Book List: Children’s Books About Transracial Adoption

Because our books deal with many different kinds of families and all different types of diversity, we regularly get asked for books that feature transracial adoption. Because we don’t live in a color-blind world, transracial adoption (adopting a child of a different race or ethnic group) is a complicated act, and presents unique challenges for both the adoptive family and the adoptee.

Below we’ve compiled a list of children’s, middle grade, and young adult books that feature transracial adoption in some way. Please note that this list should be taken as list of resources for further investigation and not as a list of recommendations. Before using a book yourself, we encourage you to evaluate it (we recommend Dr. Sarah Park’s excellent post, Adoption and Children’s Literature, as a guide).

Pinterest: Books About Transracial Adoption

Picture Books

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, ill. by Jamel Akib: A young boy prepares for the arrival of his new little sister, Asha, from India.

Journey Home by Lawrence McKay, Jr., ill. by Dom Lee and Keunhee Lee: Mai travels to Vietnam with her mother, who was adopted, in search of her mother’s biological family.

Horace by Holly Keller: This allegorical book about adoption focuses on a spotted cat adopted by two striped tigers, focusing on the idea that love and family transcend looks.

 A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza: A book for the very young set about a little bird who is ultimately adopted by a bear.

We Wanted You by Liz Rosenberg, illus. by Peter Catalanotto: This story works backwards through the years, telling one family’s adoption story.

Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story by Carol Antoinette Peacock, illus. by Shawn Costello Brownell: Elizabeth, who was born in China, describes the family who has adopted her and tries to sort out her feelings for her unknown mother.

Three Names of Me by Mary Cummings, Illus. by Lin Wang: Ada reflects on her three names, her American family, and her native Chinese culture.

Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz: A book for very young readers about one adoptive family’s beginnings.

Families Are Different by Nina Pelligrini: Nico, who was adopted from Korea, struggles with her identity sometimes until she begins to realize that all families are different.

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco: Marmee and Meema live with their children in a house full of love, but some other families think they are “different.”

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis, illus. by Jane Dyer: The story of a woman who travels to China to adopt a baby girl, based on the author’s own experiences.

The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale by Grace Lin: This fairy tale is based on the ancient Chinese belief that when a child is born, an invisible red thread connects that child’s soul to all the people who will play a part in his or her life.

Allison by Allen Say: This highly regarded picture book focuses on a preschool girl who learns she is adopted and struggles to come to terms with why she was given up and what this means for her family.

The Best Single Mom in the World by Mary Zisk: This book for very young children (4-8) tells the story of an adoptive single mom, from her daughter’s perspective.

Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles by Darlene Friedman: Cassidy-Li, adopted from China, finds a way to include her birthparents in her poster when she is chosen as Star of the Week.

Sweet Moon Baby by Karen Henry Clark, illus. by Patrice Barton: This poetic bedtime story chronicles a baby’s journey from her birth parents in China to her adoptive parents on the other side of the world.

Moonday by Adam Rex: This picture book does not deal with adoption directly but features a multiracial family in the illustrations.

Middle Grade

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan: When adoptee Willow’s parents are both killed in a car accident, Willow must find a new place for herself and a new family.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu: A story about friendship centered around 10-year-old Hazel, who was adopted from India by white parents.

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent: When 8th grader Joseph is assigned a school project to write about his ancestors, he struggles with his identity as a Korean adoptee in an Italian family.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: This story about an orphaned white boy taken in by a black family in a racially divided town deals with race, homelessness, and belonging.

Young Adult

North of Beautiful by Justine Chen Headley: When Terra meets Jacob, a quirky goth boy, both their lives change forever. The two set out on a trip to China to discover Jacob’s roots at the orphanage he was adopted from.

The Way We Fall (Fallen World series) by Megan Crewe: In this dystopian YA, an outbreak of a virus threatens the lives of everyone on a small island in Canada. The main character’s best friend Leo is an adoptee from Korea in a predominantly white, closed-minded community.

When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright: A coming-of-age story about Lahni, the only black student at her private prep school and the adopted child of two loving, but white, parents who are on the road to divorce.

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover by Mitali Perkins: Adopted from Pakistan, Sameera struggles to fit into America’s idea of the “perfect” family when her father runs for president.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: A swim team at a school without a pool brings together a group of high school misfits, including T.J., an adopted mixed-race teen growing up in a very white town.

Further Resources

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s excellent list of interracial children’s books

10 Great Books for Kids Who Were Adopted Transracially, from Adoption.com

“The Red Thread Broken”: Critical reviews of children’s books about adoption

Know any books that we missed? Leave ‘em in the comments! You can also see the full book list on our Pinterest page.

23 thoughts on “Book List: Children’s Books About Transracial Adoption”

  1. Most but not all of these relate to Chinese adoption.

    Picture Books

    THE STONECUTTER, Demi

    CHINESE AND ENGLISH NURSERY RHYMES: SHARE AND SING IN TWO LANGUAGES, Faye-Lynn Wu and Kieren Dutcher

    RED IS A DRAGON, Roseanne Thong, Grace Lin

    ROUND IS A MOONCAKE, Roseanne Thong, Grace Lin

    DIM SUM FOR EVERYONE, Grace Lin

    A MOTHER FOR CHOCO, Keiko Kassa

    Board Books

    A NEST IN SPRINGTIME, Belle Yang

    SUMMERTIME RAINBOW, Belle Yang

    THE FROG IN THE WELL, Irene Tsai and Pattie Caprio

    Also, the Ni Hao, Kai-Lan books and dvds are helpful.

