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7 Books for Adoptive Parents

If you’re considering adoption as a way to build your family, or you’ve applied to adopt and been matched with a child. Perhaps you already have an adopted child at home or you yourself are adopted… There’s plenty to read regarding adoption, with common themes ranging from primal wounds to reunion stories to chirpy child-of-my-heart tales. These 7 books are favorites for adoptive parents…

1. No Biking in the House without a Helmetby Melissa Fay Greene: Hammurabi’s Code has multiple laws for different types of adoption. Ancient civilizations moved children around freely. While there have always been different reasons to add to your family, there has been one constant: children are loveable and they are fun. Without sugar-coating the trials that come along with raising children, mother-of-nine (four are biological) Melissa Fay Greene captures the raucous beauty of family and children as no other writer can. Whether it’s the moments when you really do hear yourself saying that if you’re going to ride a bike down the stairs in the house, you’d better wear a helmet, or even a run-in with post-adoption depression, Greene is always fresh, wise, and funny.

2. Be My Baby: Parents & Children Talk About Adoption edited by Gail Kinn.Unfortunately out of print, I still list this book because it contains stories from so many perspectives: birth mothers, adopted children, and adoptive parents voice their narratives. Though a bit biased toward traditional families, this book captures the range of the adoption experience, with the adoptees’ stories in many ways the most surprising and heart-wrenching. Though out of print, the book is easy to find on the Internet. Read it yourself, and put a copy in your child’s room.

3. Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis. OK, the author is an actress and celebrity. OK, it’s a children’s book. It’s still one of my favorite adoption books of all time — and my son’s. I rarely get through it, even with my child now a teenager and towering over me, without a sniffle or two. Read it with your little ones, and when they get older, you can have the pleasure of showing your teen Hitchcock’s Psychofor the first time and explaining how the lady who just got knifed in the shower is the same person as the sweet granny who gets woken up to hear about her grandchild’s arrival in Tell Me Again— the author’s mother, actress Janet Leigh. This will be an officially cool thing to know. You’re welcome.

4. Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother’s Journey by Karen Salyer McElmurray. The author gave birth to a son, put up for adoption, in the early 1970s. Teenaged, living in a troubled home with a severely phobic mother, McElmurray made the painful decision to relinquish her child and spare him the heartache of her home. A lovely, lyric look into the soul of a birth mother, the book tracks the wrenching echoes of her decision and journey to reunite with her adult son.

5. Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming Our Families—and America by Adam Pertman. Head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and former reporter for the Boston Globe, Pertman is also an adoptive father. He brings a reporter’s sensibility to Adoption Nation, tracing adoption figures and trends, and chronicling evolving adoption law. A father whose family is built around open adoption, Pertman is sensitive to the importance of the triad of adoptive families — children, adoptive parents, and birth parents. Pertman is also a smart and informed advocate of continued adoption reform.

6. Jin Woo by Eve Bunting. Another children’s book, this one is a sentimental favorite — it was inspired by story of the adoption of my son, Jin, from South Korea. Author Eve Bunting heard the story of Jin’s arrival at SeaTac Airport in Seattle from a mutual friend, and fictionalized the story, adding an older brother to the family. It sits on my home bookcase next to my own book Make Me a Mother: A Memoir, the story of the rest of Jin’s life — I like to tell my son that his life so far has been, literally, bookended! Bonus: the beautiful and detailed illustrations are by award-winning adult Korean adoptee Chris Soentpiet.

7. Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child by Beth O’Malley.Now it’s your turn to write a book — this book offers concrete, step-by-step advice for creating a lifebook for your adopted child out of the often bewildering details and documents of his or her particular placement and arrival as well as life with you, with helpful sections on language to use in discussing adoption and topics such as birth parent fantasies. O’Malley walks you through the creation of a lifebook and helps you understand the particular needs of your child you answer by creating one.

Books for Birth Parents

1. Adoption Wisdom: A Guide to the Issues and Feelings of Adoption.  Marlou Russell PhD (Broken Branch Productions, 1996): this book offers insight and understanding of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Adoption Wisdom includes chapters on Adoption Awareness, the Basic Truths of Adoption, Search and Reunion, and an Ideal Adoption. A book for anyone who wants to know more about the realities of adoption.

