Adoption Books

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 could be a good place to begin. I definitely don’t agree with all of the positions and opinions expressed in these books; if they are listed here then I have found them helpful in some way (including to better understand different positions). As a note, I also include whenever I know, the author’s personal connection to adoption. 

For more books about adoption with an adoptee-centric perspective, a great resource is the Adoptee Reading Resource website.

Happy reading!


These books are books I think provide solid understanding about adoption concepts, often from a historical perspective. Many of these authors are historians or have explored adoption concepts, practices, or perspectives from a U.S. based context.

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.

Adoption in America: Historical Perspectives (Edited by E. Wayne Carp) and Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption by E. Wayne Carp. 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.

Adoption Matters: Philosophical and Feminist Essays. 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.

Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America by Adam Pertman. 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.

American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by Gabrielle Glaser. This book is an in-depth account of the history of adoption practices in the U.S. during the post-war period as told through one family’s story. From the publisher: American Baby illuminates a dark time in our history and shows a path to reunion that can help heal the wounds inflicted by years of shame and secrecy.

Ethics in American Adoption by L. Anne Babb. I appreciate this book for tackling ethical issues in adoption that are often swept aside; I assign chapters of this book to my students when I teach my Permanency in Child Welfare courses. This book offers a comparison of ethical frameworks that have been used in adoption practices and provides suggestions for thinking about applying ethics to adoption practices.

Familial Fitness: Disability, Adoption, and Family in Modern America by Sandra Sufian. This is a book that discusses an aspect so central to adoption practice in the United States but is often couched in euphemisms and coded language. Suffian discusses the ways both children and adoptive parents were assessed for “fitness” based on eugenic and medical models of “normality.”

Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States by Ellen Herman.

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.

Like Our Very Own: Adoption and the Changing Culture of Motherhood, 1851-1950 by Julie Berebitsky. Berebitsky takes on maternalism in the Progressive Era and the impact of the social work and Progressive Era politics and ideology on adoption. From the publisher: Changing attitudes about adoption, as Berebitsky shows, have also mirrored changing definitions of motherhood. At a time when womanhood and motherhood were socially synonymous, both birth mothers who gave up their children and adoptive mothers seeking a maternal role were viewed as transgressors of the natural order.

Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption by Barbara Melosh. Using case studies from one state’s adoption agency, Melosh analyzes adoption practices in this informative book. From the publisher: Strangers and Kin is the history of adoption, a quintessentially American institution in its buoyant optimism, generous spirit, and confidence in social engineering. An adoptive mother herself, Barbara Melosh tells the story of how married couples without children sought to care for and nurture other people’s children as their own. It says much about the American experience of family across the twentieth century and our shifting notions of kinship and assimilation.

The Morality Of Adoption: Social-Psychological, Theological, and Legal Perspectives edited by Timothy Jackson. 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.

Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge. 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 their ability to be compassionate toward adoptee perspectives in general, and wonder about their ability to really put themselves in the adoptees’ shoes. This is far from a critical stance on adoption so if people find themselves reacting strongly from Eldridge’s points then there is a lot more work needed to be adoptee-centric.


Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging by Eleana J. Kim. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in Korean adoptees. Eleana Kim explores transnational Korean adoptees from an ethnographic perspective. From the publisher: Kim examines the history of Korean adoption, the emergence of a distinctive adoptee collective identity, and adoptee returns to Korea in relation to South Korean modernity and globalization.

Adoption in a Color-Blind Society by Pamela Anne Quiroz. From the publisher: Drawing also on popular adoption literature and information in the public domain, the book provides a critical interpretation of the discursive practices of private adoption and argues that despite the current discourse of equity in contemporary adoption, African American children continue to be marginalized as bargain basement deals. Color-blind individualism extends beyond the U.S. to our new global reality where children are simply another commodity within the transnational marketplace of adoption. 

