Dear Potential Children’s Book Author,
I understand, really I do, that the use of the "orphan" is one of the most common and popular literary devices out there. Many of out greatest heros and heroines are orphans. I get it, you want to make your hero or heroine so sympathetic that in your literary bag of tricks you thought, "Aha! I know, I’ll make my main character an orphan!" That way you get to craft a story line that would make Joseph Campbell proud and your little Horatio Alger orphan-child can, with inevitable pluck and determination, find their "true self" by page 32.
Or maybe you got your idea to write this book because you/your best friend/sister/next door neighbor adopted a child and it inspired you. I’m sure you didn’t think that maybe you should talk to more people about how adopted children developmentally respond to issues of adoption, especially if they are transracially or transnationally adopted.
Or maybe you don’t know anyone who was adopted or is an orphan, you just thought it was a neat idea. Oh, and maybe you thought it would be "cute" to play the whole mistaken-identity bit, because yeah, we transracial adoptees definitely relate to that. Not that we’re necessarily you’re targeted audience, I know, but chances are some of the 100,000 of us adopted to the U.S. in the past 5 years from other countries might come across your book
But some unsolicitied advice: stop it now, before you write something incredibly stupid or demeaning. Think about all the adopted children in the elementary classrooms and children’s libraries who will be reading this book.
Here are some other suggestions. Give us a name. Don’t just make us characters that are so unimportant that we can’t have a name – especially when the other characters get to have names. Here is another suggestion. Don’t try to "racialize" us, especially if we are anthropomorphic characters, by giving us slanty eyes or dressing us in folk costumes. If we’re adopted from one Asian country, don’t insult us by thinking you can substitute another Asian culture and we’ll be suddenly satisfied. And for goodness sake, don’t perpetuate racist stereotypes in your title! And in fact, we are NOT anthropomorphic characters. Please don’t justify transracial adoption by making birds look for bear, alligator or pig parents, or mother birds relinquishing their chicks to kangaroos with "empty pockets."
If you’re gonna do it, do it right. Don’t just ask adoptive parents and adoption workers. Maybe you could ask adult adoptees. We won’t bite. Well, most of us won’t bite. Unless we were raised by wolves. But that’s another (trans-species) story.
ps. Thanks to Sarah Park for the education on Asian adoptees in children’s literature!