2. The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their Stories. Susan Wadia-Ells. (Seal Press, 1995): these personal essays and stories are informed by the contemporary adoption movement and raise timely issues that illustrate its complexity, among them.

3. The Adoption Triangle: Sealed or Open Records – How They Affect Adoptees, Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents. Arthur D. Sorosky, Annette Baran and Reuben Panor. (Corona Publishing Co. 1989): a classic and the first to deal with how sealed and open records affect adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents. Originally published in 1978,” … it is as true and open as the changes advocated … comprehensive, factual, forward looking, totally honest, readable and thoughful …” Los Angeles Times.

4. Birthbond. Judith S. Gediman and Linda P. Brown. (New Horizon Press, 1989): In this eye-opening, deeply affecting account, the authors reveal – through the words and experiences of adoptees, birth mothers, and birth fathers – that what reunion can accomplish is impressive, although its pangs are no less real than the pangs of birth.

5. Birthmark, Lorraine Dusky. (M. Evans and Company, New York 1979): Marked for life emotionally, intellectually, and politically by her baby’s birth twelve years ago, the author tells of her obsession with finding the daughter whom she gave away and has never seen.

6. Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents. Jean A.S. Strauss (Penguin Books, 1994): What happens when an adoptee decides to locate a birth parent or a birth parent wants to find a child given up long ago? How does one search for people whose names one does not know? And what happens during a reunion?

7. Cast Off: They called us dangerous women. So we organized and proved them right. (Stow Away – Cast Off) (Volume 2) (Dr. Lee H Campbell, 2014)

8. Stow Away, “They told me to forget. And I did. Now my memories have mutiny in mind.” Lee Campbell. (Book Baby. 2013)

9. The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.Kathryn Joyce (Public Affairs, A Member of Perseus Books Group, 2013): When Jessie Hawkins’ adopted daughter told her she had another mom back in Ethiopia, Jessie didn’t, at first, know what to think. She’d wanted her adoption to be great story about a child who needed a home and got one, and a family led by God to adopt. Instead, she felt like she’d done something wrong.

10. The Family of Adoption. Joyce Maguire Pavao. (Beacon Press, 1998): Full of wonderful stories that give insight into a wide variety of adoption issues, now revised in light of recent developments, The Family of Adoptionis a powerful argument for the right kind of openness in adoption. Joyce Maguire Pavao uses her thirty years of experience as a family and adoption therapist to explain to adoptive parents, birthparents, adult adopted people, and extended family, as well as to those who work with children professionally the developmental stages and challenges one can expect in the life of the adopted person.

11. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. Ann Fessler. (Penguin Press, 2006): This book describes and recounts the experiences of women in the United States who relinquished babies for adoption between 1950 and the Roe v. Wadedecision in 1973. The book examines the pressures placed on the birth mother by family, adoption agencies, and society at large to give up the child for adoption, and the long-term psychological consequences for this event on her.

12. Hole In My Heart, a memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption.  Lorraine Dusky (Leto Media, Sag Harbor, 2015): HOLE IN MY HEART is the compelling story of a mother separated from her child by adoption in the Sixties and the state-imposed secrecy that keeps them apart. Defying convention, Lorraine Dusky reunites with her daughter in the early Eighties when such reunions were rare, and in the process becomes a staunch advocate for reform of America’s antiquated adoption system. The author gives an inside look on the emotional turmoil following reunion for both mother and daughter.

13. Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness.B.J. Lifton (Basic Books, 1994): Betty Jean Lifton, whose Lost and Foundhas become a bible to adoptees and to those who would understand the adoption experience, explores further the inner world of the adopted person. She breaks new ground as she traces the adopted child’s lifelong struggle to form an authentic sense of self. And she shows how both the symbolic and the literal search for roots becomes a crucial part of the journey toward wholeness.

14. Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience. B.J. Lifton (Harper and Row, 1988): [Looks] at adoption from all sides of the triangle: adoptee, birth mother, adoptive parents . . . A provocative, comprehensive inquiry.

15. The Other Mother: A True Story. Carol Schaefer. (Soho Press, 1991): A Literary Guild alternate in cloth, this wrenching account of a biological mother’s reunion with the son whom her repressive family made her give up for adoption covers a wide range of adoption issues while testifying to the bonding power of motherhood.

