I received an email recently from a woman named Karen Henry Clark, who is a fellow-adoptive Mom as well as an author. She has written a children's book about adoption entitled Sweet Moon Baby, and she asked me if I would review it.
So here ya' go, folks, my first official book review:
Sweet Moon Baby, An Adoption Tale, is a beautiful story with a fairytale feel that tells the tale of a child born, then let go by her birth-parents, then found and loved and raised by her adoptive parents.
The simple text of the story, coupled with the achingly gorgeous illustrations of Patrice Burton, will help the young child follow the journey of a baby girl born in China to parents who loved her, but who knew in their hearts they could not give her the life she deserved. As the child is carried by the river, and helped along her path by a few protective creatures such as peacocks and pandas, monkeys and turtles, her adoptive parents across the world wait and prepare and search for their daughter.
Under the watchful guidance of the wise moon, her parents find her at long last, and the three become a family.
I loved so many things about this book: the illustrations, the love for their little girl from both the birth parents and the adoptive parents, and the "caretaking" of the baby that took place along her journey. I followed up my reading with a few questions of the author:
Anne Kimball: Such a beautiful story, and so many wonderful examples of how the baby was loved and watched over and yearned for. However, what can you say to the child that might feel uneasy about the birth parents placing the child in a basket on the river?
Karen Henry Clark: I understand. I had a hard moment of truth minutes after our daughter was given to us. My husband held her as I looked through the documents, and my heart stopped at the words: "Baby found forsaking on steps of leather factory." Instantly I felt the isolation, the emptiness of that night for her. Was she awake? Did she cry for her mother? Does some part of her remember people looking at her and walking away? Because there is no way to know, I tried to create a story to fill the mystery that will always be with her. When I read the final draft of SMB to her, she smiled and said, "That baby slept through all the best parts!" And who wouldn't love to believe they'd been carried past the moon by a peacock?
In the end, I appreciate that literature, even a picture book, challenges readers to ask questions. There is always something deeper behind the thing that confuses us or touches us on the page.
AK: How did you decide to write your story in this style?
KHC: When we adopted our daughter from China, we discovered all kinds of interesting things about how the related books affected her. She never grasped the stories that convey one animal can love/mother an entirely different one. She didn't connect with those metaphorical tales of personification. One autobiographical story about an adopted Chinese baby left her thinking the baby would be returned to China because of a reference to the birth mother at the end, not the impact we would have hoped. So this set me to thinking about the kind of story I'd want for her.
Explaining China's one-child policy and all the social or cultural preferences involved in the subject just didn't seem to belong in a picture book. I knew I wanted her to feel loved, not abandoned. So I decided to avoid the non-fiction approach because that was already on the market. I decided to set the story as a classic, timeless fairy tale. I hoped that note would be immediately struck by the book's subtitle Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale. The characters have no names. The story is meant as a metaphor. I try to keep the elements simple to suggest at the most basic level why or how people decide what they decide. The parents face issues that a child might understand more easily than a centuries-old preference for boys. The adoptive parents wait and pass the time with happy things, instead of writing about failures with foster children or infertility or stacks of forms--real things beyond the comprehension of a young child. The moon represents Hope/Faith/Destiny/God. A certainty that adults can feel and believe in but can't always convincingly explain. And the river is the force, the current that surely moves that baby along home. I felt compelled to show, because of my daughter's early thought about a child returned, the little girl growing up in her new home, happy and loved and cared for by all the wonderful things her birth parents always wanted. And it is suggested that the goodness of China remains with her forever.
AK: Do you ever find that children question the fiction of the forces caring for the baby along her journey?
KHC: Because Sweet Moon Baby is a tale, it presents the important distinction of fiction: A reader is asked to suspend his disbelief. Children are in varying stages of being able to do this. Does any child ask: "If Cinderella falls in those glass slippers, won't her feet be cut to pieces?" or "Couldn't Goldilocks be killed by the bears when they find her upstairs?" The valuable point here, to me, is that they ask the question so the adult can help them understand the overriding theme involved. The significance of the glass slippers is their value as the clue, not as danger. The bears do not represent death, they are self-respecting homeowners who don't deserve this nosey intruder.
What better place to face the potential problems of a river than on the lap of a parent who can guide a child to see that no matter what the potential peril, a kind soul helped? The baby is saved and saved again. A child deserves to have reassuring answers. That is how confidence grows.
Thank you Karen! Beautiful book. Look for it on Amazon.
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