There is an ancient Chinese belief that an invisible, unbreakable red thread connects all those who are destined to be together. From The Red Thread by Grace Lin
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. To celebrate, I offer a multicultural adoption picture book, middle grade, and young adult list for kids and teens. There is a subtle thread that ties some of these books together. It’s the bridge from Asia to America through adoption.
When kids are placed into loving families that do not reflect their face in the mirror, there comes a time, as part of growing up, where these kids can have an identity crisis and a hunger to know more about their past. There’s another thread as well about the power of love to bind a family together. I hope these books will comfort by showing that they are not alone.
What books am I missing? Thanks for your great suggestions!
Multicultural Adoption Picture Books
Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamal Akib
Rahki is a north Indian holiday celebrated on the day of the full moon of the Hindu month Shravan, usually in August. Sisters tie colorful shiny bracelets called rakhi around the wrists of their brothers, signifying their special bond. In this picture book, Arun waits impatiently while his parents try to adopt a baby girl from India, his father’s homeland. It takes a long time, but finally, Asha arrives, and she has a special bracelet for Arun! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story by Yumi Heo
A little girl counts down the days until she becomes a big sister. Author Yumi Heo’s adoption story alludes to a new baby arriving from Korea. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Finding Joy by Marion Coste, illustrated by Yong Chen
In 1979, the People’s Republic of China created a policy that said each family can only have one child. In China, boys are expected to take care of their parents in old age and this is because when girls are married, they leave to spend the rest of their lives with their new family of in-laws. This picture book tells the story of China’s Open Door policy in 1991 which allowed Chinese babies to be placed with families in other countries. For families who plan to adopt from China or have adopted from China, this is a good picture book that shows the general story of why Chinese girls became available for adoption, how they were treated in the orphanages in China, and how they were adopted with a lot of love by a family from a different country. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Rebecca’s Journey Home by Brynn Olenberg Sugarman and Michelle Shapiro
The Stein family eagerly awaits the newest member of their Jewish family, a little girl named Le Tai Hong, who will now be called Rebecca in English and Rivka in Hebrew. This is their adoption story of becoming a multicultural family celebrating Vietnamese, American, and Jewish culture and traditions. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Mei-Mei’s Lucky Birthday Noodles: A Story of Adoption, Chinese Culture, and a Special Birthday Treat by Shan-Shan Chen, illustrated by Heidi Goodman
Mei-Mei’s parents use food as a way to introduce Chinese culture to Mei Mei’s adoption day celebration. They are making special birthday noodles because long noodles signify a long and happy life. A recipe for Lucky Birthday Noodles is included in the back. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale by Grace Lin
Such a lovely adoption fairy tale about the red thread that binds those who were meant to be together! A king and queen feel pain in their hearts and finally, a peddler shows them the source of their pain … there is a red thread tugging at their heart, and the only way to stop the pain is to follow the red thread. The queen and king go on a long journey and at the end of the red thread is a baby … and the baby belongs to them. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
They never found out how the red thread had connected them to their daughter, but they knew why. And that was all that mattered.
Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles by Darlene Friedman, illustrated by Roger Roth
It’s Cassidy-Li’s turn to be Star of the Week in kindergarten which includes a poster all about her life! She was adopted as a baby from China so she doesn’t have a photo of her birthparents for her poster. She has a great idea of how to include them but then she isn’t sure if her classmates will ask a lot of questions about her adoption and birth parents. She doesn’t always want to talk about that. When it’s time to present, her poster is full of photos of her family and busy life that all her friends notice is that she’s the Star of the Week! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo by Linda Walvoord Girard, illustrated by Linda Shute
Benjamin Koo graciously shared his story to help other adopted kids. He was adopted as a baby from Korea into a loving American family but when he was in second grade, all of a sudden he noticed that he looked different from his parents. When he was eight years old, his parents adopted his sister from Brazil and he promised (in court even) that he would be her brother always. And he has very good advice to give:
“If you’re adopted, ask all the questions you want to. Your parents will tell you what they know even if part of your story is sad …
You might have been born somewhere else or look different from your parents, but that has nothing to do with love. Take it from me. I’m Benjamin Koo Andrews. I’m nine and I know.” [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]
Waiting for May by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Told from the perspective of the big brother, a family goes through the long process of adopting a baby girl from China. He really wants a little sister so he learns Chinese words while he waits and waits for the paperwork to go through. Finally, they all make a big trip to China for adoption. Hai Fan cries and cries the first day, but the young boy is the first to get a smile from her. This is a lovely book for adoptive families. [advanced picture book, ages 5 and up]
Jin Woo by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet
The young boy in Waiting for May eagerly waits for his new little sister but this is not true for all siblings of adopted babies. In this picture book, David isn’t so excited about a new baby brother. The story begins on the day before the baby is to arrive. While David knew about the new baby, he didn’t think it would happen. David’s also adopted and he wonders if his parents were as excited when they adopted him. The baby arrives at the airport and David gets the baby to laugh. When they return home, the new baby has a surprise for David. He’s written a letter with help from his new mom to ask for his help in adjusting and to let him know that his parents have so much love in their hearts, they won’t need to take any away from David for him. Now, David is ready to be a big brother.
