Updating Your Child’s Bookshelf

Adoption books are hard to come by; good adoption books are even harder to find. Many adoptive parents trust older classics or may get so excited when they see a newer children’s book on adoption that they forget to read the book from a critical lens and see if the message is one they truly want to endorse. The majority of children’s adoption literature is written from the perspective of adoptive parents, which undoubtedly shapes the messaging of these books.

I believe that adoptive parents, social workers, teachers, therapists, and others who work with adoptees and adoptive families in a professional capacity need to use a more critical eye selecting books about adoption to read and take some of the steps outlined in the bibliotherapy process. Bibliotherapy is “a projective indirect intervention that uses literature for personal growth” (Rozalski, Stewart, & Miller, 2012). Bibliotherapy usually follows five steps: 1. Identify a specific problem that a student is facing. 2. Identify potential books that contain characters who struggle with a similar issue. 3. Review the books to determine whether texts are appropriate for students. 4. Develop bibliotherapy lessons using the most appropriate books. 5. Teach (Rozalski, Stewart, & Miller, 2012). Bibliotherapy can be a powerful tool in normalizing the adoptees’ feelings, letting them know that they are not alone and seeing children of their racial background in at least one type of media, but it only has this beneficial effect if the book is a positive one worth sharing. The questions to ask when reviewing a book provided by Rozalski, Stewart, and Miller (2012) coincide with a list of questions I have developed that parents and/or educators should ask themselves before purchasing a book about adoption for their home, classroom, or office. (Click on the chart to zoom in.)

(Rozalski, Stewart, & Miller, 2012)

Questions to ask yourself about children’s literature on adoption:

  • What is the overall message of the book? Is it a helpful one for a child?
  • Whose perspective is the message of the book coming from? Is the author an adoptee, an adoptive parent, or someone else? How might the identity of the author shape the book?
  • Are the illustrations respectful to the characters’ racial and cultural identity? Are physical features, clothing, accents stereotypical?
  • Are birthparents mentioned in the book? If yes, is just a birthmother mentioned or is the father included, too? How are the birthparents depicted – loving, callous, pitied?
  • How are the adoptive parents depicted? Are adoptive fathers present, too? How is the burden of labor divided in the story (e.g. are emotional conversations only had by the mother?)?
  • How are sadness, loss, and grief discussed? Are adoptees’ feelings minimized? (“Please, my dear one, don’t ever be sad. You were ‘Made in China,’ so I’d be your dad.” – Vanita Oelschlager, “Made in China”)
  • Is the adoptee depicted as an object, doll, or commodity?
  • Is the book factually correct? For Chinese adoptions, does the book mention the One Child Policy?
  • Does the book have a religious orientation? Are words like “miracle” or “blessing” used? How do these words shape the perception of adoption?
  • Are the only books with characters of your child’s race related to adoption? How are you celebrating your child’s heritage in books?

Questions to ask yourself about racial representation in children’s literature:

  • Are the Asian children’s eyes depicted as lines?
  • Are the Asian children’s skin colored yellow?
  • If the book is attempting to be multicultural, are there dark-skinned children in the book?
  • Are different hair types represented?
  • Is the child’s racial identity the focus of the book? Could the main character be depicted by a child of any race?
  • Are the illustrations respectful to the characters’ racial and cultural identity? Are physical features, clothing, accents stereotypical?
  • Is the book racially and culturally accurate?
  • Who is the main character? Who are the side-characters? Are the children of color relegated to a “sidekick” character in the majority of your books?
  • Does the book make generalizations about “all families,” “all children,” or “all people?” Is there room to variation and diversity of family structure?
  • How many of the books on your child’s bookshelves have children who look like them and who look like others?

If you would like to see how I have applied these question in the past to book reviews of children’s adoption literature, click here.

Newton, Grace. 2020. Children’s Adoption Literature Questions.https://www.instagram.com/p/CHoPRk4Bfbs/.

Rozalski, Stewart & Miller (2010) Bibliotherapy: Helping Children Cope with Life’s Challenges, Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47:1, 33-37, DOI: 10.1080/00228958.2010.10516558

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