Andrea Nepa’s new children’s book, Red In the Flower Bed: an Illustrated Children’s Story About Interracial Adoption fills a great void in the canon of books for transracially adopted children. While the body of “books for adopted kids” includes many wonderful books that would be a treasure on any adopted child’s shelf, the presence of transracial adoptive themes are noticeably underrepresented. As I read and re-read this book (all the while picking the brain of the author), it was clear that this literary effort was certainly rooted in love.
Red In the Flower Bed tells the story of a small poppy seed and its long journey to a beautiful garden where it doesn’t resemble any of the other flowers. As it grows tall and blooms, it learns that our differences are beautiful and needed—and we, the readers, take away the idea that transracial adoptive families are more complete and radiant because of those differences.
The author and her husband adopted their daughter, Leah, from Vietnam more than seven years ago. A registered dietician by trade, Ms. Nepa didn’t consider writing a children’s book until Leah was diagnosed with cancer at age five. In an interview with the blog Road to Ethiopia, the author said, “The idea started when my daughter started asking questions about her adoption, and we didn’t have the answers. One especially sad memory is her at 5 years-old sitting in a hospital bed receiving chemotherapy and asking, ‘Does my birth mother know I’m here?’…Her journey as a young infant to the other side of the world and then fighting cancer seemed like a big journey for a little girl.”
Though the author clearly intended this book to benefit adopted children—especially her own—it’s obvious that residual benefit resulted. I asked Ms. Nepa how the book-writing process was for her, as an adoptive parent, and she responded, “I think that writing this book has been good for me possibly because it has forced me to see adoption from my child's point of view and it has helped to define how I feel about adoption. More than anything it has allowed me to use my artistic abilities in writing and illustrating that I wouldn't normally use in my career. It has also allowed me to have more contact with other adoptive families.”
Those contacts with other adoptive families that have come in the sharing of this book and through their adoption experience have also been of great benefit to the author. When I asked how those interactions have impacted her family, she replied, “We are in close contact with several of the families that we traveled to Vietnam with to adopt, and they feel like a second family to us. The kids call each other ‘cousins’ and know that they all came from the same orphanage… I think it is important for the kids to see that not all kids look like their parents and that families can be different from other families.”
Through simple (but beautiful) illustrations, Ms. Nepa has created a subtle-yet-profound venue in which parents can open an age-appropriate dialogue with their children to answer the inevitable questions of “Why don’t I look like you?” and “How did I come to our family?” and the heartstring-tugging “Didn’t my birth mom love me?” Having a catalyst for those important conversations—in this case, for transracial families—is a valuable tool to create unity and understanding while celebrating the differences.
The idea of a seed and a flower is powerful, yet a concept that even young children can understand. The author said she chose a flower and a seed “because of several reasons: The seed blossomed into another red poppy like its birth mom to represent the fact that a child retains his/her heritage no matter where it lives…When my daughter asks what her birth mom looks like, I say ‘She looks like you,’ which she loves to hear.”
You really can’t place enough value on the books written for kids that are about kids who are just like your kids. And while Red In the Flower Bed was intended for transracial adoptive families, it has great value for adoptive families at-large. As the mother of a Caucasian, adopted child (who is often mistakenly pegged as biological), I found this book to be an asset to our ongoing adoption dialogue—a conversation that grows and matures as our son does. And while “being adopted” is part of our everyday vernacular around these parts—and is as essential to our son’s identity as his blue eyes and wide feet and monstrous cowlick—it’s always refreshing to know that through such a routine activity as simply reading a book, we can maintain those lines of communication—the goal of which is to ensure our son that he is loved from more directions than he could possibly imagine.
After all, isn’t it all about love?
Jen is....well... let's be honest. On some days, she's the unshowered, pajama-wearing, laundry-ignoring, chin-hair-plucking, chocolate-grazing mom at the end of the cul-de-sac. But she's also the proud mother of an adopted 3 year-old boy-genius, wife of a superhero (translation: engineer), and snark-mistress over at It's the Thought That Counts. In her spare time, she likes listening to inordinate amounts of NPR and reading "summer book recommendations" all year long. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University with a B.S. in Geography and knows lots and lots (and lots) of capitals. She and her catch-of-a-husband, Joseph, are co-chairs of the New England chapter of Families Supporting Adoption and live in Massachusetts (i.e. God's country) with their son, Ian. All three are eagerly seeking their next adoption opportunity.