Did you know that foster care is on the rise? “The number of cases of children entering the foster care system due to parental drug use has more than doubled since 2000, according to research published this week in JAMA Pediatrics.”
It can be traced to the opioid endemic which is largely due to Purdue Pharma based where I live in Boston. Purdue Pharma is now in bankruptcy but the Sackler family who owns the company has siphoned off more than a billion dollars and stashed it secretly overseas.
I know (vaguely) two families that are fostering children where I live in Newton, MA. My friend Liz told me about her neighbor — empty nesters — who are fostering kids. A family from my elementary school fostered and then adopted a baby boy. Both families are financially well off so it’s a different take on stereotypes about foster families as articulated by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Ever since Linda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphy’s, I’ve been careful about books involving foster care. There were portions of this that seemed odd to me (Nevaeh describes the people who foster children as either very religious, in it for the money, or old, and she describes a placement where children were forced to make dog beds after school each day before being fed.) I’m sure there are horrible foster parents out there, and since Hennessy works with children in foster care in LA, so I will assume she knows more about children in the program than I do.” Ms. Yingling Reads
And I found Cordelia Cranshaw, Miss District of Columbia USA, story to be eye-opening.
Foster care will always be a part of who I am. When I compete in beauty pageants, I talk about foster care to raise awareness and make a difference. I am fortunate to have fought my way to an education and career that allow me to give back.
Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand: To live in foster care is to live in a state of inconsistency. Due to a lack of resources, there simply aren’t enough quality foster homes, and rising housing costs make it even harder for foster families to find the space they need. This especially affects kids in urban areas. As a result, many more children end up in institutions, which are often rife with abuse and poor conditions.
Some kids go to school in the morning not knowing where they’ll sleep that evening, making it hard to focus on their studies. Basic survival becomes the top priority.
Even those who withstand these challenges and get accepted to college are likely to deal for the rest of their lives with the repercussions and years of trauma that are so often part of the foster experience.
Cordelia Cranshaw, Miss District of Columbia USA 2019, knew focusing on academics as a teen in the foster care system and later in college would provide opportunities, and now as a social worker, she advises other foster children to do the same. She aims to connect youths with mentors because, “Sometimes, a young person is just one connection, or one resource, away from a life-changing opportunity.”
My first encounter with foster care was through Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut middle grade book, One for the Murphys. I read it and cried and immediately read it again and cried again. But it was the resilience and hope that really moved me. It was proof that an individual could change a life.
Because my public library has been closed due to COVID-19 quarantine, I haven’t been able to check out books to read the books that I’ve been digitally hoarding. How about you? What foster-care-themed books do you recommend? Thanks for your suggestions! I’ll add them to this list!
Foster Care in Picture Books
I Am Loved by Mary and Kevin Qamaniq-Mason, illustrated by Hwei Lim
Indigenous children account for 52.2 per cent of children in foster care in private homes, according to 2016 census data. Indigenous children make up only seven per cent of the youth population in Canada. from CBC News
This is a story of an Inuit boy who now lives with a foster family. He reminds himself that he is loved by his mother (Anaana) who can’t care for him because she needs to get well. He also misses his large extended family.
This story is a reminder that more Indigenous kids are in care now than under the residential school system. “Foster care is modern-day residential school system: Inuk MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.”