Adoptive Families in a Diverse Society edited by Katarina Wegar. This book is a collection of essays. From the publisher: Essays explore our current fascination with genetics, showing how our intense belief that we are produced, shaped, and controlled by our genes has affected the authenticity and value that we credit to adoptive parent/child relations. Other essays look at identity development, community attitudes toward adoption, gay adoptive fathers’ experiences, the ways in which single mother adoptive families create kinship, and the ways in which cultural assumptions about race and class operate in the system.

Babies Without Borders: Adoption and Migration across the Americas by Karen Dubinsky. This book delves into transnational adoption between North America and Latin America. From the publisher: Karen Dubinsky expands the historical record while she considers the political symbolism of children caught up in adoption and migration controversies in Canada, the United States, Cuba, and Guatemala…Drawing from archival research as well as from her critical observations as an adoptive parent, Dubinsky moves debates around transnational adoption beyond the current dichotomy—the good of “humanitarian rescue,” against the evil of “imperialist kidnap.”

Beyond Good Intentions: A Mother Reflects On Raising Internationally Adopted Children by Cheri Register. 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.

Birthmarks: Transracial Adoption in Contemporary America by Sandra Patton focuses mostly on transracial adoption of Black and multiracial Black children. From the publisher: Through in-depth interviews with adult transracial adoptees, as well as with social workers in adoption agencies, Sandra Patton [Imani], herself an adoptee, explores the social construction of race, identity, gender, and family and the ways in which these interact with public policy about adoption.

Blue-Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love: Race, Class, and Gender in U.S. Adoption Practice by Christine Ward Gailey is another important book that examines how adoption has been practiced, specifically looking at race, class and gender. As the publisher describes, this book “demonstrates that the ways adoptive parents speak about their children vary across hierarchies of race, class, and gender. She shows that adopters’ notions about their children’s backgrounds and early experiences, as well as their own “family values,” influence child rearing practices.” I highly recommend this book.

Children of the Storm: Black Children and American Child Welfare by Andrew Billingsley. This is one of the seminal books about African American children and the child welfare system. While this book does not exclusively focus on transracial adoption, it is an important contextual history of the systemic and cultural factors that influenced transracial adoptions. I consider this book, along with Dorothy Robert’s books about the child welfare system, must-reads for understanding the racialized practices that both created the need for, and responses to, transracial adoption of Black children.

Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race: Korean Adoptees in America by Mia Tuan and Jiannbin Lee Shiao. I provided a review of this book here. Tuan and Shiao seek to understand how and in what ways Korean Americans identify themselves and how their identity/identities “are chosen, discarded, or revised over time (p.12). I especially appreciated that the authors problematized the adoptive parents’ “colorblind” mentality about adopting a child of color who was Asian.

I refer to Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the Negotiation of Family Difference by Heather Jacobson often in my research. Jacobson describes the ways mothers in particular are typically tasked with providing their children with information and activities that connect them to their countries of birth. In this book, Jacobson compares white adoptive mothers of Chinese adopted children and those of Russian adopted children (who often read as white) and the ways they integrate – or don’t – their child’s birth culture into their families.

Cultures of Transnational Adoption Edited by Toby Alice Volkman is an academic anthology. From the publisher: “The cultural experiences considered in this volume raise important questions about race and nation; about kinship, biology, and belonging; and about the politics of the sending and receiving nations. Several essayists explore the images and narratives related to transnational adoption. Others examine the recent preoccupation with “roots” and “birth cultures…Together, the contributors trace the new geographies of kinship and belonging created by transnational adoption.”

Inside Transracial Adoption (Second Edition) by Beth Hall is a book for adoptive parents. From the publisher: “Drawing on research, the authors’ decades of experience as adoption professionals, and their personal experience of adopting transracially, the book features real-life examples and strategies for success, and explores in depth the realities of raising a child transracially, whether in a multicultural or predominantly white community. Readers will learn how to help children build a strong sense of identity, so that they will feel at home both in their new family and in their racial group or culture of origin.” This is another book that demonstrates a white adoptive parent’s ability to see their adopted child’s perspective.

