Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An-Ya and Her Diary: A Book Review

Dear Diary,
I have a new mother and a father. I call my father Daddy. I call my mother Wanna. I call her that in secret because she Wanna be my mommy. She can't. They mean nothing to me. I know their names, I know how many papers they signed to make me their daughter, but those papers mean nothing. I don't have anything else to say about them right now. 

These words from the opening pages of An-Ya and Her Diary, a young adult novel by Diane Rene Christian, stopped me cold. An-Ya, an eleven-year-old girl, recently adopted from China, calls her new mother Wanna? At the time, it was more than my adoptive mama heart could bear so I turned off my Kindle and didn't return to An-Ya's story for about three months. 

Recently, however, something prompted me to revisit An-Ya, and I'm glad I did.

Eleven-year-old An-Ya is one of China's abandoned babies. She was found in a box along with a blank book.  Printed on the first page of the book was her name, An-Ya. For years, An-Ya fantasizes about the day her birth parents will return to the orphanage for her and her diary, now her most precious possession. She keeps the diary blank, waiting for the day she can fill it with her story's happy ending.

But An-Ya's birth parents never come.

Instead, eleven-year-old An-Ya is adopted by American parents. She is their second child. Her younger sister, three-year-old Ellie, was adopted from China as a baby. The presence of Ellie in An-Ya's story provides a great contrast, showing how older child adoption is, indeed, very different from infant adoption.

Once in America, An-Ya begins to record her journey in her diary, and the words she writes paint a real life picture of international older child adoption. We watch An-Ya's family struggle. We cheer them on. And the unique value for adoptive parents like me, is that the story is told from An-Ya's perspective

An-Ya and Her Diary is a real jewel, and in my opinion, a must-read for any parent considering an older child adoption. Because adoption looks very different when viewed through the eyes of the adopted child.

Diane Rene Christian, an adoptive mother herself, resists the urge to neatly tie up all the loose ends in An-Ya's story, and the book closes with An-Ya and her family very much still in process. But they've all come a long way, and as I turn the last electronic page, I am convinced that An-Ya is going to be OK. I'm pretty sure she's even warming up to Wanna.

At this time, Amazon Prime members may borrow An-Ya and Her Diary free on Kindle. And in the future, I hope to review An-Ya and Her Diary: Reader and Parent Guide, a collaborative work by a group of professional adult adoptees. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Motivating Reluctant Readers

For me, the biggest challenge in teaching my older adopted kid to read hasn't been about instruction; it's been about motivation.

Wenxin is a reluctant reader. Learning to read, for him, has been hard work. Arriving in America at age 7 1/2, not speaking a word of English and not knowing a letter A from a letter Z, he felt behind from the start. It didn't take long for him to realize that kids a lot younger than him could read much better than him.

That's kind of a slap in the face.

Even as his reading skills improved, reading just wasn't fun for him. So around Christmas, I set out to see that change. And along the way, my journey to motivate my reluctant reader took me some unexpected places.

Like. . .

To Barnes and Noble in search of the perfect joke book for kids.  

It all started the Saturday before Christmas. We'd just picked up our new van and were grabbing a bite to eat at a local sports bar. We like to go there because we can put the kids in one booth while Mike and I sit alone in another booth and pretend like we don't have four kids.

Seriously, we really do.

On that day, Wenxin kept leaning over the back of our booth trying to tell the jokes that were printed on his children's menu -- the jokes he was attempting to read on his own.

"Buy him a joke book," Mike said, and from the look on his face I could tell he wasn't joking.

Best money we ever spent.

Telling a joke is fun, and we've always known that fun is high on Wenxin's list. Also, jokes are short. You don't have to read pages and pages to get enjoyment from a joke book. Since Christmas, Wenxin has read that book from cover to cover. More than once.

And he's become quite entertaining.

Wenxin: "What do you call a cheese that is not your own?"
Me: "I don't know."
Wenxin: " Nacho cheese."

Can I just say how much I love that kid? He has great comedic timing, and he's learning the jokes by READING!

However, my journey to help Wenxin learn to love to read didn't end at Barnes and Noble. Learning to motivate my reluctant reader took me places I never planned to go. Learning to motivate my reluctant reader even forced me to. . .

Confront my inner book snob.

I'm a fan of quality children's literature. I'm a sucker for any book with one of those little gold or silver seals on the cover that declare it to be an award winner. I might as well admit it. I'm a book snob.

Before Christmas, I contacted a friend of mine on Facebook. She happens to be a librarian at a private international school in Brazil, so I asked her for book suggestions for Wenxin. Believe it or not, she had the audacity to suggest a graphic novel.

