I am frequently asked about good books about adoption. This page lists the books I have read that have informed or influenced me in some way. These books range from academic to popular press and are heavily biased towards the adoptee perspective. What you will not find here (for the most part) are adoptive parent memoirs or “how to adopt” books. If adoptive parents have authored some of these books listed here, then I have found something more substantive in their pages than their personal “adoption journey.”
This is an admittedly biased list of recommendations. There are many more adoption books out there than what I’ve listed here. If you are an adoptee and are looking for resources for your own journey, these books and films could be a good place to begin. I don’t agree with all of the positions and opinions expressed in these books, but if they are listed here then they all have given me a lot of fodder for further exploration.
Please contact me at harlowmonkey at gmail dot com if you have suggestions for other resources or would like me to review your book. However I won’t promise a good review or a recommendation, or even a listing on this website and I will provide my honest, critical review so be forewarned. As a note, I also include whenever I know, the author’s positionality and/or personal connection to adoption.
For more books about adoption with an adoptee-centric perspective, a great resource is the Adoptee Reading Resource website.
ADOPTION BOOKS – GENERAL
A Sealed & Secret Kinship: Policies & Practices in American Adoption by Judith Schachter Modell and Kinship with Strangers: Adoption and Interpretations of Kinship in American Culture by Judith S. Modell.
Both of these books are very informative and thought provoking. Kinship with Strangers was one of the first academic books on adoption that I read.
Provides some much-needed historical contexts for adoption. These books continue to be helpful resources for my research, as it helps me understand the trajectory of adoption practices throughout the last two hundred years in the United States.
Some thought provoking essays, though I can’t say I thought all of the essays were uniformly engaging. My thought was that it addressed feminists views when it comes to adoptive parents, particularly mothers, but this book lacked engagement with the birth mother’s perspective and the degree to which parenting a child is part of reproductive choices from a feminist philosophical perspective.
I include Pertman’s ubiquitous book merely for its popularity and anyone who is well-read in adoption probably needs to skim this book in order to understand why it is so popular among media and the public. An easy-to-digest book, squarely from an adoptive parent perspective. As an adoptee who wanted to be able to critique adoption systems, I read this to get a sense of the populist adoptive parent perspective. Pertman is an adoptive parent.
I appreciate this book for tackling ethical issues in adoption that are often swept aside; I assign chapters of this book to my students in my Permanency in Child Welfare courses.
One of the best adoption history books in my opinion. I particularly like Herman’s concept of “kinship by design” and how it has taken what we would like to believe is a practice aimed at finding homes for children into a practice designed to find children for parents. Herman is an adoptive parent.
Berebitsky takes on maternalism in the Progressive Era and the impact of the social work and Progressive Era politics and ideology on adoption.
Using case studies from one state’s adoption agency, Melosh analyzes adoption practices in this informative book
This book offers a variety of perspectives and many of the essays I did not agree with at all. That said, it is helpful again to get a good understanding of different perspectives that others have about adoption and a book that could be useful for adoptees who really want to be able to counter the prevailing discourses about adoption. This is academic writing.
Some decent basics here, from the adopted individual’s perspective. I consider this book to be a litmus test of sorts…if adoptive parents have a problem with this book, then I question a lot about their ability to be compassionate toward adoptee perspectives in general, and wonder about their ability to really put themselves in the adoptees’ shoes.
ADOPTION BOOKS – UNDERSTANDING ADOPTION (DEVELOPMENTAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL)
A classic that really takes a developmental view of the child in care from removal from the home to adoption. When I teach child welfare or permanency/adoption courses, this is required reading.
A favorite among many adoptees.
A terrific book to help people understand one of the important topics I think everyone who is involved with adoption needs to know – ambiguous loss. This is the original text and while adoption is only a small part of the book, it is foundational for understanding the complexity and ambiguity that adoptees and birth/first parents live with.
Another classic, this book is required reading for professionals who are working with adoptive parents and adopted children and adults. The authors take a developmental perspective, juxtaposing Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development along with the additional developmental tasks for adoptees.
A terrific book for professionals and therapists who are working with adoptive parents and adopted children and adults. Pavao is an adoptee and brings a much-needed adoptee perspective. Pavao brings a developmental perspective to the adoption experience.
Jewett has written a number of books that I highly recommend for any social worker or adoption worker and this is one of the “required reading” texts I’d suggest.
A fascinating ethnographic study of the attachment industry, centered on the geographic location where controversial attachment therapies emerged. Any professional who is interested in attachment therapy needs to read this book.
ADOPTION BOOKS – TRANSRACIAL/TRANSNATIONAL
Another one I consider a basic litmus test for adoptive parents who adopted internationally. Register does a thorough job of walking parents through some common myths about intercountry adoption and parenting as a white parent of children of color. Register is an adoptive parent.
This book importantly connects the practice of intercountry adoption in China to a larger conversation of the ways in which children serve as a way both Chinese and American/U.S. governments implement their moral influence in a globalized world. Wang’s ethnography highlights the forms of “outsourced intimacy” used to both prepare children as “adoptable” for foreign parents as well as to care for children with disabilities who will likely remain institutionalized.
The reason I did not include this anthology of adoptee stories with the other anthologies in the adoptee authored page is because none of the editors are adoptees. However I recommend this book for the stories that adoptees share about their experiences.
SEARCH AND REUNION
UNDERSTANDING BIRTH/FIRST PARENT PERSPECTIVES
One of my favorites. This is the history of maternity homes and the ways in which socially and culturally unmarried pregnant white girls and women were treated. This book also chronicles the change from seeing unmarried pregnant women as “victims” to viewing their fetuses/children as victims. This should be required reading for any social worker who wants to work in adoptions.
A terrific book containing personal stories from the oral histories of women who placed children from maternity homes. Consider this the companion to Fallen Women, Problem Girls by Regina Kunzel.
Fessler also produced a film, A Girl Like Her, based on these oral histories.
RAISING CHILDREN OF COLOR