Shaoey and Dot: Bug Meets Bundle
Authors: Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman, Jim Chapman (Illustrator)
The book is written and illustrated by Shaoey’s family members who have also founded a group called Shaohannah’s Hope, whose mission is to adopt Chinese children into Christian families. After reading the introduction, it is clear that the book’s purpose is to tell adopted Chinese children that this was all part of God‘s plan for them. Shaoey and Dot is the story of a ladybug who lands on an infant in China who has been abandoned. Dot stays with Shaoey at the orphanage and they get adopted together.
The book is very colorful, and children may enjoy the rhyme scheme that gives the book an upbeat feel.
In creating the character, Dot, the authors tried to give the girl one object of consistency in her life. Dot tells Shaoey, “I’ll stay right by your side.” Dot serves as a companion and “guardian angel” type figure in this story who gives the girl comfort in uncertain moments. This shows the girl, that whether human or not, someone is always thinking of and caring for her.
The illustration of Dot, the ladybug, is interesting, to say the least. She wears a chopstick by her antennae and a rice farming hat. These are clearly stereotypical objects suggesting that she is supposed to represent that she is an Asian ladybug. Also distracting is that the drawings of Dot in proportion to the other objects change on every page. Sometimes she is as large as the Shaoey’s head or torso, but on the cover illustration Dot is the same size as Shaoey’s nose. This is only a minor critique that is simply annoying, not particularly damaging.
The first noticeably harmful thing about this book is on the cover illustration, featuring a cartoon image of Shaoey’s face. In the picture, the girl clearly has double eyelids – which is particularly strange because the vast majority of Chinese people, including the real girl Shaohanna (Shaoey for short), do not naturally have double eyelids. Because of the way people in the Eastern Asian region evolved, they typically have monolids (no crease above the eye). The double eyelid image could be potentially harmful to girls who will already struggle with identity issues of being more or less Chinese-American. The double eyelid surgery has become one of the most popular surgeries in Asia and among Asian Americans here in the U.S. because double eyelids are perceived as being “more beautiful.” In books specifically made for girls adopted from China, the illustrations should be a place where girls can turn to and see people with features like their own, validating their own physical images too.
Flipping to the introduction page, there is a letter to the families that tells the story of the formation of the authors’ family. The wording, “our daughter Emily campaigned for us to adopt a baby girl,” is a little strange. They go on to say that they “expanded [their] family through the miracle of adoption.” The word miracle has a very positive connotation – perhaps too positive for the situation they are describing. The truth is that in order for adoption to be a reality, some very negative events have to occur. The fact that a mother was unable to keep her child due to societal norms or financial reasons is certainly not a miracle. The authors also write that “Psalm 68:5-6 tells us that as the Father to the fatherless, God delights in setting the lonely in families.” They continue to say that adoption is a “really wonderful invitation to experience God in a profound way by being a part of His sovereign plan for His precious children.” This message makes it seem like adoption is a 100% natural piece of divine intervention, and not a repercussion of faulty systems and political strife. Keeping the discussion of adoption at a “divine” level, and ignoring the actual political issues surrounding it ensures that the problems which drive adoption will continue. Keeping mothers in a situation that forces them to abandon their children does not seem like a very holy or Christian act. Finally, the introduction letter closes by mentioning the authors’ self-made organization, Shaohannah’s Hope, “which exists to enable children living without the love or hope of an earthly family to be adopted into ‘covenant homes’ . . . to provide a child with the knowledge of God’s plan for his or her eternal life with a forever family called The Body of Christ.” This seems to send a message of saving the pagan, Godless children of China rather than trying to provide them with the best care possible whether that be with families domestically or abroad.
Once the story begins, the first character the readers are introduced to is Dot, the ladybug. The story follows her into a little village as she finds an infant girl who is all bundled up. This is presumably how the authors thought of the title, Shaoey and Dot: Bug Meets Bundle. The narration of the story is told in third person but is from the perspective of Dot. This is a strange decision that hinders the book’s ability to discuss anything in a serious manner. Moreover, Dot becomes the main character of the book, instead of the little girl. While it tries to look at adoption from a new perspective in a “cute” way, it just moves the focus of the story from the little girl being adopted to the bug. Since this story is for other Chinese adoptees, the Shaoey’s character should be prioritized instead of the bug.
