Written by Karen Henry Clark, Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Published in 2010 by Knopf, NY
This is a short book, and for *A,* it was a fairly straightforward, sweet fairy tale. For me, initially, it was fraught with difficulty. Or perhaps, I was the one experiencing the difficulty. Discussion later. First, the description–
Actually, before the description, it is important to comment that in the first inside page, there is a short note from the author entitled “Our Moon Journey” that briefly relates a long trip to China and a visit to an orphanage, so obviously this book’s story has a lot of personal meaning for the author and her family.
Sweet Moon Baby is a fanciful and imaginative story of how two Chinese parents, hopeful for a better future for their newborn daughter (they are poor and cannot provide the best things for her), put her in a basket, and trusting to the moon to allow only good things to happen, placed her in a river. While the moon smiled down on her, the baby slept through being ferried along by a turtle (in shallow water), a peacock (when it was windy), a monkey (sheltering her from rain with a leaf), a panda (who pulled her from rapids), and fish (who eased her over a waterfall). Meanwhile, “on the other side of the world,” a husband and wife who wanted a daughter waited, making a garden, planting trees, building a house, and waiting, looking up at the very same moon and hoping for a sign. They began to search, following shooting stars, covering great distances (by moped, no less) and then by canoe. Pulling back some reeds, there she was. They brought her home and life was grand.
It’s a creative story, full of imagination.
It’s not a “problem” story – its tone is positive and happy.
- The illustrations are great, as you can see – all the illustrations on this post are borrowed from the book, per the illustrator’s website. (Hope you don’t mind, Ms. Barton!)
Several elements of Chinese culture are included, and the story is quite personal, while remaining reachable for any number of children adopted from China.
(Initial)Cons: (for *E*)
- While imagination and creativity are fantastic and essential parts of a happy childhood, a story of one’s own beginnings is not the place for it, unless couched in a story of what really happened.
- *Sigh* It’s not realistic, painting a picture of adoption that is not at all what could have happened. Putting a baby in a basket and setting her in a river? Moses and the reeds? From a grown-up’s point of view, the birth parents putting their kid in a basket on a river and trusting to the moon to allow only good things to happen to her would be…well, child abandonment, but there’s no point in going into the wrong-ness of that.
Personal library-builder for our kid(s)?
- Yes. Eh…..well….yes. I don’t know. Maybe. Yes, I think so. Yes. As you can see, this is a tough question, one that generated quite a lot of conversation that, like many of our discussions, started with a basic idea and grew and grew and grew until we were no longer just talking about a book. More on that in a second. I think adding this book to our kid’s library would require the caveat that it is treated as a conversation starte with our kids. We, as adoptive parents, can use it to carefully and consistently explain what really happened in our child’s adoption. Then, it would be fine. Without discussion, I don’t think I’d be as cool with this book.
Here’s the thing, which might explain my concerns: I’m a little bit torn because I am a huge proponent of fostering imagination in kids. I see it as a vital parenting responsibility. My parents fostered my own imagination, and reading has always been a big part of my life, and it’s certainly something we want to encourage in our kids. I would feel like I had failed at some aspect of parenting if I ended up with a skeptical little Natalie Wood from Miracle on 34th Street, who had no idea how to make-believe, so serious was her mother about “telling the truth.” From that standpoint (wanting to encourage imagination), I want to think that maybe this book would be okay. In my mind, there are imaginative stories that are fun to tell and think about, and there are explanations of our own realities that help each of us, as individuals, figure out our identities. Watching me puzzle this out from her armchair across the room, *A* reminds me that Sweet Moon Baby really can just be a sweet little story, and it really can just stop there, and not be the big, bad problem I’m turning it into. I know that, and I know that this innocent narrative is really not “bad” at all. The worrier in me just wonders what might happen when a sweet little fairy tale like this becomes inexorably tied to an adopted child’s identity formation. With thi in mind, I argued that there are so few books about adoption out there for kids that I wonder if this one wouldn’t cause more confusion than anything else. Unless, that is, like I said above, it’s used as a conversation starter…(i.e., “your birth parents didn’t really put you in a basket in a river, and monkeys, pandas, fish, etc., weren’t really what brought you to where we could find you, but we did travel all the way to China…”). At some point the truth needs to be the story that’s understood as reality, not a fictional fairytale.
Okay – that was my initial reaction. As per usual, I immediately thought of a possible “worst case scenario.” To see if I was overreacting, I decided to find out what other information about this little book might be out there, or about the author (that’s her with her daughter in the photo on the left). I had already read the inside page that said the story was close to the author’s heart, but I don’t think I quite got it until I read this “story behind the story:” and now I feel like a jerk. Especially if you click on that link and read about how other children adopted from China have responded to this story when the author visited their school for a reading, as if they finally had some sense of their beginnings, or at least a little positivity to think about, even if they had no idea of what reality was. The author also commented here that “Many of the truest things in our lives begin with our imaginations.” I’m still thinking about that comment – I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that.
As a defense for my initial thoughts, I guess I can say that my mind is on our version of adoption (domestic, open adoption) and there’s not so much “need” for such a fanciful tale of how a child became part of their adoptive family. The kid, hopefully, will have an ongoing relationship with his/her birth parent(s), to some extent. That’s the plan, anyway. This book, obviously, is about international adoption, and of course the scenarios can often be vastly different in terms of whether there is any information about birthparents and why they could not parent their child. The orphanage (or similar institution) might have no information to give to the adoptive parents. When the child asks his/her adoptive parents, there’s a dearth of information – what do you say? Does making up a story like this help? Maybe. Does it hurt, like I addressed above – as in, would it really affect a child’s identity development? I don’t know. But it’s a different situation. Isn’t it?
At any rate, while mulling this little story over, and thinking of the larger issue here – how to talk to our child(ren) about adoption at various developmental stages – we concluded, once again, that there are some things that we’re just going to have to face as they play out. I translate this as it applies to me, here, and it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me even somewhat well: I’m a worry-wart. *A* wisely reminded me that all parents make mistakes. All kids feel that some aspect of their growing up years could’ve probably gone better, for one reason or another. Beating myself up trying to imagine any possible pitfalls is not really going to help – it’ll just produce more anxiety. Good thing I’ve got such a level-headed, patient partner.