Foster Care in Tween Books
Mostly the Honest Truth by Jody J. Little
Review by Ms. YingLing Reads: “After Jane injures her hand when her father is passed out drunk, she is sent to temporary foster care for the fourth time, this time with Officer D, whom she befriended previously. Officer D lives in a collaborative community called Three Boulders which is far from town and has a kibbutz-like system for jobs and caring for the young. After making friends with G and the other children in the community, Jane is still counting the days (12, total) until she can be with her Pop again. Questions arise about how the injury really occurred, however, after being visited by a social worker, Jane manages to get to town and visit her father. There are problems with Three Boulders as well since the elderly founder wants to sell the land to pay for his end-of-life care. Jane is desperate to get back together with Pop, although she starts to realize that it might not be in her best interest to do so. With the help and support of Officer D and the other members of Three Boulders, Jane starts to put together a new expectation for normal.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Córdova
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Danny Monteverde has had a rough life. He and his older sister Pili have spent many years in foster care, and she has always taken care of him when the placements were rough. The two shared a love of a book called The Way to Rio Luna and would imagine their life there. When Pili goes missing, everyone is sure she has run away, but Danny knows better. He goes from family to family, most of which are unpleasant, and is currently in a family with two boys who treat him badly. The father even throws away his book, which devastates him. On a class field trip to a museum, he finds out that the book is rare and valuable, and when it magically appears in his backpack AND his sister’s name is on the borrower’s card, he makes the decision to run away from the field trip and try to find out more. Aided by Glory, who is cared for by Auntie North, who is an archaeologist, he finds out that the magic in the book is real. Soon, the two are on a quest that takes them to many places, from New York to Ecuador to Brazil. Will Danny be able to find his sister, and trust in the magic of Rio Luna to put everything to rights? ” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Echo Park Castaways by M. G. Hennessey
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Neveah has been in the foster care system her whole life and has seen less than optimal placements. That’s why she’s glad to be with Mrs. K. The house is fairly organized, there is always food, and no one is mean to her. Mrs. K., however, has struggled since the death of her husband and is not very interested in being involved with the children, so a lot of the care of the younger Mara and Vic falls on her shoulders. She’s okay with that– if she can help Mrs. K. out, her place is secure, and she can make it through the four years of high school and get into college on a scholarship for foster children and become a doctor. When a new child, Quentin, is added to the mix, things start to get complicated. It’s difficult enough that Vic deals with his grief by pretending to be a spy, and that Mara rarely speaks, and is more fluent in Spanish, but Quentin is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of different behavioral issues than Neveah has seen. When Vic promises Quentin that they will go find his mother, who is ill and in the hospital, Neveah panics when all three younger children are gone, and follows their trail from Echo Park to Torrance, California (about twenty miles) on a variety of buses and trains. She catches up with them eventually, but the trip, in general, does not go smoothly. The children find out some secrets, narrowly escape tragedy, and bond in a way that makes them more of a family. They also finally get through to Mrs. K., who realizes that she must move beyond her own difficulties to care for the children.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Now You Say Yes by Bill Harley
From Nerdy Book Club:
“Part of the development of Mari’s “aloneness” was the decision to make her a kid who had spent time in the foster care system. I wanted the book to be about how we give ourselves identity, and so I decided to start with someone whose identity is in question—someone who’s not quite sure where she is from and where she belongs. That led me to the foster care system, and a deep dive into the way it works. I got some help from professionals familiar with its geography, a lot of reading and research, and talks with families and individuals who had been through it. So, that’s where Mari starts.
Would Mari be alone for the whole trip? I just couldn’t see her spending all that time in the car by herself, and so someone else had to come along, and that was her brother Conor. In many ways, Conor’s world becomes the soul of the book. I don’t remember why or when Conor became a person on the autism spectrum, but my discovery of him led me to an exploration of the world of autism. I was lucky enough to know a couple of families who have raised children on the ASD spectrum, and I also benefited from the sage advice of a friend, Barry Prizant, who is accomplished in the field. In that process, I came to see the world through different eyes and understand that we are all, at some level, “on the spectrum.” The writer is changed by the writing.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Raúf
Ten-year-old Aniyah and her little brother Noah find themselves living in foster care after the sudden disappearance of their mum. With her life in disarray, Aniyah knows just one thing for sure: her mum isn’t gone forever.
Aniyah believes that the people with the brightest hearts never truly disappear. They become stars. When scientists discover a new star acting strangely, Aniyah knows it’s really her mum. To make sure everyone else knows, too, she embarks on the adventure of a lifetime–one that involves breaking into the Royal Observatory of London, and meeting the biggest star in Hollywood.
This is an honest yet empathetic exploration of how people respond to difficult circumstances, told through the innocent voice of a ten-year-old girl. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Bound for Home by Meika Hashimoto
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Like Hashimoto’s The Trail (2017), this is a solid adventure book with good details about surviving in the wilderness. Emi was a sympathetic character who was struggling to feel loved and wanted, and her reaction to Meili and Jim’s news was not overly unrealistic. I liked that she wasn’t really running away from any mistreatment and that she liked being with them; it was a preemptive measure based on her previous life experiences. Meili briefly mentions how difficult it is to be of Asian descent in predominately white Maine, and the fact that the two of them had each other was a brief moment of light. Max and Red have very distinct personalities, and the chapters from their perspectives added an interesting element to the survival aspect.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Stella by McCall Hoyle
Review by Millicent Flake in Nerdy Book Club:
“Stella is a beagle who lived a happy and fulfilled life with her beloved handler Connie. They worked as a team at the airport, where Stella’s job was to sniff out bombs and other dangerous items. But one fateful day Stella fails to find a bomb that explodes, killing Connie and leaving Stella traumatized.