When Shaoey and Dot come to the orphanage, “suddenly, Dot realized where they were – ‘This is where babies come to be found!’” This statement makes it sound like the infants are able to get to the orphanage on their own, which completely ignores the actions of the caring person who typically finds and takes the child to a police station or the orphanage. Dot’s idea also implies that babies come to the orphanage because they want to be adopted. However, that is a decision that no infant would make on their own. If a child were to think that after reading this book, it could potentially make a him or her feel very guilty if they believe that they made the decision to leave their birthparents and go to the orphanage.
In the illustrations, the orphanage is depicted as a very primitive place with large cracks in the walls, broken cribs, and crooked windows. The girls are given baths with hoses. It is also apparent that the illustrator did not even attempt to give the children Chinese names on the name tags above their beds. The same goes for the nanny. Chinese names are typically two or three characters long while this woman’s name is comprised of six “characters” that are in actuality just scribbles, and not Chinese at all.
Dot describes what she sees in the orphanage. “Each bed in the room held a lost little bundle of love, and the sounds they were making is the song babies sing when they’re needing their mothers to come.” The wording, “a lost little bundle of love” intimates that the child is absent of love in the orphanage. But this is untrue because the nannies in the orphanages love and become attached to the children there. However from this book, readers cannot see this because the only interaction between a nanny and child is when the nanny is washing the baby as she is about to get adopted. The nanny says, “We’ll miss you, but it’s your turn to go.” This makes the goodbye seem very quick and painless, when in reality there are many tears because the child and the nanny have grown to love each other. The other part of this statement, “the song babies sing when they’re needing their mothers to come,” completely ignores fathers again. A father’s love is just as valuable as a mother’s, but children’s literature does not depict it in this way.
Before Shaoey is adopted by her new family, Dot tries to explain to her why she cries. She talks about a sadness that “comes from a deep, empty place in [her] heart that can only be filled by a mother.” This statement further stresses a mother/child emotional bond rather than a father/child connection. However the worst part of Dot’s message is, “after today, I will never again hear that sad song coming from you. You’re getting adopted, you’re getting a mother.” Dot has basically tells the child that her sadness can be “fixed” by any mother figure, and because of that the child that she will never grieve in the same way again. However, this deep sadness comes from a longing for the girl’s biological mother, not just any mother. And she will certainly carry some of this sadness with her for the rest of her life. Expecting a child to never again sing “that sad song” is damaging because it completely invalidates their inevitable feelings of sadness and loss for their biological mother.
The book ends very abruptly with Shaoey and Dot and their new adoptive family on a plane “that would take them to a place they’d call home.” There is no wrap up statement or concluding thought. And this leaves the reader slightly confused that the book is over.
My last point of criticism for the book is that there is absolutely no mention of Shaoey’s biological family anywhere. Because the book is told from the bug’s perspective, Shaoey’s story begins once she has already been abandoned and her birthparents are out of the picture. While at the orphanage, the book simply says that she is missing a mother, not her mother (and this mother role can be filled easily by anyone). At the end of the book, the authors are given the perfect opportunity to give some credit to the biological parents and close things nicely on a bitter-sweet tone, but Shaoey’s adoptive mother shows no semblance of gratitude to the girl’s birth family. It is simply as if the girl never had any biological family.
This book is most famous for having a celebrity author. Though the creators of the book tried to be innovative in telling an adoption story from a new perspective, this took away from the girl’s role in the story. The book lacks an interesting plot, consideration for birthparents who had to make the difficult decision of leaving their child somewhere, and any mention of the fact that they are in China. The negative messages prevalent in this book seriously outweigh any benefit from reading this piece of adoption literature. Parents should not walk, they should run, past this book.
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I wish I had read this before purchasing and reading to my daughter a gazillion times. Ugh! I never even thought of things you brought up! More proof as an adoptive parent adult adoptee opinion/perspective is priceless. I hope you do more kids book reviews.
Hi Con! Thank you so much for reading this review and seeking adoptee voices. I do plan on reviewing more children’s and adult literature, so keep your eyes open!