Memories: Powerful, Evocative and Revealing

Memory.517sG+s3OzL._SX382_BO1,204,203,200_Even very young children recognize the signal phrase, Once upon a time so when they read Nina Laden’s evocative picture book Once upon a Memory they will intuitively prepare for a magical story. The gorgeous illustrations by Renata Liwska have a soft-focus, watercolor-type glow that perfectly serve the story and capture a dreamy, time-traveling mood. Detailed drawings expand the spare text and invite further exploration of the thematic ideas.

Simple rhymes lilt softly on the ear, enhance the dreamy mood and encourage young readers to explore beyond the obvious into their own personal experiences. Colored font highlights key words and further spotlights the connection between the item in its current state  back through time to a former state. For example,

“Does a feather remember it once was … a bird?”

Each page offers a chance to delve deeper into the questions and discuss how change occurs in people, places and things. One could simply enjoy this wonderful chance to ride the magic carpet of imagination and fantasy. Or one could use it as a path to some simple STEM activities—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ Lens: For adopted children this book can offer a path to conversations about their past. For example, the final pairing, “Will you remember you once were … a child?” could naturally evolve into discussing their thoughts about their life story before they were adopted. Older children might wish to express any what-if thoughts  about how their lives might have been different had they never been adopted, or if they’d been adopted by other parents.

(Many adult adoptees say they had these thoughts but felt afraid or unwelcome to share these somewhat scary and unsettling thoughts with their adoptive families because they did not want to hurt their adoptive parents and/or seem disloyal.}

Parents can nudge children towards a conversation like this through indirect questions like, “Some kids (note the absence of reference to adoption,) wonder how events in their lives might be different, for example, if they didn’t have their family pet…” Kids can then decide if they want to make the conversation real personal or keep it general.

Sharing a book like Once upon a Memory, reassures a child that his thoughts are safe to share and allows parents to comfort and reassure their child with unconditional love and acceptance. While it can be awkward to have such Difficult Conversations, it is important to do so. And to offer the possibility on a regular basis.

We never want to force  a child to talk but it is essential that we sincerely convey are willingness to do so as well as our ability to be strong enough to hear our children’s thoughts. Don’t mistake a child’s resistance as disinterest. (And please do not breathe an audible sigh of relief when they decline to talk about adoption “stuff”. Parent and child both need courage, empathy, and compassion.) Use your best adoption-attuned intuition to identify what is behind their reluctance. They may simply need more convincing that our invitation is genuine or may not be ready at that moment. Children are interested–and probably a bit wary and uncomfortable–but they still benefit from such conversations.

Love Is Always in Season

Love.Eric Carle.51cnuPybmDL._SX406_BO1,204,203,200_

 

In the vein of Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle’s new book  Love from The Very Hungry Caterpillar,  is a treasure for all ages not only for children. Pictured in his signature style of  artwork, the sweet message of love is expressed in simple metaphor, brilliant color and spare graphics.

Snuggle close to your special sweetie and share this little gem. The human heart craves affirmation; sometimes a book is the perfect way to do it. Read it often. It’s a great way to get used to expressing the love in your hearts.

 

 

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 (1)#AQ Lens Too often we forget how important it is to express our love to our family. In this season of gift-giving it is easy to think that the stuff we buy conveys our emotion. Things are appreciated, expected and enjoyed but the thrill of stuff quickly fades. What persists in memory is the way we make our loved ones feel.

It is especially important for our kids not only to hear but also feel our love. Our best gift to them is our undivided attention, attentive listening and willingness to express in words and actions the love we have for them. Often, children who were adopted struggle with doubt, rejection and feeling inadequate. Be intentional about the many ways in which you live the love you feel for them. Help them experience it in words as well as actions. Give them more time than stuff. Connection with you is what they really crave.

When parents freely express their emotions, it provides both a model as well as “permission” for kids to do the same. What a blessing to teach kids that it is not only okay, it is actually encouraged to open up and share their feelings.

