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7 Essential Books for Adoptive Parents

There's plenty of reading out there regarding adoption, with common themes ranging from primal wounds to reunion stories to chirpy child-of-my-heart tales. What books get to the heart of this type of family, avoiding the easy agony-or-ecstasy tropes?
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You're thinking about adopting. Or, you've applied to adopt and been matched with a child. Perhaps said child has arrived and you need something to read in between giving a sleepless baby/restless toddler/whatever age settling-in-kiddo the house tour, AGAIN. Or your adopted child is now in school, or has become an angsty teenager. Perhaps you are yourself adopted or just know people who are. There's plenty of reading out there regarding adoption, with common themes ranging from primal wounds to reunion stories to chirpy child-of-my-heart tales. What books get to the heart of this type of family, avoiding the easy agony-or-ecstasy tropes?

1. No Biking in the House without a Helmet by 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 Psycho for 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.

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