When You Were Born in China (Review)

When You Were Born In China

Authors:  Sara Dorow, Stephan Wunrow (photographer)

Ranking: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Plot Summary: 

When You Were Born In China is a beautiful photo memory book for children adopted from China. This is not a fictional story about an individual child, but instead a book of maybes, telling all children from China what the beginning of their lives could have been like. Dorow narrates some of China’s social policies that would have affected a child pre-birth, tells the child what life would have been like in the orphanage or foster home. The book ends the book with what probably happened when parents brought their children to the United States.


The book begins by telling the child that though their story is unique, there are many other children who’s stories begin in China and are somewhat like theirs. She then says, “you already probably know some things about your adoption story.” This implies that the author, a sociologist and adoption specialist, believes that parents should talk to their children about adoption. Parents are likely to take advice from someone who is a “specialist” or seen as having more knowledge. At this point in the book, the child could pipe in by telling their parents what they know or remember hearing. If the parents had not yet told their child much about their adoption, Dorow mentions that the child has probably seen photographs or heard about specific moments. Parents are left with a few tools helping them to continue talking about adoption because Dorow provides these gentle suggestions.

What most parents don’t know is how life was for their child before they met. Dorow understands that children will want to know those facts, and she tries to answer some of these questions through this book. She provides a lot of background information on China in a very small amount of words, but most importantly she stresses that “[children] can be proud that [they] were born in such a magnificent country.” She talks about bicycles and food, but most importantly she talks in depth about China’s One Child Policy. While some books only briefly mention it, Dorow full explains the Once Child Policy using elementary words. She also talks about China’s social structure in which sons take care of their parents in old age. These are key facts that lead to the abandonment and adoption of Chinese children that many authors don’t want to include. But Dorow shows respect to the young readers, knowing that these pieces of information are essential to their stories.

Dorow also addresses another sensitive topic for many adoptive parents: abandonment. She tells the readers that their birth families were heartbroken that they could not keep them and “wept at having to say good-bye.” She describes this “very painful decision that another family should take care” of the child with gentle words that reiterate the amount of love and thought that the birthparents felt for their child, even though they could not keep him or her.

When talking about life in the orphanages, Dorow does not overly glamorize this nor does she make it out to seem like some dismal place. What she describes is an accurate picture of loving nurses who had the responsibility of taking care of many children.

In this book, Dorow is inclusive of everyone. This is one of the only children’s books that addresses the young boys that were adopted from China, as well. In most books, the illustrations are of fully able bodied girls which ignores a large chunk of children who were adopted. Dorow addresses that fact that some boys and girls are born with medical problems that birthparents can’t afford to have fixed. She also speculates that “it’s also possible that your birthmother was not married, and did not have enough money or help from her family to a raise a child by herself.” She mostly talks about the experiences of children who stayed in the orphanages, but she mentions that some lived with foster parents and describes how their lives would have been similar to and different from the children who lived at the orphanage. Dorow also includes a few lines about what orphanage life would have been like for children who were not adopted as babies. Because each child’s situation is unique, Dorow obviously couldn’t cover every type of story. But she does an excellent job talking about the many possibilities of life for the children in China before they were adopted. Many children’s books make it seem like infants are immediately happy once they are place into the arms of their adoptive parents, but Dorow dispels this untruth. She says, “Of course you may have been scared or confused at first by these strange new faces.” Next to this statement is a picture of a young baby, looking quite fearful.

The same way no specific pre-adoption story is told, this book does not address only one type of adoptive family either. This book is not Mom or Dad specific. Instead the word family is used, allowing the book to be inclusive of all family types. There are pictures of men holding babies, women holding babies, and obvious family units with babies. A child of a single parent could relate to this book as well a child with same-sex parents or heterosexual parents.

The book ends with an lovely statement of remembrance for all of the people who were involved in adopted children’s lives before their adoptive parents were present. It reminds children that so many people have touched their lives, all of whom have loved them. Dorow says, “They cared for you and made decisions for you as best they could. You are still in their hearts. May you keep them in your heart as you grow.” This message is very important and a fantastic way to leave the young reader – feeling loved and cared for by everyone they know.


The only thing that stands out as potentially distracting is that some of the photos are dated. Buildings have changed and clothing styles are also different now. However this is an extremely mild criticism that doesn’t negate the message of the book at all.


It is clear that Sara Dorow knows a lot about China; she lived there for 23 years. Her respect for and knowledge of the country is revealed through her words. Her incredible knowledge of the adoption process in China also comes through this book. Dorow is able to explain difficult ideas to adoptees in a soothing way. This would be a useful guide for parents to have when trying to answer their child’s questions about adoption and the beginning of their life. I would recommend all families with children from China to own this book.

When You Were Born In China Review


3 responses to “When You Were Born in China (Review)

  1. Pingback: The Real Queen of Books – A Mother’s Day Tribute | Red Thread Broken·

  2. Pingback: When You Were Born in China: A Memory Book for Children Adopted from China | Adoptee Reading Resource·

  3. Pingback: Ten Names of My First Mother | Red Thread Broken·

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