This is a nice picture book to pair with Waiting for May to read with siblings before the new baby arrives. It lets them know that it’s ok to feel worried or sad about changes in the family and that they are not being replaced. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Story I’ll Tell by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Jessica Lana
This is a “Guess How Much I Love You” version of a multicultural adoption story filled with fanciful tales that a mother tells her young son about the journey to bring him home. Was it a hot-air balloon, a silent horseman, a winged Asian angel, or a dragon’s cave? The truth is equally filled with love and wonder. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Adoption Picture Books
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz
What was it like when you were adopted? With whimsical illustrations, this story reads like a magical fairy tale of a baby that was dreamed about and loved, and the parents’ journey to get their beloved baby to begin their life as a family forever and always. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell
“Tell me again how tiny and perfect I was.”
This is a story that you can read again and again and never tire of … the story about the night you were born. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families by Todd Parr
With simple logic about a parent or two who had something to give and a child who was in need, Todd Parr shows that it only takes love to make a family. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
How I Was Adopted by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Maxie Chambliss
Joanna Cole’s picture book is a “generic” adoption story of a one-week-old baby being placed into an adopted couple as they wait to become parents for the first time. Hers is a factual approach based on research that has “shown that one of the most important factors in predicting successful rearing of adoptive children is the adoptive parents’ positive attitude towards adoption.” This book has that in spades. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Sisters by Judith Caseley
Kika has just been adopted and now she has a new sister, mama, and papa. She has to learn a new language, make new friends, and adjust to life. Her sister Melissa also has adjustments to make. Having a new sister means sharing, fighting, but, best of all, having a friend for life. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
ABC, Adoption & Me by Gayle Swift
An ABC book about adoption from the child’s perspective. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Adoption Stories Found in Mother Nature
And Tango Makes Three! by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
The penguin house in New York’s Central Park Zoo is home to two daddy penguins who adopt an egg and hatch a baby. This is a true story and one that illustrates that it only takes love, even in the animal kingdom, to make a family. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff,
Owen is a baby hippopotamus, orphaned after the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami who lands in a wildlife refuge along with a 140-year-old giant male tortoise. It’s a remarkable story of friendship but also of adoptive parenting as Mzee takes Owen under his wing and teaches him things his mother hippo would have. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Butler
The story of Owen and Mzee is retold in this gentle picture book perfect for young ones. Pair it with the book above to compare and contrast! [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Middle Grade Multicultural Adoption Stories
Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent
This chapter book pairs nicely with We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo. Both are stories of an adopted Korean boy into a loving Caucasian family. Their physical differences create an identity crisis and a hunger to know about their birth parents in Korea. This might be a natural part of growing up for an adopted child and the conclusion to their quest is realizing that a family is based on love, not just genetics. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
Twelve-year-old Jaden is not an easy adoptee for his family. He’s emotionally disconnected and now his parents want to add a new younger brother for him from Kazakhstan. It’s not easy to choose at the orphanage but Jaden finds himself drawn to a toddler with severe special needs. It’s not the baby that his parents want but it’s the first time he finds himself able to care about someone else. Could it be that he needs this toddler as much as this child needs him? But what about the baby his parents have already committed to? [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Emily Out of Focus by Miriam Spitzer Franklin
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Emily and her parents go to China to bring home the little girl they are adopting. Emily isn’t crazy about the idea, since she fears losing her parents and having a lot of her time taken up by her sister. She is interested in photojournalism since her late grandmother was a rather prominent photographer, and she has brought her grandmother’s camera with her. While staying at the hotel, she meets Katherine, who was adopted from China and who is hoping to find her mother while her family is back in her homeland adopting another baby. The two girls are bored and a bit angry, so armed with Katharine’s quest, they take off together, despite the warnings of their parents to stay close to the hotel.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock
What is it like to be adopted as an older child from China into a loving family in Boston? Eleven-year-old Wen knows that this is the golden ticket that she’s been hoping for. She can’t help but worry about her best friend from her orphanage, Shu-Ling, whose bad leg precludes her from education in China and most certainly, from being adopted. When orphans age out at fourteen, the girls typically get work in a coal mine. It’s not easy for Wen to adjust to her new life but she’s determined to find Shu-Ling a family as she promised. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Pair this book with the picture book The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale by Grace Lin. Picture books, after all, are for everyone at any age!
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.