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Best Books for Kids on Adoption: Families with Children from China

Updated on July 21, 2017
Adele Jeunette profile image

Adele has been a youth services librarian for 20 years. She has been mother to a daughter from China for 17 years.

This site lists best books on adoption for families with children from China.
This site lists best books on adoption for families with children from China.

Great Books to Help You Start a Conversation on Adoption

Here is a list of the best books I've found on adopting a child, as well as those specifically about adopting a child from China.

These books were mainstays in our home when our daughter was young and we wanted to help her understand how parents build a family a through adoption. Here you will find books geared toward a child who has been adopted, as well as one that relates the story of an older sibling who is looking forward to the adoption of a little sister.

I've included books that are geared towards the youngest children, as well as those told form the point of view of children in elementary school who are exploring their place in the world.

Be sure to check out the links at the end of the page. They will take you to sites that list all of the best books I've read about China and adoption. You'll find all kinds of books geared towards children, moms, and dads in all kinds of formats: picture books, novels, memoirs, and fascinating books about the history and culture of China.

General Books on Adoption

These books are suitable for ages 2-6.

Babies Come from Airports
Babies Come from Airports

New! Babies Come from Airports

How much you like this book will depend on whether you think the sentence "Babies come from airports" is cute, or if you think it is misleading.

I will say that people have long looked for books about international adoption from the older siblings' perspective, and this one fills the bill.

Our narrator, an African-American boy named Adar who was adopted into a mixed-race family, starts by telling us that his brother says "Babies come from airports...A big guy named Security let Mommy bring you through." What the brother is referring to, of course, was the time when he accompanied his dad to the airport and his mother returned from an adoption trip, bringing a new baby brother home for the family. In his child mind, the baby came from the airport, and the security guard's name is Security.

Right away, the dad says "Don't listen to your brother...Babies come from labor. Wait and ask your mother." His answer doesn't really help clarify things for Adar, who guesses that the word labor refers to having to fill a lot of paperwork to bring the baby home.

It's the kind of wordplay that will amuse adults that read the book, but will necessitate some explaining if you plan to read it to young children.

The story follows the Dad and his two boys as they wait form Mom to arrive with a new baby sister from China. They look through Adar's "Gotcha Day" book, draw pictures, endure Dad's casseroles, and finally get in the car to head to the airport. When they get there, Adar meets up with the same security guard who was on duty when he came to the airport, some 4 or 5 years ago.

Then, Mom and the new daughter, Grace, arrive and Adar shows his new sister her very own "Gotcha Day" book when they get back home . He concludes by saying, "We met you at the airport. I waved at planes above. But right now, all she needs to know is...babies come from love."

The illustrations are sweet and charming, and I do have to say I appreciate seeing a multiracial family depicted. The security guard is also African-American, which serves to reinforce the idea that our multicultural families lives in a wider multicultural world. The endpapers are illustrated with things that are clips from the new sister's Gotcha book: Mom leaving the airport for China, a amp showing where Grace is from, the red couch photo, fortune cookie fortunes, and later, photos of Grace coming back from the airport.

Some folks have concerns with the term "Gotcha Day," and they should know that the term is repeated several times. That said, it is a charming upbeat book that celebrates the making of a diverse family.

A Mother for Choco
A Mother for Choco

A Little Bird Finds a Family

A Mother for Choco is the book I often choose to read at our library’s storytimes during National Adoption Month. The book has lots of fun characters, and the reader can ham it up with the story. Kasza is a master storyteller for the preschool set, and in this book her subject is a little bird who does not have a mother. He looks for creatures with similar features (a yellow giraffe, a walrus with big fat cheeks), but they all point out they don't look exactly alike. He is bereft until he comes across a mother bear. They don't look at alike either, but the mother bear points out that she can hug and comfort him, sing and dance with him, and do all the things he needs from a mother. At the end of the book we find she has other adopted children: an alligator, a hippopotamus, and a pig.

Over the Moon:  An Adoption Tale
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale

Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale

Karen Katz is a favorite with the younger set, and this brightly-illustrated book, Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale, is just right for introducing the story of an international adoption. “You grew like a flower in another lady’s tummy until you were born,” the text begins. “But the lady wasn’t able to take care of you, so Mommy and Daddy came to adopt you and bring you home.” The author keeps the story—based on her own experience adopting—simple, and relates the joy of building a family through adoption.

Books for Young Children: Adoption from China

These books recount the stories of parents and children meeting for the first time.

