Summer: Time for Dreaming, Exploring Boundaries, Nurturing Awareness

Summer offers a break in routines, a chance to explore, relax, have adventures and spend time with family and friends. Kids can daydream, play, enjoy hobbies and use this break to discover things about themselves, their world and the people around them. Here are a few wonderful “summer reads” for kids. Each one is a winner.

someday.2.Someday by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Rosie Winstead strikes a dreamlike tone through its delicate collage illustration.  Using a classic style of repetition, Spinelli highlights the broad possibilities pairing various Somedays and Todays. A young girl shares her dreams for the future and contrasts them with ways she spends her days. Unbridled imagination infuses her dreams for her future. But this celebration of possibility does not diminish her willingness to live her todays with joy and adventure. This provides a balance of finding contentment in the now while imagining and pursuing the future.

For example, she imagines herself Someday unearthing dinosaur bones and being featured on the news. Today, by contrast, she is”digging for coins under the sofa cushions.” She also fantasizes Someday befriending dolphins and learning  “all the secrets of the sea” from them. This contrasts with a Today in which she feeds her goldfish who remain silent keeping their secrets to themselves.

Someday is a pleasant read that invites the reader’s imagination to soar while it reminds them to enjoy the delights of the present moments. Five stars

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ Lens: This is a great book for adoptive families to read. Its very premise invites exploration of the future, the present and how one can build on the other. It can be an easy segue to invite a child to consider their past and how they can hold both a reality=based awareness of what occurred as well as their own ideas about how they wish it might have been different. This is not an effort to deny or diminish any trauma but rather to affirm what the child should have experienced. (In a previous blog, which i wrote for GIFT Family Services, we explored the power of therapeutic narratives. “You may wonder how reading books differs from sharing a therapeutic narrative. Denise B. Lacher wrote a terrific book on the subject: Connecting with Kids Through Stories: Using Narratives to Facilitate Attachment in Adopted Children

Finding Wild.51R62x1vg7L._SY401_BO1,204,203,200_

Written by Megan Wagner Lloyd Finding Wild was illustrated by Abigail Halpin who brilliantly captures the unbridled, untamed, free spirited energy of life. Ostensibly about the wildness of nature, it’s about so much more than that, more than wild creatures in their natural habitat, more than locations unchanged by humans. It is scent and sound, places and dreams, full of challenge and possibility, risks and rewards. It is determination and persistence. It is flowers growing in sidewalk cracks, trees shattering through boulders doggedly pursuing survival. Life thriving under the most inhospitable of circumstances. It is indomitable human spirit. Though the text is brief, the possibilities it suggests are immense.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ Lens: This book also is an excellent potential conversation starter for adoptive families.  Kids feel freer to explore a story that is not overtly their own yet may bear similarities in terms of difficulties, danger or survival. This added layer of dissociation enables them to explore events without fully awakening their own struggles, tough situations, harsh circumstances. Tread lightly. Let kids take the lead. Unless kids choose to speak of their personal events, focus conversation of how “some kids” faced these challenges and survived.

Freedom Summer.519FE8c4wyL._SY453_BO1,204,203,200_Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue won both the 2002 Ezra Jack Keats Award as well as a Coretta Scott King Award. It begins with two friends enjoying the leisurely pace of summer, hanging around, being friends together, swimming in a local creek. “John Henry swims better than anybody” the narrator knows. They ecstatically anticipate the prospect of the local community pool’s opening day. But, when they arrive at the gates, the boys discover that the facility has been bulldozed. No one will swim there again.


Because this story takes place in a segregated America. In 1960, laws ensured blacks could not share facilities with whites. After desegregation legislation passed, instead of complying, Mobile, Alabama opted to close the town pool, ice cream parlor, and roller rink. Hate and prejudice blinded people to fairness and the rights of all citizens to equality and access to facilities. To deny blacks access, they denied the entire community access.

This award-winning book splendidly captures the boys’ friendship so when they encounter the closed pool, the reader feels dazed by the community’s betrayal. The conversations this book might open are important one on issues such as racism, prejudice as well as loyalty, friendship and thinking for oneself.

