Adoption in Children’s and Young Adult Books

This bibliography is drawn from books published between 1995 and 2020. While some award-winners and bestsellers are included, part of the goal is to feature underappreciated gems. For more recent titles, visit Cynsations.

ALLISON by Allen Say (Houghton Mifflin, 1997). When Allison tries on her kimono, she realizes that she looks more like Mei Mei, the doll she’s always had, than she does either of her parents. Upset, she breaks some of her parents’ things and she says she doesn’t belong to them. But by befriending a stray cat, Allison subtly comes to find there are many ways to create a family. A story linked to international adoption. Ages 4-up.

bookjacketTHE BOAT IN THE TREE by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by John Shelley (Front Street, 2007). A boat-loving boy grows closer to his newly adopted brother. Elegantly written and beautifully illustrated, a rare story featuring the adoption of an older child. Ages 4-up.

BRINGING ASHA HOME by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2006). How Arun aches for the arrival of his adopted baby sister, Asha, expected any day from India. How long it takes! Will Rakhi Day, the Hindu holiday of brothers and sisters, somehow still connect these long-distance siblings? Ages 4-up.

BROWN LIKE ME by Noelle Lamperti (New Victoria Publishers, 1999). A simple, charming text, illustrated in photographs, guides young readers through this concept book reflecting an African-American child adopted by a white family. Child’s point of view with forward by Dr. Jacqueline Wallen, Associate Professor, Department of Family Studies, University of Maryland, College Park. Ages 4-up.

DON’T THINK TWICE by Ruth Pennebaker (Henry Holt, 1996). It’s 1967, and seventeen-year-old Anne finds herself someplace she never would’ve expected —at a home for unwed mothers. The story focuses on Anne’s relationships with the other girls. A searing, stereotype-shattering book. A great read for thoughtful teens (and grown-ups). Ages 12-up.

HANGING ONTO MAX by Margaret Bechard (Roaring Brook, 2002). Sam is trying to balance a distant dad, a new girlfriend, studying for the SATs, all while being full-time, primary caregiver for his his baby, Max. A realistic and compelling look at life as a teen dad. Ages 14-up.

JOURNEY HOME by Lawrence McKay, illustrated by Dom Lee & Keunhee Lee (Lee & Low, 1998).  Mai travels with her mother to Vietnam to learn more about their biological family. Mai’s mother was left at a Saigon orphanage before being adopted by an American family.  Their only clue is the design of a kite, the only possession she brought to the United States. Ages 7-up. Compiled from promotional materials.

MY ROAD TRIP TO THE PRETTY GIRL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD by Brian Yansky (Cricket, 2003). In this journey to the self (and from Iowa to Austin), Simon’s struggling to keep things  together. He’s skating the law, recently dumped, and dealing with a dad who just doesn’t understand. Overwhelmed, he hits the road to find his biological parents and wisdom about evil advertisers, scary giants, witches, ETs, friendship, nature/nurture, and, well, pretty girls. One part magic, two parts tall tale, this YA debut is one to read and remember. Ages 12-up.

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich SmithNINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2003). Elias, Shohei, and Honoria have always been a trio united against That Which Is The Peshtigo School. But suddenly it seems that understanding and sticking up for a best friend isn’t as easy as it used to be. Elias, reluctant science fair participant, finds himself defying the authority of Mr. Ethan Eden, teacher king of chem lab. Shohei, all-around slacker, is approaching a showdown with his adoptive parents, who have decided that he needs to start “hearing” his ancestors. And Honoria, legal counsel extraordinaire, discovers that telling a best friend you like him, without actually telling him, is a lot harder than battling Goliath Reed or getting a piranha to become vegetarian. What three best friends find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo’s choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science. Ages 10-up. Read The Story Behind the Story from Greg Leitich Smith.

Tofu and T RexTOFU AND T. REX by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2005). Militant vegan Frederika Murchison-Kowalski is back at the Peshtigo School. The bad news is that now Freddie has to live with her cousin, Hans-Peter, a diehard carnivore, and grandfather, who happens to own a butcher shop and sausage deli. Freddie and Hans-Peter are soon at odds with each other over bathroom sharing, dinner menus, and more. To complicate matters, Hans-Peter needs Freddie’s insider knowledge to get accepted into the Peshtigo School himself. Ages 10-up. Read The Story Behind The Story from Greg Leitich Smith. Don’t miss the companion book, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO.

The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Mary GrandPreTHE SEA CHEST by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (Dial, 2002). Buzzeo is paired with HARRY POTTER illustrator GrandPre in a book that lovingly and poetically captures the stirring magic of a foundling babe who becomes a treasured sister. Maita says: “I longed for a time I might not be the only child the craggy island knew.” The time is now. Spectacular, musical, and deeply affecting. Ages 4-up. Read The Story Behind The Story from Toni Buzzeo.

Whale Talk by Chris CrutcherWHALE TALK by Chris Crutcher (HarperCollins, 2001). Popular YA author Crutcher presents T.J. Jones (a.k.a. The Tao), whose biological mother abandoned him in large part due to the influence of drugs and whose white hippie parents are a treasure. T.J. takes on the school’s outcasts as a cause, and he helps to form a swim team to give them an outlet, a safe place, and a forum to triumph on their own terms. Meanwhile T.J.’s father, plagued by guilt over a tragic accident, faces another bully. Dark, funny, sarcastic, thought-provoking. Ages 12-up.

The Reality of Being Adopted: Validating Stories for Adopted Kids by Liz Latty from Books for Littles. PEEK: “The dominant narrative of adoption is one of unquestionable good, a one-time event, and win-win for everyone involved.”