16. The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. Nancy Newtron Verrier. (1993): The book posits that there is a “primal wound” that develops when a mother and child are separated by adoption shortly after childbirth. It describes the mother and child as having a vital connected relationship which is physical, psychological and physiological, and examines the effects of disrupting such bonds.

17. Synchronicity and Reunion: The Genetic Connection of Adoptees and Birthparents.LaVonne H. Stiffler (FEA Publishing, 1992): Do experiences of synchronicity between adoption-separated parents and children confirm a continuing bond or genetic affinity that transcends space and time? Carl Jung knew “synchronicity” to be a subjective experience with significant time and meaning for the participant, a clue to an underlying system of science and spirituality.

18. In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories. Rita J. Simon and Rhonda Roorda. (Columbia University Press, 2000): Nearly forty years after researchers first sought to determine the effects, if any, on children adopted by families whose racial or ethnic background differed from their own, the debate over transracial adoption continues. In this collection of interviews conducted with black and biracial young adults who were adopted by white parents, the authors present the personal stories of two dozen individuals who hail from a wide range of religious, economic, political, and professional backgrounds. How does the experience affect their racial and social identities, their choice of friends and marital partners, and their lifestyles? In addition to interviews, the book includes overviews of both the history and current legal status of transracial adoption.

19. Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter. B.J. Lifton (St Martins Griffin, 1998) Reprint of 1975 original. In this significant and lasting account, Betty Jean Lifton, acclaimed author of several books on the psychology of the adopted, tells her own story of growing up at a time when adoptees were still in the closet. Twice Born recounts her early struggle with the loneliness and isolation of not knowing her birth parents; her identification, as a journalist in the Far East, with the orphans left behind by American soldiers in Japan and Vietnam; and the guilt she experiences over what feels like a betrayal of her adopted parents as she sets off on a forbidden quest to find her roots.

20. Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade. Rickie Solinger (Routledge, 1992): Rickie Solinger provides the first published analyses of maternity home programs for unwed mothers from 1945 to 1965, and examines how nascent cultural and political constructs such as the “population bomb” and the “sexual revolution” reinforced racially-specific public policy initiatives. Such initiatives encouraged white women to relinquish their babies, spawning a flourishing adoption market, while they subjected black women to social welfare policies which assumed they would keep their babies and aimed to prevent them from having more.

Books Chosen by Adoptees

1. Morris and the Bundle of Worries by Jill Seeney

All young children have worries, but looked after children may have more worries than most as they lack the reassurance and security of permanent, stable family life. In this colourful picture book for young children, Morris the Mole finds out that talking about his problems, and facing his worries with the help of others, is more helpful than hiding his fears.

“I like this book because Morris’s friend helped him to get rid of the nasty spider and the big toad! My favourite character is Morris because I like moles (but my Nanna doesn’t as they dig up her garden!). I felt sad for Morris because he couldn’t sleep in his bed because of the “big pile” of worries but after he let out the fireworks it was much smaller.” – Cameron, 4

“I liked this book because Morris hurled his big worries at the tree and they became fireworks. My favourite character was Nightingale because she solved the problem by listening. I recommend this book to others because it is fun. I read it by myself.” – Albert, 6

2. Elfa and the Box of Memories by Michelle Bell

Looked after children may have more difficult memories that most, because of separation and loss and traumatic events that may have taken place. In this charming picture book, Elfa the elephant discovers that sharing her memories and remembering the good things that happened is more helpful than keeping them locked away.

“I love this book because Elfa has a memory box just like me. My favourite character is Elfa, especially when she is small and has the Ellie spots because she looks cute! I love reading this book with my mum. When Elfa’s friend Marvin helps her fill up her memory box it makes me feel happy. Memory boxes are very special because they are all about you and at home we often talk about how important they are.” – Cameron, 4

“I liked this book because Elfa shared her memories with Marvin. My favourite character was Marvin because he shared the memories. Marvin also found the lost memories. I recommend this book to other people because it had a happy ending.” – Albert, 6

3. The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson

Told in Tracy’s own words, Jacqueline Wilson’s hugely popular series of books features a 10-year-old with a wild imagination and a short fuse who lives in a children’s home and would like a real home of her own. Touching and funny.

