The book opens with a dark-haired, brown-skinned little girl examining her face in a mirror. With a concerned expression, she remarks, "You know, Mom, you're not my real mother." Her blonde, white mother responds, "What do you mean, my darling?" If only she had stopped there.
Instead, she insists, "Of course I'm your real mother!" and proceeds to make her case by reminding her daughter of all the things she does for her. ("Does a real mother let you put twenty bandages on a bruised knee when you really only need one?" "Does a real mother teach you how to tie your shoes?")
When her monologue finally ends, the girl is able to ask her actual question: "I know you love me, Mom. But why don't you look like me?" Where the book could have affirmed the "realness" of first parents, it instead briefly mentions her birth mom:
(There is a very tender illustration of the birth mother embracing the little girl as baby.)
"I don't look like you because I'm not your birth mother."
"Your birth mother is the mother who gave birth to you. She started your life, and I am thankful to her every day for that."
"Because I get to watch you grow!"
The little girl then launches into her own litany of the wonderful things her adoptive mom does. ("You jump with me on the trampoline!") The mother-daughter bond sufficiently affirmed, the book concludes with a declaration that she truly is the "REAL MOTHER" (emphasis not mine).
This book strikes me as created more to reassure an insecure adoptive parent than to address the concerns of an adopted child. Indeed, the author wrote it after a similar real-life conversation with her internationally adopted daughter. "Realness" can be a painful issue in adoption. The first time I hear those words from Puppy I am sure my heart will twist into a trillion pieces, regardless of the context. But juxtaposing "birth mother" with "real mother" only diminishes first parents and adoptive parents. I am Puppy's real mom through-and-through, but so is K. Though we have very different roles in his life, we are equally real. It is good to affirm the truth that familial bonds can be about more than biology, but it does not need to happen at the expense of children's first families.
This book sorely misses the mark. But perhaps it does have a purpose--as a primer on How Not to Discuss Adoption with Your Child. (Lesson #1: Ask questions, but don't wait for answers. Lesson #2: Launch into a knee-jerk monologue. Lesson #3: No need to explore what is behind their statements and questions. Just make the conversation all about you!)
Ages 4-8 years.
(written by Molly Friedrich, illustrated by Christy Hale; Little, Brown & Co., 2004)