Ask The Adoption Coach: Adoption Books

Adoptive mother reading in park
Reader: I am looking for a good kids book to help my biological child age 9 understand the adoption of his younger sister. Any suggestions would be welcomed.
Adoption Coach:
Dear Reader:
Congrats on adding to your family through adoption! You are wise to carefully consider your son’s feelings and adoption education.
First, be prepared to acknowledge, validate, and discuss your son’s range of feelings regarding the addition of a sister. It’s important to establish an environment of openness in your home, one where honesty is welcome, hard questions are discussed, and information is shared when the appropriate time comes about. Just like with adoptees, biological children may have many questions, conflicting emotions, assumptions, and fears that parents need to be available and open to discuss. Above all, as attachment therapist Shirley Crenshaw has shared with me, empathy is key. Dismissing, ignoring, explaining-away, or humiliating a child’s feelings, whether that child is biological or adopted, is destructive. One book that will help you talk with your son about adoption and siblinghood is Brothers and Sisters in Adoption: Helping Children Navigate Relationships When New Kids Join the Family (Arleta James).
There are several children’s books on the market for children who gain a sibling by adoption. Additionally, some of the books I recommend are about siblinghood (not specifically adoption), which would also be important to explore with your son. (I always recommend that adoptive parents preview books for appropriateness. You can request titles from your local library in order to save money.)
Here are a few books to get you started:
One Special Day: A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters (Lola M. Schaefer)
Peter’s Chair (Ezra Jack Keats)
Waiting for May (Janet Morgan Stoeke)
I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother (Selina Alko)
Of course, there are many adoption-themed movies as well. Specifically, I recommend Stuart Little, because it’s about a young boy who gains a sibling, Stuart, through adoption, and demonstrates the interesting sibling-dynamic (including many ups and downs) that occurs. Other films include Despicable Me, Meet the Robinsons, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Kung Fu Panda 2, Elf, and Prince of Egypt.
Likewise, you may wish to teach your son about adoption in general, by reading these books, geared toward boys:
Quakenstein Hatches a Family (Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen)
The Little Green Goose (Adele Sansone)
The Thunderstruck Stork (David J. Olson)
Horace (Holly Keller)
It’s important to note that some adoption experts believe that children cannot fully grasp the concept of adoption until they can understand sex and biology. Saying to your son that his sister simply “grew in another woman’s tummy” and then was placed with your family is abstract, confusing, and an incomplete explanation (one that may lead him to search for answers elsewhere, be it from classmates, another adult, or exploring resources on his own). Many children of your son’s age have an understanding (though perhaps not comprehensive) of bodies, sex, conception, and childbearing. Adding a child to your family gives you the opportunity to, at an age and maturity appropriate level, talk to your son about “the birds and the bees” followed up with a discussion of your family’s specific adoption situation.
Another discussion that will be important to have you with your son is family privacy. How much of your daughter’s story should he disclose to others, either when prompted or when your son desires to share information? How much of your daughter’s story should you share with your son at this point, knowing he may disclose that information to others? How should your son navigate the curiosity of others, including relatives, friends, and even strangers? Practicing responses to questions will give your son the confidence to respond in an appropriate way.
Certainly, adding a child to your family via adoption is an exciting time; however, it can also be a challenging season as your entire family adjusts. Using available resources, giving your son lots of one-on-one attention, and using professional intervention when necessary will help ease the transition.