Graphic novel? What??? I think that's code for comic book.

But, remembering that fun is high on my little man's list, off to Amazon I went, and on Christmas morning, Wenxin opened a copy of Big Nate from Santa. A few days later, his Aunt Sherri sent him a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid for his birthday.

We were celebrating Wenxin's birthday at my parents' house in Alabama, and that night, something amazing happened. Wenxin, Nathan and their cousin J. were camping out in the living room. I'm not sure how it happened, but it was decided that J. would read Diary of a Wimpy Kid aloud to Wenxin  -- in the dark -- by flashlight.

Talk about motivating my reluctant reader! An older boy, his cousin whom he adores, modeling a love for reading -- by flashlight. J. put the stamp of coolness on reading in a way I never could.

We were making progress, but I still had one more thing to learn.

Through the process of teaching Wenxin to read -- and love it -- I've discovered that. . .

Sometimes it's OK to push a little. 

For a few months now, I've been requiring Wenxin to set a timer and read silently for 30 minutes a day. Especially in the beginning, this was met with a lot of resistance. The joke book helped. 30 minutes of jokes isn't really so bad.

Finally, last week I decided it was time for Wenxin to read a real chapter book. I pulled out the first book in the Magic Tree House series and announced that he'd be reading it on his own during his silent reading time.

This declaration was met with tears. Big. Drippy. Silent. Tears.

It was too hard. He couldn't do it. He was scared.

But deep down inside I knew he could do it. He had the skills. He just didn't have the confidence.

Wenxin needed me to believe in him and push.

Pushing is not my natural parenting style.

But, ignoring my natural inclination to let him go at his own pace, I set the timer and handed him the book. He was allowed to ask me or one of his siblings if he got stuck on a word, which he did a lot the first day or two. He also periodically cried.

Today, however, he's almost finished with the book, and he's not asking very many words anymore. What he IS doing is telling me what's happening in the story. His story. The chapter book he's reading ALL BY HIMSELF.

Wenxin is learning that reading is fun. And I'm learning a few things as well. I"m learning that reading a joke book counts, and that reading a graphic novel counts, and that pushing a little isn't always a bad thing.

And I keep reminding myself that he's only been here two and a half years. He's learned all this in two and a half years. That's pretty good. That might just make him a genius!

For more about how I approached reading instruction with Wenxin, see Teaching Reading to Newly Adopted Kids.

*If you enjoyed this post, use the buttons below to share it on Facebook or Twitter. Shared at Growing Slower's Tuesday Baby Link-up.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Giveaway - Just in Time for Christmas

Wen has spent the first eleven years of her life at an orphanage in rural China, and the only person she would call family is her best friend, Shu Ling. When Wen is adopted by an American couple, she struggles to adjust to every part of her new life: having access to all the food and clothes she could want, going to school, being someone's daughter. But the hardest part of all is knowing that Shu Ling remains back at the orphanage, alone. Wen believes that her best friend deserves a family and a future, too. But finding a home for Shu Ling isn't easy, and time is running out . . .

Finally. A novel about older child adoption. And even better, it's written from the point of view of the adopted child.

I was cautiously hopeful as I began reading. Would this book really paint a picture of the challenges as well as the joys of older child adoption? Or would everything just be butterflies and rainbows? Would the story be compelling enough for kids of all ages (and even adults) to enjoy? Was that too much to ask of one book?

In the end, my hopes were realized. I really liked this book. In fact, I liked it so much I decided to read it aloud to all my kids.

Ages 12, 10, 9 and 8, my kids were the perfect audience for Red Thread Sisters which is aimed at middle grade students. I found it to be appropriate for older elementary kids as well. My one concern was Wenxin. Although the author, Carol Peacock, approaches the subject sensitively, when Wen and Shu Ling share their stories of abandonment, the ache of their hearts is unmistakable.  I cried for them. Would this prove to be too much for nine year old Wenxin, only home from China two years?

I prefaced the book by sharing with all the children that this was Wen's story (the main character), not Wenxin's. And as I read, I saw the biggest response from my biological kids.

Julia, age 10, said, "I never thought before about how the adopted kid might feel."

Following Wen's story, they were able to see international adoption through her eyes. Their empathy and understanding deepened.

As for Wenxin, he listened, but didn't say much, and I didn't push it. I just gave him room to process, and let him enjoy the story.

By the end of the book, all of us, even Wenxin, were cheering Wen on, hoping she'd find Shu Ling a family before it was too late.

After reading Red Thread Sisters, I gathered up my courage and wrote the author, Carol Peacock. She is so sweet. I asked if she'd be willing to give away a signed copy of her book, and she said, "Yes!"