As the novel begins, Stella is living with a foster parent and struggling to understand what has happened to take Connie away from her. She wants to be a good dog, but she is sometimes overcome with anxiety and panic attacks. All she wants is to be returned to Connie and the life she knew.
Esperanza, an experienced dog trainer, decides to give Stella one more chance to be rehabilitated. She takes her to what seems to Stella like an unusual park — one with stones sticking out of the ground and the smell of empty human shells. Stella sniffs out a Connie smell, but realizes it is no longer the Connie she knew and loved. Esperanza explains that Connie is not coming back. Stella feels that it was her fault for not finding the exploding bomb. The weight of guilt over not saving the one person she loved more than anyone else in the world hangs over her, and she knows that she is a “bad dog.”
Esperanza takes Stella home to her ranch, where she can begin the road to healing. Here she encounters strange fluffy white creatures grazing in a field; a dog named Nando who has the job of keeping the white creatures together; and Cloe, Esperanza’s daughter, who immediately befriends Stella and is determined to help her get past her fears.
Despite Cloe’s happy demeanor and patient and loving way, Stella notices a strange chemical smell coming from her at times. We soon learn that while Cloe is there to help Stella, the beagle may be able to provide an important service to the girl. When Cloe ends up in a dangerous situation, Stella must move past her own fear to save “her girl.” ” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
All The Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey
Lindsay Lackey in The Nerdy Book Club:
“My debut middle grade novel, All the Impossible Things, is about eleven-year-old Red, who has been in foster care for three years, and who accidentally causes tornadoes when she’s upset.
The heart of Red’s story is based firmly on reality. My youngest cousin was fostered and then adopted by my aunt and uncle nearly a decade ago, and their journey was deeply influential in the shaping of All the Impossible Things. However, I’m often asked why I chose to incorporate magical wind into an otherwise realistic story. Does fantasy belong in a tale about foster care? The magic of Red’s story is not arbitrary or accidental. In fact, to me, the magic is one of the most meaningful elements.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Primer by Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski, illustrated by Gretel Lusky
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Ashley Rayburn has had a difficult time. Her father is a hardened criminal who is in jail for a crime Ashley helped him commit, and she is jaded by the foster care system. Eventually, she gets taken in by Kitch and Yuka Nolan, a young couple who can’t have children of their own. Kitch is an artist like Ashley and an overgrown child/hipster who matches Ashley’s absurd humor. Yuka is more reserved and works as a research scientist on a project that might not be 100% well-intentioned. Ashley manages to make a friend at school– Luke, who wan to grow up to be a hairdresser and is glad to go along with Ashley’s wild schemes. When Ashley breaks into Yuka’s closet and finds her top-secret briefcase, she finds out that the body paint Yuka has developed can give the wearer superpowers, but only as long as no more than three paints are used. Ashley uses a variety of paints to save an airplane and does other superhero-like feats, one of which brings her to Yuka’s attention. Yuka is angry, but still cares about Ashley (who uses the name “Primer” when she has her powers), but the evil Strack wants the paints for himself. Will Ashley be able to withstand his attacks, save the Nolans, and continue with her work as Primer?” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
City Spies by James Ponti
Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI6 agency.
Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.
Before she knows what she’s doing, Sara is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team.