The forward by the other offers additional insights about her motives for writing the book as well as her personal encounters with segregation during her own childhood.


AQ Lens:

The potential for adoption-related conversations is broad. In addition to racial and cultural bias, adoptive families frequently encounter bias against their families. Our family ties are often questions in terms of permanency, depth and reality. This book can help families talk about standing up for ourselves as well as being a voice for others who face discrimination and bias.


wolf camp.61Z0WYk-GDL._SY387_BO1,204,203,200_Wolf Camp written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill will delight both adults and young readers. Zany illustrations ripe with energy and humor chronicle the journey of one lovable dog as he tries to get in touch with his inner wolf. His fellow campers include a charming group of canine companions–a chihuahua named Pixie and a golden retriever named Rex. Together they learn to punch through fear, master new skills and make new friends and pull together–all admirable tasks whether you are a dog or a human!

One illustration depicts Homer’s letter to home. It’s a classic. Any parent who’s sent kids to camp has probably received a similar letter. Wolf Camp is a delight with an important–and very subtle–message  about daring to face fears, take on new experiences, make new friends, and grow into a stronger person.


AQ Lens:

Like the other books reviewed in this post, readers will see the value of friendship, the benefit of being open instead of limited by bias and the willingness to dare–to be stronger, braver and more open-minded. These are great lessons for all kids but especially for adopted children who throughout their lives will frequently be treated as “other” simply because they were adopted.

The conversations which this book might open can include topics like defeating fear, trying new things, and walking in the “shoes” of others.


The Richness of the Melting Pot: Adding an Asian Flavor to the Bookshelf

The social climate today is increasingly nativistic so this is an important time to expose children to literature that affirms diverse cultures and expands limited horizons. This group of books includes newer titles as well as some classics and reflects both Chinese and Japanese culture.  

Red Is A Dragon.51w9jo8sHdL._SX474_BO1,204,203,200_Red Is A Dragon: A Book of Colors by Roseann Thong will delight readers of any culture. Grace Lin’s illustrations rendered in brilliant colors and bold illustrations will captivate readers . One need not be Asian to appreciate the artistry and enjoy the simple rhyming text. Red Is A Dragon: A Book of Colors is a delightful way to learn how to recognize colors while being exposed to a hint of Asian culture: dragon kites, fire crackers, jade bracelets, incense sticks and Chinese opera. At the same time, many illustration reflect universal elements like going to the beach, flying kites, etc. This book does an excellent job serving as both mirror and window and is a visual delight that teaches more than colors. Includes a glossary that to further explain the cultural elements. Five Stars!

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens This concept book uses elements of Chinese culture to deftly show how one can simultaneously celebrate one’s heritage and be “American.” This is a subtle but important message for adoptees who spend a lifetime braiding the diverse threads of their life into a healthy tapestry, of which they can be justifiably proud. Every “thread” has value and contributes to who they are.

Grandfather Tang.51oPetR0aBL._SX400_BO1,204,203,200_Grandfather Tang’s Story: A Tale Told in Tangrams  by Ann Tompert and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker is a unique book which uses tangrams–the traditional Chinese art form– to expand the lovely pastel illustrations. The plot line features a sweet moment between granddaughter and her grandfather. The little girl requests her grandfather to tell a story so that they can both bring it to life with their tangrams.

Readers can easily duplicate the tangram shapes and then mimic each illustration themselves which offers a unique interactive element to the story. Or, they can simply enjoy the illustrations without taking on the challenge–and fun–of manipulating the tangram pieces.

Grandfather Tang’s Story: A Tale Told in Tangrams offers a good example of families connecting across generations, creating fun from their imaginations — without depending on elaborate tech. It highlights a subtle message of loyalty, friendship and learning from mistakes.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens This tale can easily digress into a conversation about the many ways we try to change ourselves, something many adoptees struggle with as they try to figure out how to fit in. Readers can discuss how each transformation brought risks and rewards; most importantly the foxes recognize they must be true to themselves. This is such an important lesson for all of us but especially for many adoptees who are tempted to reshape themselves to fit their idea of what they believe their parents “wish” them to be.

