Stick and Stone: A Story of Friendship

stick and stoneStick and Stone written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld is a delightfully unexpected spin on the way we usually think about sticks and stones. Instead of being “weapons,” Stick and Stone are two characters in a sweet but powerful story. Sparse prose brilliantly captures the budding friendship of two solitary loners: Stick and Stone. They discover that everything is better when shared with a friend. Lichtenfeld captures the depth and range of their friendship in simple, bright illustrations that pulse with warmth and coziness. When Stone is bullied by a mean and prickly pinecone, Stick comes to his defense, using his words not his fists. “Because that is what friends do.”

Stick’s intervention on behalf of his friend is a model for the power of one individual to make a difference. (Refer to last week’s blog The Power of One.) Stone is surprised by Stick’s brave gesture. Stick replies that is what friends do. Readers will connect with the moment of friendship in action, of loyalty and courage to speak up. Kids know what it is like to need that buddy. They also understand how challenging it can be to stand up against a bully. This story offers a chance to place themselves in both situations and imagine how they might feel, think and act. Later in the story, Stone has the opportunity to return the favor of friendship when he rescues his friend Stick. Again the refrain “That’s what friends do,” is repeated.

The AQ* Lens: We’ve all heard the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We all know the fundamental untruth of this saying through direct personal experience. Words have immense power—to heal, to connect, to divide and to destroy. As adoptive parents we know we must prepare our kids to face the dreaded day/s when a rude remark about adoption, birth parents, being given away, etc.

We can use words to empower our kids. Provide them with an arsenal of respectful adoption language. Help them to reframe ignorant remarks as an opportunity to educate other kids, even adults. Unfortunately, sometimes the speaker intends to shame, humiliate, or insult. If that is the case, do not minimize the experience. This would invalidate the reality of their experience and create a relationship disconnect. Instead, talk about why other kids might not understand adoption and how that can create fear and misunderstanding.

It’s never too early to teach kids about personal boundaries—especially around their adoption. Help them to understand the distinction between private and secret. Adoption is not secret. Nonetheless, parts of their story are private—not for general discussion with any/every curious person. They need not feel obligated to divulge personal information just because a question is asked. (This goes for us adults as well. The best way to equip kids with firm boundaries is by our own example. As they observe us when we encounter intrusive, inappropriate questions about their adoption, our children can “study” our respectful, courteous “boundary-establishing” response.

I Had a Favorite Dress

I had a favorite dressChange is difficult for children. I was delighted to find this aptly titled book : I Had A Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn and illustrated by Julia Denos. It connected with my own experiences. As a child, I too, had a favorite dress. It had a pale dreamy peach-colored bodice and a white knife-pleated skirt. How I loved that dress and how bereft I felt when I outgrew it. (More than fifty years later I can still picture it and how I felt when I wore it AND when it no longer fit.)

That dress represented so much to me. I felt pretty, stylish and grown up. It gave me confidence which, as a shy child, I valued. When it no longer fit, it was a tangible sign that I was different–older and the things expected of me were different. This both excited and intimidated me. Clothing plays an important role in expressing our individuality–for children and for adults. It’s the packaging we use to present ourselves into the world. So it is no surprise, to some of us, clothing is a Big Deal.

It certainly is to the spunky main character in this charming picture book. (She is unnamed and her ethnicity is open to interpretation. A silver star for diversity.)  Like her, I loved “making things” out of stuff. (Still do!) At first, she despairs when her dress no longer fits, but then creativity inspires her!  She devises a plan to reinvent her favorite garment and enlist her mother to accomplish the makeover.

With each reinterpretation, the original garment becomes smaller and smaller until barely a fragment is left– only enough to … Well, you’ve got to read the book to learn its final incarnation.

As always, I like to put on my AQ* glasses and view the book through the lens of Adoption-attunement. This book is a fun romp through creative problem-solving. It models a resilience to change without beating kids over the head with the message. (As adoptive parents, we are very familiar with how challenging change can be for our kids!) Kids will enjoy discovering how the little girl creates each new version.

