A Book for Children about Open Adoption: “Megan’s Birthday Tree”

by Luanne

I’m excited to be participating in the Book Club over at Open Adoption Bloggers.  The first book we read is Megan’s Birthday Tree, written by Laurie Lears and illustrated by Bill Farnsworth (2005).  In this book, Megan is a young girl who is an adoptee in an open adoption.  The characters are Megan, Mom, Dad, and Kendra.  Mom and Dad are the adoptive parents, and Kendra is the birth mother.  Kendra planted a small tree in her yard to remind her of Megan.  The story’s central conflict is how Megan reacts when she learns that Kendra is moving away.  Megan assumes that Kendra will leave the tree behind and, thus, forget about Megan.

Our moderator Heather provided us with a list of discussion questions which was put together from suggestions by all of us “book clubbers.”

There are so many wonderful questions, but I will only address a few of them.  My participation is based on my experience as an adoptive mom and from teaching children’s literature at the college level before I retired, but I don’t have young children at home any longer.

  Have you experienced moving or marriage as an adoptive mom or birth mother? Was it difficult to explain to your child? What did you do to help your child understand that your love remains no matter where you go or who comes into the family?

My children are adults now and were not adopted through open adoptions, but through international adoption.  However, we did move when they were six and two.  The move took us away from the extended (adoptive) family and away from a community where transracial adoptions such as ours (Caucasian parents and Korean kids) were common and to a place where it was rare.  We had to work extra hard to provide them with that sense of family and identity we were leaving behind and found it in a small private school and our worship congregation.

  Do you think this book represents a realistic view of what open adoption might look like?

From the stories I hear from others who are in open adoptions, I think this is a realistic view of a very good open adoption situation.

  While the birthday tree was used to decorate and celebrate Megan’s birthday in what other ways do you believe the tree was important to Megan and her birth mom?

Trees are living beings and they grow as children grow.  They also grow as love grows.  There is a sense of connection to nature.  However, the tree is not Megan.  Kendra says, “I don’t need a tree or anything else to remember you!  Even though we don’t live together, you will always be a part of me.”   Nevertheless, Kendra proves to be just as “silly” as Megan because she is carrying the birthday tree in the back of her truck.  She’s taking it with her to her new home.

  In Megan’s Birthday Tree, Megan’s adoptive parents were present at various points, but tangentially. Did you pick up on this? Does your response to the background role the adoptive parents played say anything about where your family is in your adoption journey?

My take on the role of the adoptive parents in this book is that they are allowing Megan space to grow as an individual and in her relationship with Kendra, rather than claiming ownership of Megan’s experience.  This reminds me of something very powerful in this book: Megan insists on buying a tree for Kendra with her own money and works hard to earn it.  She refuses to take a gift of money from Dad.

  What do you think about the illustrations of Megan as a Caucasian girl? By the text, she doesn’t have to be any one race, but by adding illustrations, she’s clearly a white girl.

While I just reviewed a book where I found the animal characters (dogs) confusing because of the term “adoption,” when the illustrated characters are of a particular race, it is a bit limiting.  Nevertheless, there is nothing inherently wrong with this being a book about Caucasian characters.  It does make me wonder about the statistics of open adoption.  Are there more families composed of white children and white parents?  It’s something I wondered about from looking at the racial composition of this picture book.

  What do you think about the illustrations of the other characters? That Megan looks a lot like Kendra and that the adoptive parents have similar coloring.

I love that Megan looks so much like Kendra.  She isn’t a clone, though, but looks like an actual biological child.  However, the adoptive parents have a similar look to Kendra and Megan, so I also wondered if that was in light of research.  Do a lot of birth mothers choose adoptive parents who resemble themselves?  Since I am not myself in an open adoption, this picture book really started me wondering about the overall picture of open adoptions.

  Sometimes when a person reads a picture book about adoption and something rattles something somewhere inside, but they ignore the warning because the book is so cute and mostly so good. Did you have any of those moments in this book?

