Billy Bramble Thumps Funny Bones and Pulls Heartstrings

Billy Bramble.515-+CZmAhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Author, adoptive mom (via foster care,) columnist and award-winning activist, Sally Donovan understands adoption, adoptive families and the challenges faced by families raising–and loving–children whose lives began in trauma. Humor, candor and vulnerability infuse her writing. Until now, Sally has written for  adults and her books offer a refreshing resource. Reading them feels like having an honest chat with a friend who really understands the heart-palpitating roller-coaster journey that adoptive family life  can be.

For many reasons, I am a fan of Sally’s writings. She shuns candy-coating, admits that adoptive parenting can be gun-shot-to-the-chest frightening, and still so, so worth while. Platitudes and rose-colored glasses take a back seat when Sally writes. As a consequence, her books ring with authenticity, encouragement and community.

Sally’s newest undertaking is a wonderful book for middle grade readers that thumps funny bones and pulls heartstrings. Written in the first person, the Billy Bramble, loser, croppedtale provides a peek into the inner world of one Billy Bramble. Not identified as an adoptee, Billy definitely serves as the poster child for kids wrestling with the demons of trauma. (The origins of his trauma are not revealed. This helps to make the story connect with a wide audience)

On the surface, Billy is a character that the world finds difficult to love and accept. He’s disruptive, mouthy, uncooperative, provocative, and disorganized. As the saying goes, if it weren’t for bad luck, Billy would have no luck at all. The world views Billy as “trouble”, an inconvenient and annoying thorn that pricks and frustrates others. He has few friends.

What he does have is a constant companion: Gobber–an imaginary but very powerful companion embodied as a wild dog. Tyrannized by Gobber, Billy “wonders why no one else can see him, or hear him, or feel him.” The malevolent Gobber “scares [Billy] half to death” actually. With heart-breaking honesty, Billy asserts, “I think that Gobber is my life sentence.”

Loser trophyPoor Billy suffers as much from Gobber’s destructive behaviors as his family, classmates, and teachers. Gobber’s presence is so formidable, so consuming and so committed to Billy’s failure, that the reader empathizes with Billy’s struggles and cheers for his success. The brilliance of Sally’s writing allows the reader to feel Billy’s anguish and frustration as he struggles to rein in his self-saboteur.


Billy longs to relax his vigilance, walk through his days without Gobber nipping at his heels, terrifying and Facebook the chickendistracting him. He yearns to have the privileges and self-control of other kids and like them, to have his own Facebook account. The closest he can come is to name his pet chicken Facebook. I know, right. Talk about a stacked deck! Fortunately, Donovan counterbalances the stresses of Billy’s challenges with a healthy dose of humor and irony. She succeeds in making Billy a character that readers root for instead of dismissing him as “other” or someone whom they can pigeonhole as odd or weird.


Black and white illustrations provide a welcome break from the text and expand it well. One features a teacher's admonishmentslitany of teacher-corrections and directives familiar to all kids, but especially the Billies of the world. Readers will identify when Billy receives a letter from the teacher that reports on his latest transgression. We all know what it is like to have to face the aftermath of a poor choice.

For most of us, this is a relatively rare occasion. But, for Billy, it is the constant refrain of his day life. As much as his parents and teachers wish Billy could pull himself together, Billy wants it even more earnestly. But not Gobber; he wants to keep Billy trapped in a Mixmaster of fear, worry and anger.

cook offThe one spark of hope for release from Gobber’s reign of terror is cooking. It provides Billy an exit ramp from the super highway of chaos and creates a place of refuge and redemption for Billy. Gobber makes a formidable enemy; he does not  surrender easily.

Several recipes are included, Kids will especially enjoy “Angry Pizza” which involves pounding dough which is a great way to channel frustrations. Plus, once complete, it tastes delish!

Parents can enjoy this book for the valuable insights it offers into the struggles of kids like Billy. Billy’s folks are well-intentioned, committed to supporting their child. And they are quite human. They get frustrated, angry and don’t always give the perfect response. Yet it is clear that they love Billy and intend to stay in the trenches with him.

Will Billy finally meet success, defeat Gobber, and win the Great Cook Off? Read this delightful book to discover the answer. While you’re at it, check out Sally’s other books!

Watch this video to hear children speak of their struggles.

No Matter What.51Sjnv4NxAL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Unofficial guide to Adoptive Parenting.41Ntr10lrNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ I originally posted my reviews of  The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting and No Matter What  on the blog I write for GIFT Family Services: (Growing Intentional Families Together.) They are exceptional books that merit a place on every adoptive family’s bookshelf. For adoptive families it is a drink of water that helps slake a desperate thirst for resources that are both honest and practical.

magnifying-lens-AQ.2-161x300AQ Lens: Kids who are dealing with the aftermath of trauma–especially trauma associated with family disruption, loss and adoption–will recognize a kindred spirit in Billy without his being specifically identified as an adoptee. I think this will reassure young readers to learn that trauma originates from many sources, not only from adoption. This expands his community of potential peers.