So just in time for Christmas, you have the opportunity to win your own signed hardcover copy of Red Thread Sisters. It would make a great gift for any young reader. It would even be helpful for prospective adoptive parents. There's something about a good story that drives the truth home and helps it stick.

Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget below for up to 12 chances to win! If you've never used Rafflecopter before, don't be intimidated. It's super easy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Dr. Carol Antoinette Peacock grew up in Maryland, in a suburb outside of Washington D.C. She is the oldest of three children in a family who loved books. When she was young, her parents, Andrew and Gloria Peacock, read devotedly to her, her younger brother, Richard, and her younger sister, Nancy. Carol Peacock has wanted to be a writer since she was eleven. She is now a practicing psychologist and author of six books. Dr. Peacock earned a BA at Cornell University, a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Psychology at Boston College.

You can find Carol Peacock on Facebook and at And if you don't want to wait for the raffle to end, Red Thread Sisters is available now at Amazon.

Shared at the Tuesday Baby Link-up.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Connected Child Book Review: A Guest Post by Laura

International adoption, domestic adoption, foster care… how your precious little one came to you is a unique road. We have temporary custody of “Anna” because her parents are not able to care for her at this time. (One of her parents is mentally ill, the other not a suitable parent at this time.)

Anna is hilarious and zany, keeping us busy and laughing at the same time. We are blessed to have these moments of comic relief with her – parts of her little personality untouched from neglect and emotional abandonment. But like most three year olds, her disposition can change at the drop of a hat, because of normal three-year-old frustrations and fears. Add to that Anna’s confusion of living with six different families during her second year of life. And the fear of waking up in yet another new household, where they have new rules, new smells, new ways of doing things, new words, new clothes, new sleeping quarters… I was constantly asking myself what she had been through and how I could make the transition into a new family easier for her. It was becoming obvious to me that I would never know, and Anna would never be able to verbalize her past in words, though.

Her silent cries for stability, for routine, for extra nurturing (and a few meltdowns) led me to inquire of Dana. I seemed to remember something about meltdowns, unspoken needs and the ambiguity of it all in one of her posts. She suggested a book entitled The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family by Karyn Purvis, David Cross and Wendy Sunshine, which I purchased immediately on I was desperate for answers.

In retrospect, it all makes sense. The indiscriminate talking to strangers; the panic and ensuing tantrums if she was not allowed to drink milk all day, for every meal; the fear of being strapped in a car seat; the waking up all night to see if she was still in the same household. At first it was quite confusing to me, though.

After reading The Connected Child, I now understand that she may wake up in the middle of the night because she may be hyper vigilant, feeling the need to monitor her circumstances more than a normal child. I now understand that she may reach out to strangers more than a normal child because she may have found the adults in her younger years unreliable. She has learned this as a survival technique to get her needs met. 

I read the book intermittently, over a period of time, but I felt encouraged every time I set the book down. I have underlined so many things in The Connected Child. I am sure I will read it again. (Explaining to Anna why I am writing on nearly every page of this book and she isn’t allowed to mark on her books has been interesting.)

Although the book goes beyond regular parenting, it is also basic enough for the first time parent, like me. Not everything applied to Anna, because her case is perhaps mild compared to what some children have been through. (The book does mention outside resources that would be helpful to a parent dealing with an older child or one with more pronounced issues.)

The example dialogues were especially appealing and helpful to me, perhaps because I am more of a visual and kinesthetic learner. There is an emphasis on playful dialogue that is non-threatening to an at-risk child, but the book also gives techniques to help correct unhealthy behavior – a hard balance to find. This is very important to a child that may be overly sensitive to corrective words because they are not yet secure in their family relationships.

The scripts for dealing with anticipated challenging social situations were also very helpful. You know, those situations in public where you look absolutely ridiculous because you have absolutely no control over your child or the situation. One of the best things about the book, though, is that it did not promote miracle fixes. I didn’t feel overwhelmed while reading it. I felt the book encouraged me to view our circumstances as a learning process – for me, as well as for Anna.

Although you look back at the road that brought your adopted or foster child to you with satisfaction, knowing they have been rescued from a bad situation, your child may not feel rescued yet. The Connected Child illustrated for me ways to help Anna feel safe. I am thankful I was desperate enough to ask for help and had a friend introduce me to this book.

I love that Anna is outgoing and friendly, but I do hope that one day she is this way simply because she wants to be and not because she fears her needs won’t be met. I see lots of signs that she is learning healthier patterns and is attaching in healthy ways.

Thanks, Laura, for taking the time to review The Connected Child for us.  Anna is a beautiful child, and I'm so happy she has a sensitive, resourceful, mom like you!