    And for parents:

    PARENTING YOUR INTERNATIONALLY ADOPTED CHILD, Patty Cogen

    TODDLER ADOPTION: THE WEAVER’S CRAFT, Mary Hopkins-Best

    THE CONNECTED CHILD, Karyn Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine

  2. What a great list! I’m not sure I agree with the redthreadbroken response that we must dismiss fantastic treatments as harmful. I absolutely agree that they can’t be treated as the only adoption narratives, but surely those of us who write from other than dominant cultural perspectives also need to read generously. If the Moses-like (or Karna-like in my own Hindu context) reed-basket narratives stand countered by sufficient others, then do we need to conclude that they are necessarily harmful? In historical and mythic contexts, those threads do exist–do we want to erase them? Must we imply that there should be no fantasy narratives of adoption? That makes me uncomfortable.

    If adoptive children or in fact all children are exposed to a wide range of adoption narratives, I prefer to trust that they will naturally select the ones that resonate for them. At any rate, thank you, Hannah and others at Lee & Low, for this comprehensive list.

    1. Thank you for weighing in, Uma! Transracial adoption is such a complicated topic that it’s no surprise that there are so many different ways to approach it. I like the idea of trusting readers (and, in a larger sense, trusting adoptees) to select the narratives that resonate with them.

  3. I love that you not only have the titles of the books, but also a brief synopsis. That’s really helpful! I would also add to the list “Motherbridge of Love” which poetically weaves the story of love to a child from her birthmother and her (adoptive) mother. The illustrations are of a young Chinese girl, her birthmother, and her Caucasian mother.

    I’ve always felt uneasy about the fantastical way that The Red Thread and Sweet Baby Moon depict adoption, but I appreciate the question you posed Uma: Must we imply that there should be no fantasy narratives of adoption? My gut response is yes, that there shouldn’t be, as it’s such a complex thing, with so many mixed emotions involved. Adoption should not be taken lightly. But…I appreciate being asked to put more thought into this.

    Also Uma, when you said: If adoptive children or in fact all children are exposed to a wide range of adoption narratives, I prefer to trust that they will naturally select the ones that resonate for them. I agree with you in regards to adoptive children. The problem I see with books like The Red Thread is more for children who weren’t adopted, that they would have this fantastical, untrue picture of adoption in their mind. In general, our society as a whole already has an incomplete and imperfect picture of what adoption truly is like, and I don’t think we need to perpetuate any untrue stereotypes or fictionalized accounts.

    I respect and enjoy this dialogue! Thanks for bringing it up Lee & Low!

  4. Also:

    THROUGH MOON AND STARS AND NIGHT SKIES

    Speaking of fantasy –
    Our daughter, adopted from Korea, loved THE ENCHANTER’S DAUGHTER: “The Enchanter and his beautiful daughter live all alone in a palace at the top of the world. The Enchanter’s daughter has no memory of her past and uses all her wit and bravery to try to remember.” I add this title because the girl – and the family with whom she eventually reunites – look Asian. Some adoptive families might find it objectionable because the girl is lonely living with the enchanter – essentially the adoptive father. But we loved reading it together (and it happens to have been written by a mother for her daughter adopted from China).

    1. I agree! That’s why we love Lee & Low’s Bringing Asha Home! :) We adopted both of our kids from Latin American countries and I wish there was at least one book that depicted the look of our family! (My husband and I are both white.)

  5. Given that Korean and Chinese adoptees make up the majority of transnational adoptees in the US, and that Korean adoption has been going on since 1953, it makes sense that the majority of the books are about Asian adoptees. That’s not to say we don’t need more diverse representation, of course.

    I encourage readers to evaluate the authorship and perspective of all these stories. In my research I found that about half the children’s books about Korean adoption are written by white adoptive parents, and almost none are written by Korean adoptees who have grown up and become adults. Consequently, then, the stories tend to be from the perspective of adoptive parents. Their voices and perspectives are valid, of course, but in light of the fact that their voices are already overrepresented in adoption scholarship, discourse and popular culture, we must ask, “Whose stories are being told? Whose voices are privileged? Whose are silenced? And why?”

    I just attended an Adoption Policy Reform Collaborative conference (http://adoptionpolicyandreform.com/) this past weekend in St. Paul, MN. Aside from the (Korean) Gathering conferences that the International Korean Adoptee Association holds every 3 years, this was the first time I’ve attended an adoption conference that was organized by adoptees, with adoptees making up all the panelists. It was refreshing to hear from adoptees who are also adoption professionals, scholars, writers, performers, etc. on adoption policy, research, practice and performance.

    Similarly, I look forward to the day when we can say, “Most of the books about transracial adoption are written by transracial adoptees.” The CCBC keeps statistics on insider/outsider authorship of Black, Latino, Native American, and Asian American stories because insider authorship means something, because it matters. It matters here too.

  6. Some adoptee-authored (and mostly adoptee-edited) readings for teens:

    Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to be? Voices of Adopted Teens (Robert Ballard, ed)
    Seeds from a Silent Tree (Jo Rankin and Tonya Bishoff, eds)
    Voices from Another Place (Susan Soon-Keum Cox, ed)
    After the Morning Calm (Sook Wilkinson and Nancy Fox, eds)

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on this! Some books on adoption succeed far better than others and the critiques you point out are important for people to consider not just when evaluating “Sweet Moon Baby” or “The Red Thread” but any book that handles adoption. I’ll add your page to the list of resources.

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