International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children edited by Diana Marre and Laura Briggs is another academic anthology that focuses on intercountry/transnational adoption (with associated transracial adoption as part of ICA/TNA). From the book’s abstract: “Rather than focusing only on the United States, as much previous work on the topic does, this book considers the perspectives of a number of sending countries as well as other receiving countries, particularly in Europe. The book also reminds us that the United States also sends children into international adoptions—particularly children of color. The book thus complicates the standard scholarly treatment of the subject, which tends to focus on the tensions between those who argue that transnational adoption is an outgrowth of American wealth, power, and military might (as well as a rejection of adoption from domestic foster care) and those who maintain that it is about a desire to help children in need.”

International Advances in Adoption Research for Practice edited by Gretchen Miller Wrobel and Elsbeth Neil is aimed toward professionals involved in aspects of adoption practice (including social workers, clinicians, and physicians). This book is an edited collection of 13 papers based on invited keynote presentations or paper symposia presentations given at the Second International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR2) held in 2006 and provides cross-cultural perspectives of adoption from a worldwide, multidisciplinary community of adoption researchers. This would be a book for those interested in what the research community is focusing on in terms of adoption.

International Korean Adoption: A Fifty-year History of Policy and Practice by Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, M. Elizabeth Vonk, Dong Soo Kim and Marvin D. Feit is a compilation of research specifically about Korean adoption. Bergquist is a Korean adoptee and adoptive parent. From the publisher: “Through original research and personal accounts, this revealing text explores how Korean adoptees and their families fit into their family roles—and offers clear perspectives on adoption as child welfare practice. Global implications and politics, as well as the very personal experiences are examined in detail. This source is a one-of-a-kind look into the full spectrum of information pertaining to Korean adoption.”

Invisible Asians: Korean American Adoptees, Asian American Experiences and Racial Exceptionalism by Kim Park Nelson is the most comprehensive oral history study of Korean adoptees. From the publisher: “Invisible Asians draws on the life stories of more than sixty adult Korean adoptees in three locations: Minnesota, home to the largest concentration of Korean adoptees in the United States; the Pacific Northwest, where many of the first Korean adoptees were raised; and Seoul, home to hundreds of adult adoptees who have returned to South Korea to live and work. Their experiences underpin a critical examination of research and policy making about transnational adoption from the 1950s to the present day.”

Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah and Sun Yung Shin is an anthology largely by adoptees, with selected other scholars or writers with additional expertise. From the publisher: “While transracial adoption tends to be considered benevolent, it often exacts a heavy emotional, cultural, and economic toll on those who directly experience it. Outsiders Within is a landmark publication that carefully explores this most intimate aspect of globalization through essays, fiction, poetry, and art.” A note that several interviews with deeper discussions about the book by contributors (including myself) are available here.

Outsourced Children: Orphanage Care and Adoption in Globalizing China by Leslie K. Wang. 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.

Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption by Laura Briggs is a response to Elizabeth Bartholet’s book, Nobody’s Children. Historian Briggs counters the ideologies that adopted children are unwanted by their families of origin and argues that transracial and transnational adoption occur through larger systemic and cultural values about deserving and undeserving parents – especially women. Briggs describes the ways communities are coerced or forced to “give up” their children and the costs to those communities as a result.

The Ethics of Transracial Adoption by Hawley Fogg-Davis is not my favorite, but thought-provoking and challenging. From the publisher: “Fogg-Davis’s argument in favor of transracial adoption is based on the moral and legal principle of nondiscrimination and a theory of race-consciousness she terms “racial navigation.” Challenging the notion that children “get” their racial identity from their parents, she argues that children, through the process of racial navigation, should cultivate their self-identification in dialogue with others.”