Have some fun as you read the book. Pause to predict how you might reinvent the “dress” at each stage. Ask them to think about something in their own life which they treasure and which they are on the verge of “outgrowing.” How might they redesign it to extend its life? Mother encourages her “not to make mountains out of mole hills.” For kids with temperamental emotional thermostats, this is a way of watching others work through their “disasters.” The story easily lends itself to discussing recycling, and maintaining an attitude of possibility and solutions. Enjoy. I rate this book a five star read.

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12 Benefits of an Adoption Lifebook

Portrait of pretty mixed race girl playing super heroLast week we discussed how books can be a useful tool for the adoptive family. This week I’d like to examine a particular kind of book that many of you may be unfamiliar with: the lifebook.

This is a unique and completely personal book that tells the story of your child’s life from the beginning. It includes the details from his birth and information about events before he was born.

Beth O’Malley, M.Ed, an adoptee, adoptive parent and adoption social worker,  wrote “Lifebooks: Creating a treasure for Your Adoptive Child,” one of the best “how to” books on creating lifebooks. Their value to an adopted child can be huge. Taking the time to gather, save and record information, memorabilia, and photographs of the important people, places and events of a child’s life clearly conveys a vital message: his life story is valuable, worth remembering and worth retelling. A lifebook says, “Your story begins before adoption and because we love you, we value the history of your life from the beginning. We do not expect or require you to wipe the slate clean in order to embrace our joint life.”

Without these life-details, adopted kids report feeling rootless, at sea, hatched or alien. When parents capture the information and save it, they provide an affirmation and a tool that helps a child piece together their identity. Even in situations where almost no information exists, it is still possible and worthwhile to create a functional lifebook. Beth provides templates that will guide you through the process. She advises making it a family project. Here are some of the top reasons why your child deserves a lifebook.

1. Ground child in her history & beginnings Like all human beings, every adoptee was born, has a birth mother and birth father. Some adoptees were adopted at birth while others experienced lengthy intervals. Regardless of the amount of intervening time, every experience she faced and every person that walked through her life is an important element in her history.

2. Testimony to her history Beth O’Malley states that a lifebook“ honors every minute of … children’s lives.” It affirms their existence and allows parent and child to imagine being there together, celebrating her birth. It acknowledges the events that occurred in the child’s life and helps a child see what they faced, experienced and in some cases “survived.”

3. Physical tool A book is a neutral tool that allows a child to initiate adoption conversations. It gives her something tangible to frame her story and provides structure to her narrative.

4. Creates a normalizing effect Lifebooks document her life journey and identify ways in which she is just like other kids.

5. Provides Constancy and security The lifebook creates a permanent repository of children’s lives. Therapists and parents report that kids refer to it throughout their lives—even into adulthood.

6. Affirms the importance of her life from birth onward Asserts that her story deserves recording, repeating and revisiting. Intuitively, a child knows it takes time and effort to create a lifebook. At some level, a child infers that this means “she is  worth it.”

7. Addresses difficult experiences Affirms the child’s survival of any difficult (sometimes horrific) circumstances and reiterates that the child is blameless for the events that led to his adoption. This helps a child to see himself as the hero of his own life.

8. Eliminates the temptation to “protect” a child from the tough facts of her life Information should always be shared in age-appropriate ways; tough stuff should not be withheld from a child. Secrecy generates shame and eventually secrets come to life. This revelation inevitably damages the trust relationship“Unfortunately such well-meaning avoidance … leaves the child alone with his fantasies … and these are often more frightening, self-blaming and damaging than the actual facts.” Instead of hiding information, lifebooks allow parents (sometimes with the partnership of a therapist of social worker) to share it while being supported in the family.

9. Opens adoption conversations between child and parent Lifebooks provide a concrete place to start a conversation. A child can choose to read from the part of the book that connects with his current need.

10. Establishes a truth base which builds trust. Neither child nor parent has to put on a mask and pretend that adoption is loss and pain free or that certain events did not occur. This builds the family relationship on truth and encourages genuine connection.