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes
I Love You Like Crazy Cakes

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes

When this book first came out, another mother came over to me and said, “We have got to get this book for China adoption camp. People will snatch it up.” Our camp was rather small at the time, and I usually ordered one or two copies of each book. I took a deep breath ordered 20 copies of the book—and they sold out the first morning. This story is a sort of love letter from a mother to the baby daughter she adopted in China. She tells of her longing for a baby, how they first met in China, and how she aches for the birth mother. The highlight of this book is Jane Dyer's sweet watercolor illustrations.

Lily
Lily

Keeping in Contact with China Sisters

Lily is still in print, which is a very good sign, since lots of books that dealt with Chinese adoption are no longer being published. (Thank goodness you can find just about anything you want, new or used, with online booksellers.)This book, told from the viewpoint of a girl adopted from China, follows her story from the orphanage to meeting her new family. What sets this one apart is that it shows how the girl keeps in contact with her “China sisters,” the other girls in her adoption travel group. Bonnie Lemaire's charming illustrations are quite colorful and whimsical.

The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale
The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale

The Chinese Legend of the Red Thread

Most adoptive families are aware of the Chinese legend of The Read Thread. According to Chinese tradition "an invisible, unbreakable red thread connects all who are destined to be together." Author and illustrator Grace Lin (of Taiwanese descent) uses this legend to weave a fairy tale in The Red Thread that introduces kids to adoption in a familiar format. In this book a king and queen who suffer from an ache in their chests find that they are connected by the red thread to a child whom they travel to meet in a foreign land. Lin’s trademark illustrations are charming, combining patterns and bright colors.

Kids Like Me in China
Kids Like Me in China

Book Written by a Girl Adopted from China

As far as I know, Kids Like Me in China is still the only book written by a child who was adopted from China. In her own words, eight-year-old Ying Ying Fry describes her time visiting the orphanage in Changsha, China, from which she was adopted. Her detailed account includes a description of the daily lives of the babies, the special-needs children, and the older children living at the Social Welfare Institution.

Fry also discusses the issues of population control, abandonment, and the prevalence of girls in a matter-of-fact and forthright manner.

The content, personable style, and engaging photographs make this the perfect book for parents and children who want to understand more about kids’ early lives in China.

At Home in This World
At Home in This World

Connecting Two Lives

At Home in This World has always drawn me in with the illustration of the fresh-faced girl on the cover. It is a story written from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl looking back on adoption and how it has affected her life. In the preface, author Jean MacLeod explains how, as the mother of two daughters adopted from China, she spent hours putting together life books and editing their frist meeting video to put a “relentlessly positive spin” on adoption, and later found out that her girls needed a more nuanced and realistic look at their lives. She learned how to acknowledge that her children had lives and families before her, and that it was okay to think about, and have feelings for two moms.

The next part of the book, the story for children, is narrated from the point of view of a nine-year-old girl. She speculates on why her birthparents weren’t able to keep her and how they will always be connected through inherited traits and talents. She tells a little of her adoption story (how her parents look happy in the video when they first met, but her baby self looks confused and a little scared—sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). She continues “I’m not a little girl anymore” and describes her current life of playing the piano, riding bikes, and eating strawberry ice cream. She concludes by saying “I still wonder about my life in China,” and feels that she’ll always have a sense of missing her birth parents, and that it is all part of who she is “one girl from two places who is growing up to be at home in this big, wide world.”

The subtle watercolor illustrations bring the girl and her family alive.

Star of the Week
Star of the Week

A School Presentation

In Star of the Week, kindergartener Cassidy-Li is preparing her poster because it’s her turn to be the “star of the week.” If you haven’t been introduced to this preschool/kindergarten phenomena, here’s how it works: each week a different child gets to be “star of the week” and bring in a poster with pictures so that they can tell the other children about their life.

Cassidy-Li has lot of photos, including ones with her grandparents, piano lessons, soccer, and one with her parents when she was newly-adopted from China. But, she feels something is missing since she doesn’t have any pictures with her birthparents. She tells us that she things about them a lot and she has talked with her mom and dad about “all the reasons people can take care of their babies.” She mentions that the parents were maybe too poor or too young. Well, yes, those are possible, but the book skirts around another very probable cause—that the parents relinquished her in order to try for a son.

Cassidy-Li solves her problem by deciding to draw a picture of her parents for the poster. She’s excited for her big day, but worried about whether her friends will ask her a lot of questions. She tells us that her parents have told her that she can tell others that it’s private, and that she doesn’t have to talk about it if she doesn’t want to. I guess we can assume the children don’t ask any questions-- because all we are told is that everyone clapped and a few children gave her high fives.

