This list is created to validate the experience of children who have been adopted through foster care after experiencing trauma, rejection, and/or neglect
CONTENT WARNING FOR CHILD ABUSE
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- Most of these stories are validating – which means they are not meant to be read by children who have not gone through this experience. With a few exceptions, I have not tested these stories with my kids. These stories are not intended for their gaze. Without lived experience, many of these single-dimension stories could reinforce stereotypes about poverty, race, and being a victim. Screen these carefully.
- The common narrative of adoption centers parents (particularly white parents) as saviors and adoption as a fairytale with a happy ending. This erases the lived experience and often the trauma adopted children and families go through.
- I am a proponent of reunification with birth parents. The adoption process disproportionately favors wealthy white adoptive parents. Our foster and adoption system is broken, under-funded, mis-managed, and horrifyingly traumatic for children and parents. Feeding into the dominant narrative of fairytale endings and saviors erases this violence and helps to perpetuate it. AND sometimes first families are abusive and should not have custody or contact with their children. We need to hold both of these realities side by side, understand every foster/placement/adoption is different, and try to treat every party with respect and dignity while focusing on the safety of minors and victims.
- For disclosure on the ways I am complicit in the traumatic and broken system of adoption – I am not adopted, but two of my brothers were. They are both minors, so I’m not going to disclose specifics on their experience with their first families, but I’ve screened these books with the perspective of having these on hand when they need them. I also have experience volunteering as a photographer for the Mass Adoption Resource Exchange, a nonprofit that helps place children who have had a difficult time finding adoptive families, and I’ve done some documentary work on PTSD after parental abuse and adoption. (circa 2014 – 2017) These were volunteer and self-funded projects, designed to give a voice to children in the foster care system who have no hope/desire of reunification, but this work is still complicit in feeding into the dominant narrative.
- I spent an entire month (October 2018) evaluating books on adoption & foster placement and child abuse. These were the best ones. Please be careful with any that do not appear on this list, as they tend to be overly confusing, triggering, and victim-blaming. I’m not trying to neg all the books, but I just don’t have time to list the many, many, many books that I read that sucked.
Quick & Messy Book List:
For children who have been uprooted and placed with a family
- My New Mom & Me – Validating to see that there are other kids who have gone through the same thing. appropriate for very young children (toddlers through early elementary)
- Dear Baobab – might be too advanced for a preschooler, but worth checking out for older kids (maybe 7+). kinship adoption, international adoption
Validating the complicated relationship/feelings children have with first families
- With you always, little Monday – Cote – orphaned baby bunny is raised by forest creatures. Looks for mom in an homage to ‘are you my mommy.’ Turns out his mommy is the rabbit in the moon (see East Asian folklore). Good for kids with moms who have passed away whom they can’t remember. The story does NOT acknowledge that he has any other mother – author probably left this vague to be accessible for children in group homes who have not been placed. I could see a lot of adoptive parents getting offended by the lack of mention of adoptive parents in the story, so this will need to be accompanied with a reminder that not everything is for us and our feelings as parents don’t need to be validated while we validate the experiences of our kids. could be healing if adoptive parents are willing to read books like this to validate the relationship an adopted child will always have with first parents. Will hold on to this and introduce it to Liam if/when he shows an interest in learning about his first mother (talk to mom first). See cote interview by adoptive mother using ‘first parent’ language: http://awrungsponge.blogspot.com/2007/11/roberts-snow-genevieve-cote.html
- Also see some of the books below
For children who have experienced rejection, neglect and/or abuse with previous families
- Elliot (Pearson) – Screen carefully – Elliot experiences neglect from his first family, is rejected by his first foster family, and is finally adopted by his second (third?) family. I wouldn’t read this to a kid currently in foster care with the intent to reunite, as his first family does lose custody. One Amazon reviewer did point out that the story gives the impression that it’s Elliot’s fault that he ends up in foster care, which I didn’t notice when I screened it, but is worth checking for. Validating for children adopted out of foster care, could be used as an empathy/destigmatizing book for kids who want to understand an adopted friend’s experience.
- train to somewhere (bunting) children’s aid society between 1850’s to 1920’s, history of exporting roughly 100,000 homeless children from NY to the midwest. we read the story of a young girl as she watches families pick every other kid but her, tied in with the hope that her mother will be out there waiting for her at one of those stops. we also see how she has to let go of the only ‘family’ she knows as her best friend is adopted. and how people pick the strong boys, then the weak boys, then the pretty girls first.. foster, adoption. could be validating for kids who have been previously rejected or are who are awaiting placement.