I still haven’t found one picture book about adoption that didn’t have something that I wanted to change or that concerned me.  This book is one of the closest to perfect, I think.  I love how Megan, Kendra, Mom, and Dad all hug at the end.  It’s definitely a tear-jerker.  Any drawbacks?  Well, it’s an important point that Kendra and Megan think alike about the tree, as we can see by the end.  But does it undercut the idea that the tree isn’t what’s important?  We have Kendra’s words that she doesn’t need a tree to remember Megan, but then the text and illustrations show Kendra dragging the big tree with her.  I’m torn about this part of the ending.  On the one hand, I appreciate the drama of it and on the other, I do wish that the emphasis was on Kendra not needing the tree.

One other point is that I wish this book was illustrated with other racial combinations and that the book could be sold that way.  Wishful thinking ;).

  The book was categorized by the publisher as one of its “issue books,” dealing with “children’s problems and special needs.” Other books in the series address topics like autism, epilepsy, and stuttering. What do think about a book on open adoption being characterized that way?

I think it’s a necessary evil that this book is labeled an “issue book” because that is how adults in open adoptions will find this book to share with children.  Children don’t know or care how the book is marketed.  What is important that it gets into the hands and minds and hearts of children who will most benefit from reading it.

Definitely put this book on your library or bookstore list!
Open Adoption Book Club @ OpenAdoptionBloggers.com

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book. We have an adopted daughter but not through open adoption. Many of the issues are the same though. I have recently been discussing some of the adoption books available with some adoptees who were generally fairly scathing about the books generally but I think that was more anger driven relevant their personal situations. I think it is very hard to represent all the different people involved in the adoption process without one group feeling marginalised or misunderstood. Could this book be considered general reading for all children do you think?

    • I hear you about it being hard to represent all the different parties in the adoption process and have everybody feel understood and happy with the results. I think this is a good book for general reading. It meets the requirements for a very well written and illustrated picture book and is certainly a timely and important subject sensitively explored.

  2. I love your review! I too thought that the book showed how Megan’s parents were letting her develop an independant relationship with Kendra. I found that refreshing! In response to the commenter above I do think this book could be considered general reading for all children. My son is adopted and my step son is not. I think they both enjoyed the book equally. In fact my step son asked more questions about the book than my other son did.

    • That’s so cool that your step son really got into trying to understand the book! I noticed with my kids sometimes they didn’t feel like drawing attention to themselves by asking questions related to adoption. Did the boys read it at the same time? If so, that probably made your son’s experience richer for hearing his step brother’s questions and your answers.

  3. I so look forward to reading your posts. Thanks so much for the work you do. Always thoughtful and thought-provoking!

  4. I like your idea of doing this book with different combinations of race for the four characters involved–I’ve seen that done before–obviously there’s a big enough audience for it!

    • You’ve seen it done?! If you think of what book(s), let me know because I’d love to check them out. I think for this book it would be fabulous.

      • I think I saw it in a Hallmark store a few years ago and I don’t remember the title. It wasn’t a book that had anything to do with adoption, it was a book for girls (I think) that accompanied a doll. There were four dolls, I think, with various skin tones, and each came with a book whose main character shared the skin tone of the doll.

        I’m amazed that there’s not more diversity in adoption books for kids, and that most of the ones out there are so dated. I guess the real solution is to write one–no mean feat.

        I did find a good booklist on multiracial adoption books for kids: http://www.comeunity.com/adoption/books/0multiracial.html

        Wish I could be more help!

  5. “Are there more families composed of white children and white parents? It’s something I wondered about from looking at the racial composition of this picture book.”

    I said something similar in my review. Most of the adoptive families I know are transracial. Even online, it seems there are more white parents with children of color than white parents with white children. Megan is about 10… maybe transracial adoption was less prevalent 10 years ago? I do wish the illustrator hadn’t made everyone look alike. Even if it’s just that the adoptive parents have darker features.

    • Maybe having kids who are not white makes a parent more sensitive to this issue, but I just wanted the book to represent a lot of kids in open adoptions. If the majority are white kids with white adoptive parents, great. If not, then I wish such a wonderful book would have taken that into account.

  6. That’s an interesting point you make about the tree being dismissed as beside the point while simultaneously being shown as hugely important to the main characters. I’ve never picked up on that before. I’ll have to think about that some more!

  7. I really enjoyed your review. I agree, no book is perfect…but overall I found this book very sweet and definitely worth purchasing for our home library.

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