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

Read the Back of the Inside Cover First: Review of “Rosie’s Family”

by Luanne

After reading the picture book Rosie’s Family: An Adoption Story by Lori Rosove, pictures by Heather Burrill, I want to scream.

Yup, scream or at least wring my hands in frustration that such a cute book by an adoption professional has some glaring “issues.”

Let me back up.  This is the story of 7-year-old Rosie, a young Beagle who was adopted by a Schnauzer family.  She has a little brother, Joey, who is the biological son of their parents.   The book is geared for the interracial adoption experience.

Welcoming and peaceful, the illustrations are drawings with colored pencils. They depict a cozy home environment, as well as some specific outdoor scenes which evoke a safe and beautiful natural world.

The book is set up to provide to an adopted child answers to her questions, affirmation for emotions she might have, and situations she might have to deal with in the outside world.  This is a very valid project, and at the end of the book are a list of issues parents can use this book to deal with.

“Rosie’s Family highlights several common issues for adoptive families.  It was written primarily as a guide for parents to discuss these issues with their children.”

If I had read this section before reading the book, I might have approached my reading differently.  Rather than being seen as a picture book for children, it might be seen as a guidebook for parents to use as the issues arise.

Here are the problems I have with the book as a “bedtime book” for children.

1.  Rosie is a dog and she was adopted by her family.  I am a huge animal lover (and, yes, I carry on conversations with my cats, interpreting their thoughts into speech).  Still, I find it awkward that the same words we use to talk about bringing specifically dogs and cats into our families (adoption, fostering) are the words we use to talk about bringing children into our families.  Sometimes we hear stories about animals adopted who “don’t work out” and are “brought back.”  Hearing these associations has got to be really puzzling for children, so to confuse the issues in a picture book seems unnecessary.  For some reason I haven’t yet identified, Rosie’s identity as a dog is more important in this book than in other picture books about adoption featuring animals which I have read in the past.

2.  There is a two page spread about where babies “come from” which is confusing.  On the left page, the text reads: “Some kids are adopted into families, like me…….”  The illustrations show a set of birth parents with baby Rosie in a basket facing the Schnauzers, Rosie’s adoptive parents.  On the right page, Rosie is looking at baby Joey inside her Mom, using a sort of telescope (microscope?).  The text reads: “…..and some are born into families, like my brother Joey who grew inside my Mom.”   Unfortunately, this contextualization makes it seem as though Rosie herself was not born.  It’s a comparison of oranges to apples.  The basic idea makes sense, but seeing it contrasted on two opposite pages gave me a strange feeling.

3.  During the questions and issues that arise (Are you my real parents? What were my birth parents like? Where did I live before? Why do I look different from my family?) I suspect that a child who has not yet encountered this breadth of adoption issues might feel overwhelmed.  Reading is frequently a time for comfort and companionship for young children, and this might be just too much all at once.  Nevertheless, as a tool to use to address an issue, it would be a decent book to pull out to illustrate a frank and loving conversation.

Rosie’s Family brings up important issues and deals with them in a trustworthy way, but it’s not bedtime reading.

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