Last Saturday, I attended a book launch at our local McNally Robinson book seller. The author, by the name of Ola Zuri, was launching the first two children's books in a series that she has written. Ola was trans-racially adopted as a child (at the age of two), and she writes about family, identify, belonging, fitting in, transracial adoption, racism, and, most of all, about building positive self esteem and self confidence in children of colour. The books are written from the perspective of a child; the first one is called Why Can't You Look Like Me? and the second Where Do I Belong?
I skimmed through both books and listened to her read them out loud, and thought that they were very good, overall. The graphics were great and, for the most part, I thought the message contained in the books was something I'd like my prospective children to hear and believe. There were a couple of sentences that I thought could have been written a bit differently. For example, in one of the books, the character says something about his skin being a different colour than the other members of his family, no matter what they tried to do; to be honest, I don't want my children to even entertain the notion that their family might want to try to change their colour. Other than one or two incidents like that, though, I thought that the message of the books was great. And who knows, maybe my children will feel, regardless of Geoff's and my intentions towards them, that there's a reason to want to change the colour of their skin. I would certainly hope that this isn't something they will struggle with, but if it is, that particular message and the way that the character resolves it, would be very helpful to have them read.
In talking with the author before and after the book launch, she spoke extensively about what it was like to grow up as a child of colour in a predominantly white Canadian city, about how difficult it was for her to develop confidence in her uniqueness. In the course of our discussions, I asked her what we, as prospective adoptive parents of trans-racially adopted children, could possibly do to assist our children to build their sense of belonging and identity. She said that, for her, it would have started with simply being told by her loving parents that she could feel confident in herself - that it was ok to be different and who she was.
I doubt if it would really be that simple, but her point is valid...that family will play a critical role in ensuring that our children of colour know explicitly (not by assumption) that it is ok to look and be different, that their uniqueness is something to be proud of and confident in.
Here's the link to Ola Zuri's blog, in case you're interested: Ola Zuri's Blog. She's also easily found on the internet, and various sites would provide better summaries of both her background and her insights than I have.
* Thanks for the comments, Michelle, Sharla, Jessa - yes, I'd say her books are well worth examining further. She has a whole philosophy developed around enhancing children's identity and sense of belonging, which her blog and website dig further into.