No one said saving the world was easy… [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
Review by Caroline Starr Rose:
“This delightful historical middle grade follows three orphans into England’s countryside during the evacuation from war-torn London. The children’s solicitor tells them they will find a good home, but as they face cruel foster siblings, prejudice, and hunger, they aren’t too certain. The children find joy in the local library and in the company of the librarian, Mrs. Muller. She would be a dream foster parent, but her missing German husband makes her unsuitable in the eyes of the community.” [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home by Bridget Farr
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“With the growing number of children in foster care due to the opioid epidemic, it’s not surprising that we are finally starting to see foster children as main characters in books. Pavi’s story is interesting because she has such a good rapport with her foster brother, and she has regular contact with other foster children, especially at the group home. She has some keep insights on how to get along with families, make good impressions, and deal with people who don’t know what to say when they find out she is in foster care. Her concern for Santos and Meridee is touching.” [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Bloom (The Overthrow #1) by Kenneth Oppel
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Anaya has horrible allergies to everything; plants, food, animals. They also cause her to have terrible acne, and she is just weary of going to school when she is feeling bad. Petra, who used to be her friend, is allergic to water. It’s a far more debilitating allergy, but it doesn’t make her look as bad as Anaya’s allergies do. Seth doesn’t have allergies, but he has struggled in foster care, finally ending up with the Antos family on their farm in Canada. When black, spiky, stubborn plants start taking over the island where the three live, they all notice odd things about the plants. Anaya’s father works for the government dealing with plants and notices how they are growing even where other things aren’t. Petra gets caught out in the rain right before the plants start growing, and notices that the water does not make her skin react. She saves the water, and in a day or two, there are small plants growing in that water. Seth and Mr. Antos try to burn out the plants on the farm, only to realize that the resulting smoke is toxic. Not only that, but there is a field near the school where the plants don’t grow… but that turns out to be because the plants are growing underground and sneak up on animals and humans to drag them under to eat them! Everyone is in a panic, scientists are trying to find out where these plants have come from, and Anaya, Seth, and Petra realize that they are all bound by an awful secret from their pasts. Will the world survive?” [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
The King of Jam Sandwiches by Eric Walters
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Robbie and Harmony both face their difficulties with a constructive outlook, and work to better their own circumstances even though they are certainly suffering through them. Robbie’s a good kid, because that way, fewer people pay attention to him. He does well in school, and his teachers encourage him. Harmony is a good foil for this; her experiences have been more difficult, and she is much angrier. They are an unlikely pair, which makes their connection even more interesting. There was a lot of good information about how foster care works, and it was good to see Harmony with a family who took good care of her and were understanding about her acting out. I’m not usually a fan of epilogues, but I was glad to have a brief one describing what the two did after making it through high school.” [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
When the Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Omar and his younger brother live in a refugee camp in Kenya after having to leave Somalia over seven years ago. Their father is dead, and they cannot locate their mother. They have a foster mother, Fatuma, who helps them with food and clothing, and they have a tent in which to sleep. Hassan doesn’t speak and has only ever said the word for mother. When a gentleman comes to the camp and encourage Omar to attend school, he doesn’t want to leave his brother, but once he starts, he hopes that his education will help make things better for him and his brother.” [middle grade graphic novel, ages 9 and up]
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Review by Randomly Reading:
“Fighting Words ends well, but I think it needed a positive ending for it to be considered a middle grade novel. There is a lot of heavy stuff going on in Suki and Della’s story, but Brubaker Bradley has included enough humor that it doesn’t diminish the experiences of the sisters, but it sure is needed for some relief. I found Della to be a wonderfully unreliable narrator (after all, she’s only 10). And I was glad this didn’t turn into an ugly foster care story. It’s always encouraging to read about a positive foster care situation, and while Francine is a little rough around the edges, she is a real softy with her heart in the right place.” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Have you ever thought of hosting a foster care child at your home? I have occasional “Mother Theresa” aspirations but honestly, I wasn’t even successful at getting our family dog from a pound or animal rescue outfit. And I did try. We visited 4 different times and I filled out an application online that was so extensive that it was like applying to college. But no puppy resulted from my efforts and we ended up dog sitting, falling in love with the dog, and going to the same breeder to get a clone.
Husbands are vehemently opposed to rescue kids/foster kids. This is true for Mr. Murphy who is begrudging and suspicious that this is a very bad idea but his wife prevails which brings Carley into their lives. At first, it is very tough going. But Mrs. Murphy is able to penetrate Carley’s heart to convince her that she is worthy of love and that she can have any life she wants. Pretty powerful stuff.
When Carley’s mother is well enough to leave the hospital herself, she wants Carley back and Carley is torn between the life she knew and the life before her. Which will she choose and what will become of her?
I hope that there is a sequel to this book. I have a feeling that this story isn’t over yet. True, Mrs. Murphy was able to plant seeds of courage and aspiration that will sustain Carley but I have no doubt that her mother will return to her old ways. Will Mrs. Murphy ever see Carley again? Is this respite from Carley’s old life enough to catapult her to a new life someday? She is still so young that I worry about her.
Yes, Lynda Hunt has written such an amazing book that you will feel like you know these characters intimately. You will worry about them in your spare time. They will become important to you. Please write the sequel!