If you are looking for a book that broaches the topic of birth parents, but you’d prefer to fill in your own details, this is the book for you. The illustrations are bright, cheerful, and adorable.

Mommy Far, Mommy Near
Mommy Far, Mommy Near

Two Mothers

I remember getting an e-mail from the author, Carol Antoinette Peacock, when she had first written this book. She said that most of the books she’d read didn’t address children’s questions about having two mothers, one in China and one in the United States. She wrote Mommy Far, Mommy Near specifically to help children talk about how they felt. This is a sensitive book about a girl who was adopted from China and is starting to ask questions about why she has a mother in China and one in the United States. The American mother gently explains to her how the one-child laws in China might have affected her birth family.

Kimchi & Calamari
Kimchi & Calamari

A Book for the Guys

Books for boys adopted from China are few and far between. Kimchi & Calamari is about a boy from Korea, but it's the best you'll find about a teen boy working out his identity in a family. The main character, Joseph Calderaro, is a boy who was adopted from Korea into a big Italian family and deals with his forming his own identity. He’s 14 years old now, and dealing with typical things like sisters, girls at school, and getting along with his parents. Then, he has to write an essay for school about his origins, and he first tries to avoid the whole question by writing a fictional essay claiming he is the son of a famous Korean. When he is found out, he goes on authentic search for his roots.

The writer balances poignancy and humor in this engaging book.

Oldies But Goodies

The following books are no longer available new, but are still well worth getting on the used market.

Best Books on Adoption for Children
Best Books on Adoption for Children

A Leopard Among Tigers

This book is not available new anymore, but I think it is worth getting on the secondary market because it is such a nice, subtle general book. I remember reading this book over and over to my daughter at bedtime. Horace is a spotted leopard who lives with a family of tigers. Every night his mother tells him that they chose him because they liked his spots and they wanted to be their child. But when Horace's cousins come for a visit, he starts to notice that everyone looks different from him. At a picnic he runs away and joins a family of tigers in their play, but at the end of the day he realizes that he is truly a part of his own family.

Waiting for May
Waiting for May

A Big Brother's Story

For the longest time, I was asked if there were any books for siblings of families who were adopting. There wasn’t much, and I was happy to see that Janet Morgan Stoeke wrote a book based on her personal experiences. I had long been a fan of her Minerva Louise series (about a chicken who misinterprets things; fun, but nothing to do with adoption), and I think she put together a nice book with Waiting for May. This adoption story is told from the viewpoint of an older brother who is excited about the addition of a new sister, a baby girl from China, to his family. When the family meets, it turns out he is the one who is able to comfort his distressed sister.

Best Books on Adoption for Children
Best Books on Adoption for Children

Names from China and America

In this book, a girl who looks to be about 9 or 10 years old explains the different stages in her life by talking about the different names she’s been given.

The first name was whispered to her by her birth mother, a name she doesn’t remember. She talks about how she got her hands and eyes and dark hair from her birth parents, but “they took me to an orphanage. I just don’t know why. My heart tells me they were sad.” This book keeps things general and vague, probably so that readers can fill in their own details. As to why she was relinquished the girl says that China is crowded and not rich and has rules about how many children a family can have.

If you are looking for a book that shares more about China’s policies and how a child might feel about them, you may want to look to Ying Ying Fry’s Kids Like Me in China or Sara Dorow’s When You Were Born in China.

The girl’s second name is from the orphanage and means “princess” and “gentle and refined.”

Her third name was given to her by her adoptive parents. Her first name is Ada, a nod to the Chinese words ai (love) and de (arrived), a rather clever way to work names together.

After briefly telling her adoption story, Ada describes the things she does in her life—eating popcorn and hotdogs, writing down all the parts of her name (including a sparkling red star for the name from her birth mother), playing soccer, looking up at the stars and wondering if her birth parents think about her. At the end of the book, Ada includes some scrapbook pages and invites her readers to make their own.

It’s a simple and short book, with full-color, full page illustrations that are lovely and poignant. It would serve well to start young children (maybe first grade and up) thinking about their identity and would make a good springboard for conversation.

Sweet Moon Baby
Sweet Moon Baby

A Fanciful Tale

In this book, a fanciful tale, a couple from China does not have enough food to take care of their newborn baby girl, and they set her in a basket and place her in the river (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you like the Moses parallels). Meanwhile a couple prepares for a daughter, planting a garden, building room just for her. Finally the couple travels to adopt their daughter and bring her home. A series of snapshots illustrates one of the final pages, and we see all of the creatures that accompanied her on her trip on the river; they are now her toys and stuffed animals.

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