11. Tracks the facts of her history and validates the emotions connected with them Lifebooks operate as a neutral container of the child’s life story line.

12. Builds foundation for attachment When you value my history, recognize my journey through difficulty and show I’m a survivor, it establishes that parents are strong enough to know the my story, accept it and love me–the real child who lived that story.

Ooops–an Oops-ortunity to Embrace the Beauty of the Unexpected

  beautiful oops posterBeautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg is a charming picture book that will delight readers of all ages. Its message resonates on many levels: mistakes offer unexpected opportunities to look at things with a fresh perspective. On the surface, the story is about seeing the art within an “error.” A spill becomes a snuggle of puppies. A smudge morphs into fish, etc. A tear, a fold, a drip, a scrap—all hold hidden possibilities of beauty and joy.

This secret gift, though less obvious, is more powerful because of the surprise. By pausing to explore beyond first impressions, as if by magic is beauty, laughter and surprise are revealed.
As a coach who works with adoptive families, I see another layer of meaning, one that is deeper and more important. Our kids often feel like a “mistake.” In their young hearts, they hear that their birthparents could not make space for them. (Kids often don’t “hear” that adult problems and lack of skills and resources are the pivot points, even when they are told this repeatedly. Instead, kids focus on themselves as being the problem.
When I read Beautiful Oops, I saw it as a wonderful metaphor for reframing, for helping kids see that the unexpected, unplanned or different, may in fact, be quite beautiful. Families have a chance to embrace this way of thinking in daily living. Parents can look for opportunities to highlight the gap between what was expected and what actually resulted: an off-center, candid photo can capture more truth than a perfectly staged shot; a meal may not look like the picture in the cookbook but still tastes delicious.

Kids study parents’ responses to such circumstances. This is how children learn to face situations in their own lives. Parents show them how to embrace the unexpected, laugh at errors and learn from shortfalls. Life is about learning, not perfection. Life—and more importantly, love– is forgiving, understanding, imperfect, and unconditional.

A Very Special Chicken Learns to Shine

 

 

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Today’s delightful picture book sweet story includes two vital messages:  the importance of self-acceptance and unconditional parental love. This is a vital and reassuring message for all kids, especially adoptees.

Henny written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton is a charming book about a most unusual chicken. Henny was born with arms instead of wings. This causes her great consternation. She feels left out, wonders how to fit in and doubts her “chickeness.” Fortunately, although Henny’s arms shock her mother, she accepts her chick and loves Henny without reservation. Children will easily recognize this powerful act of mother love.

Henny comes to discover that arms can be quite useful.  They trail behind her gracefully, allow her to climb trees, plug her ears and brush her teeth. Being different in these ways allows Henny to stand out from other chickens. She delights in the limelight.

But Henny’s arms also cause difficulty, like requiring her to always go last. She tries to camouflage her differences and blend in. Still, the other animals make fun of her. Unlike other chickens, she must choose between gloves or mittens, between being right-handed or left-handed, getting hangnails or tennis elbow. What’s a chicken to do? Henny discovers her “difference” allows her to help farmer Brown in ways none of the other chickens can.

Stanton’s delicate watercolor and pencil illustrations fill the book with humor and charm. Henny comes to life with immense personality. Readers—young and adult— will connect with Henny’s gestures and facial expressions as she is a unique, well-rounded and talented chicken.

Young readers will identify with Henny’s struggle to face and accept her personal differences as well as the differences in others. Many will want to talk about how kids can be kind or mean to each other. This could include discussion of bullying as well—how it feels, what to do, etc.

HennyFive stars *****

A Child Delights in Seeing “Himself” in ABC, Adoption & Me

ABC, Adoption & Me display

ABC, Adoption & Me, visits Windmill Point Elementary School

When a school invites me to do an author visit, it still thrills me. I love to watch children as they listen to a story, absorb it, and ask questions. Books have such potential to affect lives.  Casey and I wrote ABC, Adoption & Me with the intention of making it that kind of book—one that truly touches children’s hearts and minds.