Readers will connect with the empathetic tone of the book which clearly depicts both Billy’s heartfelt desire to succeed, behave and control his life. This lack of judgment and blame will be welcome.

*I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Our theme for today’s Diverse Children’s Books linkup is Diverse Book(s) Featuring a Character with a Disability. (Need ideas? Check out past winners of the Schneider Family Book Awards.) (The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

What Is #DiverseKidLit?

Diverse Children’s Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.


Most Clicked Post from Last Time

Our most clicked post from the previous #diversekidlit is ADA’S VIOLIN: THE STORY OF THE RECYCLED ORCHESTRA OF PARAGUAY from Linda at The Reader and the Book. This story is based on the true origins of the Cateura orchestra in Paraguay, and Linda’s post contains a great summary of the book as well as additional information about the author, illustrator, and real-life orchestra!

#DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

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Ribbit: An invitation to Friendship


ribbitIn Ribbit by Rodrigo Folgueira and illustrated by Poly Bernatene, readers meet a pig with personality and an interest in making friends in unusual places. At dawn one morning Pig announces her presence to a community of startled frogs. Suspicious and unwelcoming, the frogs demand that pig explain herself.

She booms her reply, “Ribbit.” Instead of being impressed by Pig’s language abilities, the frogs fear her. When the other woodland creatures question the frogs about their new member, the frogs quickly disown her, “She’s no relative of ours.” The brouhaha intensifies until  the chief frog suggests they consult the “wise old beetle.” Even this suggestion is met with conflict and debate. Finally they visit Beetle and he agrees to return to the pond and unravel the pig’s intentions.

When they all return to the pond, they find Pig has departed, leaving behind more questions than ever. The reader, however, knows the answer: Pig has set out to find another group, one that will welcome a pig for a friend.


magnifying lens AQ.2

AQ Lens: Adopted children frequently report feeling like an outsider. This book offers a wonderful metaphor for exploring those feelings of “other-ness” in a non-threatening way. There are many things to appreciate in this story. First, it easily lends itself to discussions that invite children to wonder about Pig’s motives, to consider why the frogs are so overly cautious and inhospitable. Second, parallels between a child’s own experience either as  the “new ” arrival or as being on the flip side of the equation as “gatekeepers” of an established group.  

Explore feelings, discuss strategies, and suggest ways to smooth  social transactions to help children be more empathetic and welcoming. Mention different ways a child can be a friend, as well as the ways in which a child can “turn off” other kids. Ask kids what they seek in a friend and how they try to be a likable person. Many kids remain oblivious to social cues unless they are specifically taught and regularly reinforced.

It is worth highlighting that Pig does not allow herself to be “victimized” by the group’s unwelcoming reception. Instead, she seeks out an alternate group and once again, dares to request entry into the group. (That kind of resiliency is a valuable life skill!)



Decoding the Puzzle: Social Interaction, Personal Space and Appropriate Conversations

Social cues puzzleMastering the subtle, non-verbal social cues is a daunting task. For kids with a less than smooth start in life, often this skill is poorly developed or is overwhelmed by hyper-vigilance. Unless children are taught how to read the “secret” messages of body language, some kids will never learn it. This will leave them confused and often can lead to social isolation.
When they don’t speak the language of behavioral cues children remain on the outside of the emotional/social conversation. The subtle hints other kids give may quickly become far less kind and patient and become mean and lead to bullying. A growing gap will arise.

Without adequate social skills, a child will struggle to mirror the emotional states of others and may respond inappropriately to the overtures of other children and adults. Instead of feeling “mirrored” they may misinterpret other people’s responses and feel mocked and unsupported. Even worse, they may feel threatened which might trigger a complete meltdown, and/or a flight/flight/freeze response. How can you assist your child in mastering the complex task of emotional literacy and the language of social cues?


Personal Space CampOne excellent resource is a marvelous book by Julia Cook titled, “Personal Space Camp.” With a deft sense of humor and zany illustrations by Carrie Hartman, this book tackles the complicated concept of personal space. Louis, the confused main character loves the world of outer space. But when it comes to personal boundaries, Louis is clueless. His frustrated teacher arranges for him to attend “Personal Space Camp.” This thrills Louis. He is surprised to learn that he will not be an astronaut exploring.

Louis is, however, entering unexplored territory: the world of personal space boundaries. “Personal Space Camp” is entertaining and informative without being preachy. It conveys important information that will assist kids that lack an understanding of social cues.


