We check out a lot of books from the library every month. While I do a cursory check of what is being brought home, I don’t read every single picture book that gets checked out. This usually works just fine for us, but every so often, there is a book that comes home which I would not have chosen. I don’t tend to find this out until I am in the middle of reading the book to a group of children. As I’m reading it, I’m also having a little inner discussion with myself.
“This is pretty bad.”
“Should I actually be reading this to my children?”
“How do these books get published?”
“Am I missing something here?”
Sometimes the books are just poorly written. Sometimes the books are so plot-less everyone is left wondering what was the point. And sometimes it is the way certain subject matter is handled, and sometimes that subject matter has to do with adoption themes. Our most recent bad experience had to do with a book called The Baby That Roared by Simon Puttock. It is a couple of years old, but was new to us. The plot involves a deer couple (that would be the animal) who want to have children. What appears to be a baby deer is left on their doorstep and they are so happy to bring a baby into their family, even if he does look a little odd. As the story progresses, the deer couple cannot make the baby happy and call in various relatives to help. The baby, who is clearly not a deer, swallows each visiting relative when the deer parents’ backs are turned. Finally, the last relative comes and burps the baby, thus saving the relatives who had been swallowed, and they all realize that their baby is not a deer; it’s a monster. At this point, the monster runs away.
Based on the Amazon reviews, many people like this book. The art is bright and colorful, the deer family is amusingly clueless, and there is a twisted sense of humor behind the story that probably appeals even more to adults than to most young children. But I have to admit I finished the book with a vaguely yucky feeling. It touches on a lot of themes that many people could find upsetting… infertility, sameness and difference in adoptive families, behavior of adopted children, fear of adopted children that parents may reject them if they behave like monsters, and fear of adoptive parents that their child might be a monster. The line, “That is not a dear little baby. That is a monster!” felt particularly unsettling.
Now, I try not to be overly sensitive. I know that sometimes a children’s book is really just a children’s book and not trying to deliver a message or probe deep feelings, but certain experiences can change your perspective. Where an author or reader may see a cute and benign story about parents who don’t match their child, an adoptive family has so many more layers of emotion and experience to wade through that it colors how something is read. The book may actually be benign for a family not touched by adoption, but for us, every person in the house who has read it has reacted negatively to it. (I was doing a little in-house experiment and asking my older people to read the book and tell me their impression.) It would have been nice to have a little warning about the content ahead of time.
This got me thinking: there are a lot of book lists out there about positive adoption books, but are there any lists of books that an adoptive parent might want to preview before reading to a child? So I did a little research. Well, I did the next best thing, I Googled “adoption books to avoid” and got… nothin’. Wouldn’t this be helpful…? A list of books that may prove difficult or questionable for adoptive families? It doesn’t necessarily mean the books are bad, but only that they may not be the best choice for an adopted child. Knowing a book was on a list like this would give the parents some advance warning and allow them to decide if the book will be a good one for their children. Think of it as an early warning system.
Let’s help each other out and make one here. I’ve already started with The Baby Who Roared. Are there any picture books you have come across that you wish you had had some warning about? Are there any books which touch on adoption related themes that your child has found upsetting? Share them in the comments. For this list let’s keep it to picture books. In Part 2 of this series, I will delve into the much trickier topic of adoption in young adult fiction.
I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to share.