Someone Wonderful Is Coming

Something Wonderful.612ElbG3o9L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Regardless of specific faith, the holiday season focuses on family, generosity and being a light for others. They Told Us Something Wonderful Was Coming written and illustrated by Bev Stone,  beautifully captures the joy which envelopes a family as they anticipate a new child’s arrival. The narrator explains to the reader that the entire world recognized that “something wonderful was coming.” Animals and insects, clouds and rainbows, all quivered with joyful anticipation. And what could ignite such wonder and excitement? The arrival of a new child of course!  The story concludes creatures, great and small “somehow, they knew about you!”

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 (1)AQ* Lens: This story serves a feast for the eyes and the heart. Delicate watercolors fill each page depicting the manifest ways that the world brightened in anticipation of a marvelous event. Each page turn delivers a unique moment of excitement that builds the reader’s excitement as he wonders what could provoke such happiness?

All of us–child and adult–love to hear and feel that are arrival was celebrate. The age of the child on whom the story centers is not specified; it could be a baby, toddler, teen or any age in between which makes this story a great fit for adoptive families.  Many books honor the anticipation and arrival of a new baby but rarely do we find a book that expands the arrival of a new family member who is older. As adoptive parents we know how important it is for older children to feel welcome, important and special. Five stars

starstarstarstarstar

Full, full, full of love.51a0ldDzfzL._SY490_BO1,204,203,200_Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cole is another story that elicits warm, snugly feelings. It follows a grandson’s visit with his grandmother. Together they prepare the Sunday feast for the extended family. Jay Jay is excited to  spend time with his Grannie. Their tender connection jumps off every page. Grannie keeps Jay Jay busy “helping”  which distracts him until everyone arrives. It also teaches an important lesson about work: it is not a punishment but rather a way of showing how much we care. Young children yearn to “help”; often it is easier for adults to deflect their awkward attempts because it is easier for adult to do it alone. This story shows how if draws the boy closer to his grandma and reinforces the desire to work.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 (1)AQ* LensFull, Full, Full of Love depicts an African-American family in a universal  experience. Aunts, uncles, and cousins gather for a home-cooked meal at Grannie’s. It’s not to observe a holiday or some major event but simply to celebrate the blessing of being a family. I appreciate the ordinariness of this.  

This book would be a wonderful choice for any child, regardless of race. It serves to depict the commonalities we share and thus, is a great choice for advancing a multicultural awareness.

starstarstarstarstar

 

 

And Here's to You..51ccZotpV8L._SX452_BO1,204,203,200_And Here’s to You,  by David Ellitott and illustrated by Randy Cecil is an exuberant riff on tolerance and respect for others and the universality of our experiences. Cartoon-like illustrations pair with a refrain that carries throughout the book. Whether it is birds, bugs, cats, dogs, bears, or all manner of people, each is wonderful and valued. Now that is a message we all enjoy hearing. Again and again and again.

 

 

 

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300 (1)AQ* LensFull, Full, Full of Love depicts a variety of characters both animal and human and infused with diversity that is the foundation of the story’s premise. It reinforces another important concept of unconditional love: “Here’s to the sweet you/The messy and the neat you/ the funny-way-you-eat you/ The head to your feet you…Oh, how I love you!” Kids can never get enough reassurance that their parent’s love is not conditional on behavior, looks or anything else.

starstarstarstarstar 

 

Ditch Perfect. Embrace OK.

the oka bookAmy Krause Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld have collaborated on many delightful books. The OK Book  is another of their quirky and insightful picture books that delivers a powerful message: sometimes “OK” is the channel to excellence not its enemy! Concise text is paired with illustrations that perfectly further the larger story without being preachy.

Rosenthal has an exceptional talent for capturing a simple premise and highlighting it in a way that makes readers think, “It’s obvious and so true. How did I miss that?

Lichtenheld’s brilliant and precise illustrations transform the letters O and  into a recognizable stick figure who serves as the main character. Simple, unexpected and very effective, these graphics bring the story to life!

