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A Place in My Heart

by Mary Grossnickle; illustrated by Alison Relyea Speaking of Adoption; $16.95; ages 4-10

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A Place in My Heart tells the story of Charlie, a happy-go-lucky chipmunk who loves to play in the woods and gather acorns for his family—of squirrels. As we learn a quarter of the way into the book, Charlie was adopted.

The night that we first meet Charlie, his mother tells him his adoption story. Although he’s heard the story many times before, with this retelling he suddenly realizes that being adopted means having two sets of parents. He wonders what his birthparents look like, fantasizing that his birthmother is beautiful and his birth-father is a sports star. Preoccupied and confused after his realization, he’s mean to his brother and sister the next day.

Charlie’s mother links his behavior to their conversation and sits him down to talk. She tells him it’s OK to think about his birthparents. When he questions whether his birthparents have room in their hearts for him, she responds that everyone has room in their hearts for all the people they care about. She makes this concrete by cutting out a heart-shaped piece of paper and writing on it the names of everyone she cares about. Charlie does the same, including his birthmother and birth-father on his heart.

The illustrator has done a fine job creating Charlie. He’s cute and expressive, and my son immediately responded to him. The story itself is somewhat didactic, driven more by its message than by a plot. But that message—that it’s OK to think about your birthparents—is an important one. And the heart cut-out activity described in the book is a useful, therapeutic device for prompting conversation with a child. I’ll definitely file it away for the future.

Reviewed by Adrienne Ehlert Bashista, an adoptive mother, a children’s librarian, and the author of When I Met You: A Story of Russian Adoption.

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