“I like Tracy Beaker because she’s a naughty girl in care and she makes me laugh. She’s cheeky like me but when I’m angry I don’t go as far as she does! It’s nice to read about someone who is going through the same thing as me. I wish I could meet Jacqueline Wilson.” – Phoebe, 10

4. Picnic in the Park by Joe Griffiths and Tony Pilgrim

It’s Jason’s birthday and he has lots of guests at his picnic in the park, from all different sorts of families.

“I sometimes feel different to my friends, as they have a mum and dad, and brothers and sisters. This book shows how many different families there are, and all are happy, safe, and love each other, which is the most important thing. So now if anyone says something horrible to me, I tell him, I am happy with my family, then I run off and play.” – Oliver, aged 10

“I like the bit about the birthday party he had because at the end he opened his presents and I wondered what presents he had. I like Jason because he’s got a picture of 5 on and I like people who are 5, and can play with them. And I only play with them at school.” – Ayeesha, 5

5. The Teazles’ Baby Bunny by Susan Bagnall

A picture book that tells the story of how the Teazle rabbits adopt a baby bunny and offers a gentle way to broach the topic of adoption with younger children.

“I liked it when the Teazles danced around because they were happy that they were going to get their own boy or girl and I liked the picture of the birds playing music.” – Danny, 5

6. Nutmeg Gets Adopted by Judith Foxon

The story of a small red squirrel, Nutmeg, and his younger sister and brother who go through the process of separation, foster care and then going to live with a new, adopted family when their mother is unable to look after them and keep them safe.

“I read this when I was over 5. I liked this book because I could relate to it in a number of ways and that I felt somebody else understood me even if it was just a squirrel in a book. I liked the owl in the forest best when I was younger as he symbolised being a judge which allowed Nutmeg to be adopted by his new parents. And for me that was important. I identified with Nutmeg the most as I felt he knew just what I had been through when I was younger and that he ended up being in a happy family like I did.

All the issues they talked about in the book I pretty much experienced too such as not having a safe home to live in and not enough food etc.” – Kelsey, 17

7. Charlie and Lola: I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child

Classic picture book about siblings Charlie and Lola which has also been made into a popular animated TV series.

“I read this from when I was about three and a half to five. I could see myself and my brother being the characters. It was funny with interesting concepts, Charlie convinces his sister in an interesting and imaginative way. ALL kids should read this.” – Gemma, 19

8. The Rescue Party (Tales From Percy’s Park) by Nick Butterworth

A heartwarming tale in which Percy the Park Keeper’s day off is interrupted when a little rabbit has an accident. Percy to the rescue!

“I read this when I was between three and eight and I still like it. Percy is like an adoptive parent really because he cares for the squirrel and helps him get better. It’s like being part of a new family. I liked the little squirrel who had a broken arm and Percy fixed it up for him and then all the other animals come to help him so he wasn’t alone.” – Kayleigh, 15

9. The Most Precious Present in the World by Becky Edwards

Mia has different hair and eye colour to her mum and dad. Why? In a dialogue between a little girl and her adoptive mother, this simple, reassuring book explores some of the questions that adopted children ask.

“When my mum chose me to be her little boy, I was happy, but I was scared too. My mum read this book to me when I was six, we read it together, over and over night, it helped me sleep. I liked it because it made me feel special and happy. – Oliver, 10

“Adopted children would like this book because it makes adoption special. It also says it is okay to be sad and frustrated sometimes.” – Teddie, 6

10. A Safe Place for Rufus by Jill Seeney

Rufus the cat lives with a family who looks after him, feeds him his favourite foods and gives him lots of cuddles. He feels happy and safe, especially when he is lying on his favourite blue cushion. But he didn’t always feel this way. The family that Rufus used to live with were not kind to him at all. Thinking about his past makes him angry and sad and Rufus struggles to escape from his memories and find a safe place where he can just relax and be himself.

“It has good illustrations which help the story come to life and it is relatable for most adopted children as when they first move to a new home they don’t feel very safe but it normally slowly gets better. And also that when you first move you may have bad memories and that it is normal.” – Kelsey, 17

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