The story also shows how the little girl “read” the cues her grandfather gave so she recognized when he needed to end their game and rest.  This plot points can leading to talking about reading social cues which is an important skill that all kids need.

More-Igami. 51dH3wl9xwL._SY495_BO1,204,203,200_More-igami by Dori Kleber and illustrated by G. Brian Karas celebrates origami–the art of traditional Japanese folding. In a fresh spin on the topic, the main character, Joey, is African-American. After a classmates mother, Mrs. Takimoto visits his class to demonstrate how to fold paper cranes, he becomes obsessed with origami. Joey embraces her instruction :”If you want to become an origami master, you’ll need practice and patience.”

He practices folding shapes from his homework, the newspaper, gift wrap, recipes cards… until his exasperated mother insists that Joey stop. Eventually Joey solves his problem by folding napkins into origami shapes for the local Mexican restaurant.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens In this simple, charming story, readers find several cultures interacting respectfully and finding delight in the richness of diversity.  More-igami is not an issues book, nonetheless is does an excellent job of depicting  people of many races and ethnicities working together and enjoying snippets of each other’s cultures. This story models cultural harmony and also shows individuals valuing their heritages proudly. Like Red Is A Dragon: A Book of Colors this book quietly lobbies for diversity. It’s not a placard-carrying stand, not an “issue” book and not an primer on any culture. It is a story well told with an important message brilliantly integral to the story without being the story.

And now on to the classic books…

I Don't Have Your Eyes.51R+1Y9LtGL._AC_US160_I Don’t Have Your Eyes by Carrie A. Kitzie presents a variety of parent/child racial and ethnic pairings that reflects great diversity. Its simple, spare text details the ways  individual children differ a parent and then follows with another way in which they are same. Kitzie’s message: each of us is unique and have traits that are valued by families. Our differences enrich the family while our commonalities knit us together. This book appears on many lists as a favorite among adoptive families. It has broad appeal for many diverse families, not just a single ethnicity. It is relevant even to families who share ethnicity, race and culture because each of us are unique and in some ways each of us differs from our other family members.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens

The key message here is that differences do not need to divide families nor do they need to be minimized or dismissed; differences can be noticed, appreciated and valued. An adopted child most know, feel & believe they are accepted for whom they authentically are. Because Rob Williams’ illustrations display such a broad spectrum of “looks” , children from many ethnicities and diverse backgrounds can enjoy this book.

Shining Star. Anna May Wong.51QB+bZoUXL._SY387_BO1,204,203,200_Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo and illustrated by Lin Wang is particularly apt in today’s social political climate as it follows the career of performer Anna May Wong. It chronicles her career as an actress in Hollywood. For many years she struggled with a dilemma: the only roles offered to her as a Chinese-American were demeaning stereotypes. In order to fulfill her dreams and to help support her impoverished family she accepted the caricature roles. But, she worked consistently to demand better portrayals of Chinese characters in film.

The book effectively captures Anna May’s passionate dreams, her humiliations, her compromises and her ultimate success as well as the sacrifices her parents made when they immigrated to the United States. This riff on the immigration theme is a pertinent read for current times.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ* Lens: Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story depicts a character immensely proud of her heritage. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Anna May faced racial discrimination, gender limitations, knew poverty and hard labor. She spent a lifetime carving out a place for Chinese American performers. Through her efforts in the cinema, she helped to spread acceptance and understanding of her culture. This pride and willingness to stand up for one’s roots is a key message for adoptees.

Paper Crane.51U52Hx9lNL._SY444_BO1,204,203,200_


The Paper Crane retells an ancient Japanese fairy tale. Written and illustrated by Molly Bang it is a delightful read that reveals the importance of both hard work and kindness. It pairs well with More-igami because it hints at some of the cultural backstory that the reader of that story might otherwise not know. This book was a Reading Rainbow selection.




Asian culture.PicMonkey Collage