While reading ABC, Adoption & Me to the audience at a recent school visit, I experienced that connection. I had instructed the children to study the illustrations and listen to the text to find which page reminded them of their own family. Nodding heads and smiling faces indicated that the children had enjoyed the story.

I returned to my display table. Tugging on his Mom’s arm, a young child made a beeline to me. “I know which letter is like my family.” He beamed at me and hastily turned the pages until he came to O is for Open Adoption. Tapping his chest and then tapping the pages, he continued, “Open Adoption. That’s me. I have an Open adoption.” Clearly he was thrilled to see his experience reflected in the pages of a book. Coincidentally, the illustration character was Latino like himself.

I felt like he’d given me a gift—the gift of knowing that we had accomplished our goal of expanding adoption literature to reflect the child’s experience and to do it in a way that validated that experience.

Last week was Children’s Book Week. Much of the focus highlighted the need for more diverse books. The hashtag #weneeddiversebooks skyrocketed across the web gaining momentum and opening the conversation on the value of diversity in literature.  We are pleased to be part of that increased diversity. The right combination of a great story well told can engage a child’s mind and heart. This is how lifelong readers are born.

 

A Family Collage in Beautiful Color

sugarplum 2Recently the internet lit up with the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks . Imagine my delight when I came across this gem: I Bet She Called Me Sugarplum by Joanne V. Gabbin Illustrated by Margot Berman. It impressed me in many ways. First, and foremost, it is a book about an Afro-American family, the stories memories and experiences that bind them together. A small but integral part of the story reveals that the child came into her family through adoption. Both she and her adoptive family are Afro-American as well. The exquisitely detailed collages,  illustrate the story and serve as a metaphor for the stitching together of an adopted family.

Told in rhyming poetry, the story highlights the relationships that tie family generations together. This is an important way of quilting extended families together and is especially valuable for fostering connectivity in an adoptive family.

The story is upbeat and respectful for the little girl’s birth family and nurtures her ability to regard them with love, kindness and a sense of being valued. All are excellent goals for an adoptive family. The adoptive mother clearly affirms this attitude: “Another mommy loved you and left you to our care.” When parents approach a child’s history with this kind of acceptance, it encourages an open dialog. This helps kids feel comfortable discussing questions and feelings that arise from their adoption.

It includes a paper doll cutout, which encourages a wonderful—and somewhat forgotten—way of role playing that encourages the reader to imagine being the child in the book!

The warm and tender feelings, the gorgeous illustrations, and the lush text make this an excellent read. All kids will enjoy this book whether they are adopted or not. As an adoption coach and an adoptive parent, I would give this book five stars.

 

Sugar Plum

 

Harmonizing the Notes of Diversity

Benny Goodman.51+C+5IvLeL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Books offer an excellent way to connect, to create community, to promote healing and to educate. As an adoptive parent and an adoption coach, I especially appreciate books that help to improve the lives of adoptive families.

+Alex Baugh recently reviewed Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black and White Jazz Band in History by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome. (Follow the link to read her entire review.) This story shows how they worked to make beautiful music together–literally and metaphorically.

Music is a language that touches us deeply and communicates  beyond words, cultures and prejudices. But music was (is)  a product of the society from which it grows and even it suffered the constraints of segregation. Until–until these gifted musicians realized they wanted–needed–to play together.

For all of us, music is a powerful force that not only entertains, but also transforms. It helps us to become global citizens that appreciate the glory of diversity and appreciates that we are enriched by our differences not diminished by them. As adoptive families, we have a particular interest in expanding the acceptance of diverse family groups. As we embrace diversity, as we live diversity, we prove that it is not how similar a family looks that bonds them together. It is how they love, respect, and accept one another. Blaze a path and be a shining star for tolerance, diversity and compassion.

What books have you found shrink the globe and that brings us together as members of the Family of Man? Please share your favorite titles, so we all can enjoy them!

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