You can read the first chapter here for FREE! [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Isla to Island by Alex Castellanos
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“In this mostly wordless graphic novel, we meet Isla’s parents, who marry in 1945 and are living in Cuba. When Isla comes along, the family is closely knit. They go to parks together and press flowers when they return home and seem to have a good life. In 1960, after Batista and Castro, their neighborhood becomes dangerous. A window in Isla’s room is shattered, and the family is scared. The parents decide to send Isla to New York City with Operation Pedro Pan. Isla arrives in the US alone but is fostered by a very caring and concerned older couple who do what they can to make her comfortable, but who find it hard to discern exactly what she needs. Isla goes to a Catholic school where many of the children are mean to her, and she struggles with learning since her command of English isn’t good. Her world is portrayed as predominately gray. She eventually discovers books, and through these shares with her foster parents her love of plants and flowers, and color slowly returns to her world. Her foster parents take her to parks and greenhouses, school becomes a bit easier, and she gains enough confidence to make friends. A series of snapshots show her life after her school years when she is able to reunite with her parents and have a family of her own.” [middle grade graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
Of a Feather by Dayna Lorentz
From Ms. Yingling Reads:
“There are a lot of students in foster care; we have a handful every year at my school, so I would like all of my students to read books that include characters in a variety of foster care situations. This was a sympathetic portrayal, and the author’s work in the field definitely adds a layer of verisimilitude to the story. The details about helping birds are interesting, and Reenie’s struggle to let people be friends with her is very accurately portrayed.” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes
I was so fortunate to be assigned to a table next to Nikki Grimes at the Chappaqua Book Festival last fall. We had time to chat and I learned from her that she was a foster child. I was amazed that she could become a children’s book author, particularly back in the day when diverse stories were not sought after by publishers. The other reality of trying to make a living by writing children’s books is simply that it does not pay that well. I asked her how on earth was she able to launch her career despite these obstacles and she laughed and said that it was because she was stubborn and determined to prove everyone wrong. Her story is here in her award-winning memoir. Her book has won:
- ALA Michael Printz Honor Book (Young Adult)
- ALA Robert F. Sibert Honor Book (Nonfiction)
- 2020 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award for Nonfiction
- Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for Teens
[young adult, ages 12 and up]
Love, Jacaranda by Alex Flinn
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Jacaranda is working at a Publix grocery store in Miami. She has been in foster care for a while because her mother is in prison, but is doing fairly well in her current home, and taking control of her own life. When she sings her own version of the store’s ditty for one of her elderly, regular customers and another customer posts it on the internet, her performance goes viral. She is contacted by a woman named Vanessa, who says that a rich benefactor has seen her performance and offered to pay for her to go to the exclusive performing arts school in Michigan, Midwestern Arts Academy. Once she is there, she starts emailing the “John Smith” who has paid her expenses. Vanessa also helps Jacaranda buy clothes and fittings for her dorm room. She’s self-conscious about her background, especially when she meets people like Phoebe, who is very wealthy and entitled. Going by “Jackie” to avoid being recognized from the video, she settles into life in the exclusive school, reveling in the food and the experiences in the arts, which she had not been able to have in Miami. She eventually meets Phoebe’s cousin, John Jarvis Pendelton, III, an “eligible bachelor” over whom the other students fawn. Jacaranda also finds him attractive and nice, and soon the two are spending as much time together as distance allows. In between trips and shows, Jacaranda deals with the competition in her school, performing, and learning about singing and musical theater. She is falling in love with Jarvis, but when she finds out some secrets about him, will the two be able to remain together?” [young adult, ages 14 and up]
Foster Care in Picture Books
Home for A While by Lauren H. Kerstein
Review by Children’s Books Heal:
“Home for a While is a sensitive book for foster parents to add to their bookshelves. Foster kids need to see themselves in stories that may help them transition into a new home. It is a scary time for children and they deal with BIG emotions. It’s not unusual for kids to want to protect themselves from disappointment, hurt and feeling let down. And like any child, they act out and test their new foster parents.
Lauren Kerstein presents these challenges in an open and honest manner. Her story is full of heart and compassion. She alternates the dialogue between Calvin (red ink) and Maggie (purple ink), his new foster mom. When Maggie asks Calvin if she can give him a goodnight hug, he responds with a “NAH.” But follows with “Why do you want to hug me, anyway?” This banter is repeated throughout the book. Maggie is a calm and stable foster mom and her responses and strategies open the door for Calvin to trust her. Actually, this book is a moving read for any family and offers all parents some tips.” [picture book, ages 4 and up]
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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.