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What Is Adoption?

by Sofie Stergianis and Rita McDowallWisdom Press; $12.99

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No matter when or how children hear the word “adoption” for the first time, they’ll have questions. And, as one question leads to another, adults may wonder what or how much to say. (It’s easy for adoptive parents to forget that we once had to educate ourselves about adoption, too.) What Is Adoption? is a helpful book to turn to for this situation.

While the title and illustrations signal “educational,” the book is written creatively. At the beginning of the book, a young girl learns that her close friend was adopted. The story line takes us through several conversations she has with her mother and her friend as the girl learns what this means. The long-term, childhood friendship is a comfortable framework for the story, and the questions dealt with are ones that young children naturally ask.

What Is Adoption? is written for non-adopted children. But the book touches on so many realistic question-and-answer scenarios that it could be useful for non-adoptive parents and educators, as well. It could also help our kids formulate responses to use with curious peers. To this end, adoptive parents might use the book as the basis for role-playing questions and responses at home.

When I asked my teenagers for their reactions after reading the book, their attitude was one of indifference—as if this is all so behind them. Yet, with a little prodding, the book’s take on what makes a “real” parent sparked a lively discussion. We debated why our families have to be emphasized as “forever” families, and agreed that the phrase “Legal = For keeps,” used in one of the book’s illustrations, trivializes adoption.

In the back of the book, adults will find a page about positive adoption language. The explanations are helpful, but the points are written as commands. I would have preferred the gentle touch used in the story.

As a whole, this book is a welcome addition to adoption literature. Its story should help readers, young and old alike, rethink preconceived notions about how families are formed.

Reviewed by Margaret Mintz, an adoptive mother who lives with her family in New York City. She co-authored AF’s handout, “Helping Classmates Understand Adoption.”

Excerpts from What Is Adoption?

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