- Our Gracie Aunt (woodson) narrator is little boy who gives more vulnerable perspective, older sister has had more experience and shows a more hardened response on the outside. mom hasn’t been home for days (neglect), child services brings them to live with aunt grace. This is one of the few books that includes the first/birth mother and doesn’t erase her as if she’s irrelevant. Both mom and aunt are complex characters with dignity, despite flaws, which is lovely. There is no fairy tale happy ending to this, but the kids are safe.
- Kit Kitten And the topsy-turvy feelings – NOT for public use, this is a workbook for young kids (ages 2-7) to go through when they have experienced neglect or violence at home. Unfortunately it’s poorly written and confusing. The child’s parent ‘Kizz cat’ (the kit kat and kizz kat naming devices are very confusing) looks like a hot mess with lumpy fur and looks like they are coming down off a bad trip. I THINK the intent of this is to teach kids how to label emotions, but it’s messy intertwined with the storyline about being neglected.the author is trying to kill two birds iwth one stone and not doing a great job. I doubt this would be helpful for kids who have experienced neglect due to the confusing devices, but it’s rare to find books that validate trauma from neglect with parents who have drug addictions.
- The Nightlife of Jacuzzi Gaskett – validating for kids who have to grow up faster and take on more responsibilities than peers Jacuzzi isn’t neglected, but he’s feeling the pain of missing out on the privileges many modern kids have. ages 6+. Transparency: I got this for free from Dottir press.
Hey Kiddo (krosoczka) #Ownvoices story by child adopted by his grandparents. Best for middle & high school kids, it’s a thick graphic novel. Discussion is both validating and not too graphic – addresses neglect and addiction, how both his parents and grandparents were flawed but did their best, there are no villains in this story. Author does an unbelievable job capturing the dingy resignation of Worcester, the illustrations are so good they invoke sensory memories. Worth noting that his grandparents have the privilege of being financially secure and white. Transparency: Got a review copy of this from free from the publisher.
the magic beads – this one isn’t about adoption, but a child & single mother (not by choice). She and her mom live in a women’s shelter. “That night the ladies who worked in the shelter made lasagna for supper. It was good, but not as good as the lasagna her dad used to make. Lillian missed him sometimes. They’d moved into a shelter becuase he had a bad temper, and sometimes he hit her mom and hurt her. They’d left all their things behind. Including Lillian’s toys.” – perfect for letting kids know its okay to miss and still love an abusive parent, but validates those feelings of loss and displacement, it’s okay to feel mad at the paren/guardian you’re with for displacing you, but also shows why they did it out of love. Best part is that the book isn’t ALL about experience of abuse – it’s about being creative with what you have, being nervous to speak up n class, and overcoming a tough situation. Ages 6+ for kids destigmatizing, maybe 4+ for validating.
Dizzy (jonah winter) including this one because it’s empowering for kids who have survived child abuse, but could be triggering so proceed with caution. – I liked this story but Q hated it at 5.5. too abstract for him, but the overall message of him channelling his frustration and anger from growing up poor in an abusive home into music and playing around and breaking the rules of music to create something new and be unique was a powerful one. Some references to domestic violence (whooping) with visuals of a dad hitting his son. Q was surprised to learn that black people can be abusive too, so that was an eye opener on gaps we’ve been having on the connection between race and violence. This was the first book we read featuring an abusive father that explicitly stated it. would have loved to read this more and unpack all of the things to talk about it, but we’ll have to wait until they’re older. Could be problematic read for white kids if it reinforces stereotypes about violent black men.Grades 3-8,
Hear My Roar (watts, 2009 edition) validating book for kids with abusive parent. Not appropriate read for young kids without lived experience. father is alcoholic, always apologizes and is sometimes sweet. we see how living in fear and never quite sure what’s going to set him off creates additional emotional stress for mother and child. they don’t paint the dad as a bad guy – but as someone who wants to get better, but has an addiction (alcoholism). could be validating, but not written for outsiders. graphic novel
Hazelnut days – zau – validating book for older kids – Supposed to be validating for kid who visits father in prison, how he can both miss and admire his dad while also fearing his father’s aggression and not being proud of the fact that he’s in prison. trauma, abuse, prison (dad). Illustrations and surprise twist at the end make this appropriate for maybe 8?, the illustrations and subtleties are too abstract for younger kids.
- Healing Days – Straus – Therapy workbook for helping kids who have experienced abuse. Not specific to adoption, but this is a wonderful book just to note in this collection.
- Somebody Cares – Straus – Validating & helpful book for kids who have experienced neglect. I found this triggering AF, and although I remember reading it, I had a shutdown and was unable to take notes. Because I don’t have notes, I can’t verify that this book was good or not, but given the author (and how validated and seen I felt reading it) I suspect it was probably good.