Authors: Darlene Friedman, Roger Roth (Illustrator)
Star of the Week is a book recommended for children ages 5 – 9 and is about a little girl who is presenting about herself to her kindergarten class. She can easily find pictures of her parents and friends, but she doesn’t know how to incorporate her biological parents on her poster. She quickly comes up with a solution, and her presentation is a success!
This book has charming watercolor illustrations that depict the scenes going on in the story and also show the various emotions that Cassidy-Li goes through thinking about important people and events in her life. The book starts out light and fun, only briefly mentioning her adoption in the beginning of the story. There is a natural ease into the more serious topic of adoption, though, that allows for deeper thought on the topic throughout the second half.
The book begins with Cassidy-Li talking about herself. She goes to Buena Vista Elementary School. The name of this school is seemingly Spanish, and an illustration of the inside of the classroom shows students of many different ethnicities. Being in environments with other students of color is enriching for any child, but especially important for children of color. This book shows that necessity becoming a reality.
When compiling photos for her poster, she selects two of her best friend and herself. They go to Chinese school together on Saturdays. This is an experience that many Chinese American adoptees can identify with and also shows that her parents are invested in keeping her somewhat involved with her Chinese roots. She also includes a picture of her Chinese “cousins,” the girls she was adopted with from the same orphanage. Her ability to stay connected to these girls also a dedication on her parents’ part to make sure she sees girls who look like herself and share a similar story.
Cassidy-Li has trouble thinking of how to represent her birthparents on the poster because she doesn’t have any pictures of them. After this sad thought, there is a lovely spread of a street scene in China. There are people riding rickshaws and bikes. Others sell food and goods at a market and children are shown running to school. Under this beautiful illustration, Cassidy-Li says, “I think about my birthparents a lot. Sometimes I miss them. I was born to them. I am a part of them, and they are a part of me. I wonder what they look like. Are they nice? Where do they live? Why couldn’t they keep me? Do they miss me like I miss them?” It is wonderful that this girl feels comfortable expressing these concerns to the readers and to her parents. Allowing Cassidy-Li to have these questions normalizes thoughts about China and birthparents for adoptees, and could lead to even better conversations between adoptee readers and their parents. It is also notable that Cassidy-Li talks about her birthparents, instead of only her birthmother. Biological fathers are often forgotten in the dialogue surrounding adoption, but they are also an important part of the child’s beginnings.
Cassidy-Li goes on to say that she and her parents have talked to her “about all the reasons people can’t take care of their babies.” She tells the readers, “I love my parents, but I’m sad about my birthparents. Dad says our family loves my birthparents very much even though we’ll never know them.” This shows that Cassidy-Li and her parents have had many conversations about her birthparents, and her adoptive parents don’t try to diminish her genuine feelings about adoption. Another very positive element of this statement is the stress on the whole family loving her birthparents, not just Cassidy-Li. This brings them more into the family as real people, rather than an intangible thought. Showing their daughter that her parents also love her birthparents makes it clear that Cassidy-Li can love her birthparents and her adoptive parents. This page also shows an active father figure which is missing in many pieces of adoption literature that only show a mother or a very passive father figure. Cassidy-Li’s father talking to her about adoption shows that it is not solely the mother’s responsibility.
The solution for Cassidy-Li’s missing representation of her birthparents on her poster is a drawing she does herself. This is a great way of including her birthparents even though she doesn’t have a photo of them. It also shows an applicable resolution to a problem that many adopted children will face in school projects like this one and also family trees.
Once her poster is finished, Cassidy-Li expresses some feelings of nervousness as she wonders if her classmates will ask her a lot of questions about adoption. She admits that sometimes she doesn’t like to talk about it, but her “Mom and Dad say [she] can tell people it’s private.” This is a very realistic cause of anxiety because often times other children will be curious. However her parents’ advice is extremely helpful. Adoptees don’t owe spectators an explanation, and sometimes questions do get too personal. Having this extra reassurance that she doesn’t have to answer questions if she doesn’t want to could surely boost her confidence when talking to others about adoption.
When looking at a photo of her family in China just after Cassidy-Li’s adoption, a smiling baby is shown. She even mentions how happy she looks. However, in the arms of strangers, many babies look sad or anxious. By simply stating how happy everyone looks, it ignores the range of emotions felt by all parties during the adoption process.
Cassidy-Li mentions that her parents have talked to her about various reasons birthparents “can’t take care of their babies.” Her parents list reasons like birthparents might be “very poor, or maybe too young.” While these are certainly reasons for some parents to relinquish their children, this answer completely ignores the One Child Policy, the main reason many parents in China are unable to keep their babies.
One unsettling line in the book is when Cassidy-Li says, “People like Mom and Dad adopt babies who need a family to take care of them.” This continues the adoptive parent “savior complex” notion. She continues, “Mom says families are families and it doesn’t matter how they’re formed.” What the author is trying to say is that their family’s formation through adoption instead of biological ties doesn’t devaluate it in anyway. However the message that comes across with this statement is completely ignorant of the many unscrupulous adoption practices, tying families together. In Babies Without Borders, Karen Dubinsky reveals the inconvenient reality of poor, illiterate mothers who are misled or coerced into giving their children up for adoption and situations of children who were kidnapped for profit. Based on the rest of the book, a cavalier attitude about adoption is not the message the author wants to give.
My last piece of criticism for this book is in the illustrations. They are very endearing, but the illustrator makes all of the Chinese girls have the the same haircuts and look exactly the same. Though some features are very universal, like dark hair and eyes, Chinese people do not look identical.
This book is not perfect, but it is certainly better than many books for Chinese American adoptees. It is light enough to be an engaging story, but touches on serious matter as well. The discourse on birthparents in this story is much more present than in many pieces of adoption literature for children. This book appropriately shows both joyful and painful emotions associated with adoption. I would recommend this book to families with children from China.