The Kinning of Foreigners: Transnational Adoption in a Global Perspective by Signe Howell. From the publisher: “Based on empirical research from Norway, the author identifies three main themes for analysis: Firstly, by focusing on the perceived relationship between biology and sociality, she examines how notions of child, childhood and significant relatedness vary across time and space. She argues that through a process of kinning, persons are made into kin. In the case of adoption, kinning overcomes a dominant cultural emphasis placed upon biological connectedness.”

The Lost Daughters of China: Adopted Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past by Karin Evans. Evans is a journalist and adoptive parent and this book explores her research into the policies and cultural factors that led to the Chinese adoption phenomenon and offers insight into her own process of adopting. I have not read the updated second edition which from the publisher’s note says includes more perspectives from Chinese adoptees themselves.

I highly highly recommend To Save the Children of Korea: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption by Arissa Oh for anyone interested in Korean adoption – especially Korean adoptees. Oh’s research into the cultural and political factors both in the U.S. and in South Korea is a must-read for those who, like myself, wondered how it was possible for a child in South Korea to end up in a white family in the U.S. with no connections to Asian, much less Korean, knowledge or community. This book is additionally important since South Korean adoption served as a template for transnational adoption in the U.S.

The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972 by Karen Balcom. This book offers a fascinating look into the exchange of children across the U.S and Canada, a practice many people have not considered as transnational adoption. From the publisher: Between 1930 and the mid-1970s, several thousand Canadian-born children were adopted by families in the United States. At times, adopting across the border was a strategy used to deliberately avoid professional oversight and take advantage of varying levels of regulation across states and provinces.”

Transnational Adoption: A Cultural Economy of Race, Gender, and Kinship by Sara Dorow was one of the first research books I read and I refer to this book often. Dorow explored many different perspectives in this ethnography and I particularly refer to her notion of adoptees as “client, ambassador, and gift” (see this post). I recommend reading this book in tandem with the books written by Karin Evans and Kay Ann Johnson to provide additional context for the more personal, adoptive parent perspective (Dorow is not an adoptive parent).

Transracial Adoption and Foster Care is an older book by Dr. Joseph Crumbley and published by the Child Welfare League of America and is aimed toward practitioners working with foster and adopted children and their families. From the publisher, this book focuses on specific ways that practitioners can work with transracial adoptive and foster families to ensure that children develop positive racial and cultural identities; how practitioners might better serve transracial families; and professionals’ concerns, such as cultural competence and recruitment.

Wanting a Daugher, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China by Kay Ann Johnson was the first one I read about Chinese adoptions. Johnson conducted research for this book in China and is an adoptive parent. From the publisher’s description: Johnson untangles the complex interactions between these social practices and the government’s population policies. She also documents the many unintended consequences, including the overcrowding of orphanages that led China to begin international adoptions. Johnson also wrote China’s Hidden Children about the Chinese families who relinquished children, which I have not read.

White Parents, Black Children: Experiencing Transracial Adoption by Darron Smith, Cardell Jacobson and Brenda Juarez is a research-based book. Smith and colleagues interviewed both Black adoptees and White adoptive parents. From the publisher: White Parents, Black Children argues that racism remains a factor for many children of transracial adoptions. Black children raised in white homes are not exempt from racism, and white parents are often naive about the experiences their children encounter. This book aims to bring to light racial issues that are often difficult for families to talk about, focusing on the racial socialization white parents provide for their transracially adopted children about what it means to be black in contemporary American society.


…coming soon



Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945 by Regina G. Kunzel. One of my favorite books about adoption practices. Kunzel documents the history of maternity homes and the ways in which unmarried pregnant white girls and women were treated and the social and cultural values that led to the increase in the use of maternity homes for young women. 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.


The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the DecadesBefore Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. A terrific book containing personal stories from the oral histories of women who placed children from maternity homes. Fessler also made the film, A Girl Like Her which makes the stories really come alive. Consider this the companion to Fallen Women, Problem Girls by Regina Kunzel.

…more coming soon