Young children dream of being the best super hero, athlete, or most-liked friend. Their fantasies overflow with images of themselves shining above the competition. Such magical thinking rarely understands that it takes time consuming effort and practice to achieve such excellence. Much to their chagrin, they must work through the often-discouraging process–and hard work–of being a beginner who struggles and fails through multiple attempts. All too often, their spirits waiver and they give up. This book reinforces the idea that OK is the first step on the long road to expertise. As parents we work to encourage this attitude of perseverance  while they march their way towards mastery.

starstarstarstarstar

magnifying lens AQ.2AQ Lens: Many adopted children struggle with fears of rejection and of not being good enough. Some pursue perfectionism in a mistaken belief that it is the only way to prevent the loss of their adoptive family. After all, their first family rejected* them. Why couldn’t it happen again? This need to be perfect makes them fear failure. Although most kids hate the floundering feeling of being a beginner, for some adopted children this weakness feels threatening and unsafe. To ensure they always measure up, they tackle only what they know they can do well.

The OK Book is an excellent way to talk about the challenge and importance of the uphill journey from beginner to winner. It can help parents uncover their child’s hidden beliefs and fears. Too often kids infer that parental love is conditional on performance. This peek into their hearts and mind offers a wonderful chance for parents to reassure their child and become closer. These types of conversations help to build essential life skills: security and emotional literacy.

Bonus: the message of The OK Book is often one which parents also need to hear and remember.

*Adoptees yearn for frequent reassurance that their adoption did NOT result from the child’s inadequacies but from adult problems, lack of resources and capabilities.

 

“You’re Lovable to Me” Forever

In the vein of Love You Forever by Robert Munsch You’re Lovable to Me by Kat Yeh and illustrated by Sue Anderson sends a reassuring message to children that their parents will love them unconditionally. Mama’s love is steady whether bunny is “sad…or he’s frightened…or she’s lonely…or he’s worried…or she’s mad….” In other words, Mama loves her little ones when it is easy and when it is challenging. Children need  that reassuring message repeated regularly.

As in Munsch’s book, the story extends the thread of unconditional love back to the grandfather as he tucks a blanket around his now-adult daughter. What a lovely way to model the permanent need we have for nurturing, kindness and caring-in-action.

magnifying lens AQ.2

AQ Lens: Adopted children benefit from frequent reassurance that they are fully accepted into the family, that their belonging exists independent of their measuring up or behaving in a certain way. The story does this well. It’s gentle illustrations exude a sweet nurturing feel. Moreover, the behaviors and emotions that the story mentions cover a broad spectrum.

This creates an easy teaching moment for exploring the complexity of emotions which children experience and can help them develop a broad vocabulary of emotions. This helps children identify and manage their feelings.     starstarstarstarstar

 

My Family Is ForeverMy Family Is Forever by Nancy Carlson features an Asian-American child–with Caucasian parents–and follows common themes in children’s books about adoption. First, loving relationships define families; they need not look similar in order to be a family. Second, it describes the parent’s yearning for a child, their working with an adoption counselor, their  struggle to wait until receiving a referral, the parents’ plane flight to meet their child and, finally the child’s thoughts about her birth parents.

The story concludes with the familiar refrain, Families are forever.”

 

 

magnifying lens AQ.2

AQ Lens: Adopted children enjoy hearing their adoption stories and they take delight in knowing how happy their parents were to have them join the family. This story does a good job on that count.

I wish it included more direct reassurance that the adoptive parents welcome the girl’s questions and mixed feelings about the more difficult/painful parts of adoption. (When reading My Family Is Forever, parents can take the opportunity to hold that exact conversation!)

Adoptees know through direct experience that families can be broken apart. It’s already happened to them at least once (when they were separated from their birth families.) Thus, in an attempt to reassure children, adoptive families are frequently described as forever families.  It is important that adoptive families also convey that their birth families are also forever a part of the adoptee.

(I wish we could coin a new phrase that reassures children without subtly implying that their birth family is somehow no longer a part of them. Suggestions and discussion are welcome!)                  starstarstarstar