I Can't BelieveJulia Cook has written several other books that delve into the confusing world of social cues and interaction. One that is also quite helpful is, “I Can’t Believe You Said That.” (Illustrated by Kelsey De Weerd, it features multicultural characters.) The story helps kids discern the difference between saying something true:  ”You are fat,” versus something that is appropriate: “You are a good cook.”

Photo © Ilike –

I wrote this article for Growing Intentional Families Together ( ) and have modified it slightly for this blog.

Enjoying the Magic of Invention and Self-discovery

Rosie revereAndrea Beaty has created a spunky heroine in Rosie Revere, EngineerBehind the shrinking violet who fades into the background at school, Rosie is a visionary with big dreams of becoming a “great engineer” and the talent to match. She creates inventions from her vast collection of found “stuff.” Rosie Revere, Engineer does a fabulous job of capturing a young child’s creative delight and the immense pleasure they enjoy in sharing their creations with the people they love. (How many times have you heard a child chime, “Look what I made!” Remember their exuberance, their pride, their need to have your acknowledgement?)

As a young tot, Rosie proudly shares her inventions with family until the dreaded day that her uncle–gasp–laughs at her masterpiece. Rosie feels judged and belittled by his laughter. Despite Uncle’s reassurances to the contrary, she believes he’s laughing at her. In typical child-fashion, she generalizes from this one experience, is convinced she lacks talent, and is devastated. Fortunately, her drive to create is untamed but she decides not to share her inventions anymore.

“After that day [Rosie] kept her dreams to herself.” She’s lost her spark and sits in her classroom “not daring to speak.” Rosie hides her creations  until her namesake, great-great aunt Rose appears on the scene.(Adults will recognize her as an echo of Rosie the Riveter a cultural icon of World War II fame.) The two are kindred spirits. The elderly aunt confesses that she has an unfulfilled dream: to fly. Her aunt’s admission rekindles Rosie’s courage and confidence in her ingenious inventions. Although Rosie fears failure, she embraces the challenge and sets out to create a flying contraption that will fulfill her aunt’s dreams.

Alas, her zany cheese-copter crashes. Just like the dreaded uncle, great-great aunt Rose laughs at Rosie’s designs but with joy not judgment. “You did it! Hooray! It’s the perfect first try! This great flop is over. It is time for the next!” Rosie learns to be proud of her failures, to round up her courage and keep trying until success is achieved.

David Roberts’ quirky illustrations are charming and so expressive. Each offers many discussion points to be mined. As I read this through an AQ* (adoption-attuned) lens, this story offers many wonderful nuggets. Themes that infuse the story include: diversity, “shyness’, recycling, ingenuity, viewing the world with an artist/inventor’s eye, women as capable, failing forward teamwork, confidence, resilience, persistence, being true to oneself, and owning one’s unique gifts. Wow! Jam packed, fun and visually delightful, this story offers an easy window to discussions about hidden talents and how they may have a genetic origin. This offers a natural segue to positive mention of birth parents and how biology helps to shape who we are.

I highly recommend this book. it is a five star gem.









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.



Kids and Adults Face the Power to Choose–A conversation and a Book Review

I Choose.borderChildren enjoy being able to decide things for themselves. As parents we often make the bulk of the decisions in our children’s lives. Most of us understand that decision making is a skill. Like all skills, mastery only comes through practice.  Long before kids become proficient decision makers, they will plod through many errors in judgment. As parents, we face a learning curve too–when is it “safe” for kids to make a choice and when must the decision fall on our shoulders?

One time-tested strategy most  parents utilize: giving kids limited options. For example, “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the green one?” Or, “Would you like to brush your teeth with this toothpaste or the other flavor?” Gradually, we release control and they assume it. When a decision flops, we help them extract the learning and then encourage them to try again. Failure is the stepping stone to proficiency not the end of the world. We help them to notice how their decision-making skills are improving. We eliminate the expectation that they will bat a perfect game and open the space to try, and try again. Always, we  highlight the learning instead of the error. Throughout the process, we are there as a safety net to protect them from major missteps.I choose joy

This week, I want to introduce you to an award-winning book written by Suzin Helen Carr and illustrated by her then seven-year-old son. Aptly titled “I Choose,” the book visits various moments when a  child–or adult–is called upon to make a choice. For example, what to wear, how to feel, what to see, do, eat or play. The darling illustrations bring the ideas to life in a way that will appeal to kids. I think it will increase their ability to notice and appreciate the many “choosing” opportunities that occur in their day.



I Choose too.border

The message of “I Choose,” will certainly resonate with adults who share the book with their child. Suzin has also written a version of “I Choose too” an adult version of this  illuminating book . Readers can breeze through this short gem of a book very quickly. Better yet, pause and explore each page. There’s an endless possibility for talking  with your child. You just might be surprised by what you discover about one another.  From Suzin’s website:

“Chandler J. Carr was age 7 when he drew the artwork in this book.  He plays wonderful guitar, loves video games and drawing and wants to be a video game designer when he grows up.  He says that one of the most special things about him is his creative mind.

Suzin H. Carr is the author of I Choose, I Choose Too!, and Yo Elijo, the wife of James, and the mother of Chandler.  She lives in Lutz, Florida where she juggles the life she chooses and is grateful for countless blessings and immeasurable joy.

She is available to speak to your local school, club, or Scout Troop. Topics include the message of the book, the book printing process, its impact on a 7 year old, and following your dream as an artist or writer.”


10 Awesome Reasons for Reading As a Family


Afro-American family reading a book in the living-room

10. Children learn language from hearing it spoken. Seems rather obvious, but this doesn’t make it any less true. The more words children hear, the more they know and understand. Changes in pace, inflection and tone help to set words apart so children can hear and understand them more efficiently.


9. Reading often means reading repeatedly. Again, this helps to reinforce and accelerate learning and comprehension. This is an essential foundation for literacy, an important life skill.


8. When you spend time reading together, kids learn that you value reading. This sets a great model for them to follow and lays the groundwork for a lifetime reading habit.


7. Your reading selections will reveal and teach your values. Choose stories that enlarge your child’s understanding of his world and his importance in it.


6. Read stories that show children facing a variety of situations and reveal many different solutions. This will expand your children’s problem solving skills, will encourage a willingness to risk failure and learn his way to success and mastery.


5. Share stories that reveal the depth of his cultural heritage as well as that of other people. Find stories that depict images that allow him to see himself reflected in the pictures as well as the content. This will enhance his understanding of his roots, his family, and himself.


4. Expose your child to stories that explore many cultures from around the world. Help him to grow into an empathetic, caring global citizen.


3. Read for fun. Find books that entertain and tickle the funny bone. It is essential to spend time having fun as a family and good books is one great way to do that.

2. Your time and attention are an essential priority to your children. When you interrupt your “To Do” list to share a book with your child, they get a clear message that they are important to you.


Drum roll please. And the TOP reason for reading together as a family is …


1. A good book shared in a parent’s lap creates a sensory memory—of being close, connected, and shared experiences. Relationships and attachment are strengthened in these shared, pleasant moments. They are the building blocks of family life, of a family’s history together. Positive experiences build resilience and help to rset the negative hits of daily challenges. Read, laugh and love as a family.






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.

Feelings: Naming, Sharing, and Recognizing Emotions


Glad Monster.EmberleyAs parents, we focus lots of time and energy towards helping our children grow physically and academically.  We want our kids to be well and to do well. Emotional literacy is another important life skill that needs to be taught.

While this is not a common word floating around in our minds, it is a priority that benefits from intentional effort. All children must learn how to manage their emotions. The first step in managing feelings is to accurately identify them. This is more complicated than one might think.

Kids often mislabel their feelings. Frequently they express their fear or embarrassment as anger. When asked why they are so angry, often they are unable to answer. They may truly not know. By helping them learn to distinguish one emotion from another, we assist them in finding a way to respond appropriately to the need generated by the emotion in the first place.

Kids are challenged not only by mislabeling their emotions but also by an inability to read the body language cues of others. Whether it is an adult’s raised eyebrow or another child’s hands on hips, often times kids are completely clueless to the silent message such body postures convey. So, what is a parent to do?

Reading an engaging book together is often a great place to start. For kids 2-6, consider the fun book “Glad Monster, Sad Monster” by Ed Emberley and Ann Miranda. Part story, part toy, it is a book unlike any other I’ve come across. Told in clipped phrases, each page folds out to reveal a wonderful mask that embodies the feeling being described. Children can “practice” the emotions. (What kid doesn’t love hamming it up?)  As they demonstrate the feeling, kids can tell parents about the things that trigger emotions in themselves. Emberley’s vivid, signature illustrations match the intensity of a child’s big emotions.

Feelings to shareFive to nine-year-olds will enjoy “Feelings to Share from A to Z,” written by Todd and Peggy Snow, illustrated by Carrie Hartman. This is another winning approach to an important skill set. The illustrations are hysterical—and multicultural. There’s an alphabet’s worth of emotional range here. This book also leads to easy conversation that accomplishes important teaching moments.

Remember, kids learn best when they are engaged and having fun. Follow reading with a game. Here are some examples. Make faces and have children guess the feelings they express. Take pictures and turn them into cards that you can use to create a matching game. Use puppet play to further explore feelings.

When kids feel connected, heard, and able to share their feelings their ability to self-regulate improves. This emotional literacy helps strengthen attachments and improve recognition of attachment styles.  They are also more inclined to care about learning family values and guidelines. We all benefit from healthy attachments, especially in the context of adoptive families.