Category Archives: Books

The helpful big sisters/’home-grown” daughters (continued)

Quite a while ago a friend commented on our family.  As I mentioned in this blog a few months ago, she said “The sisters must have been very generous-hearted”. I wrote a blog post about the “home-grown helpful sisters”. Naturally I mentioned how our two adoptive sons enriched their lives, as well as where I saw the big sisters were being helpful. Now  I have just thought of more occasions when our daughters/the big sisters were so helpful.

By the time Jah came to join our family, Lucy was already 16 years old. She read up about the effects of deprivation in the early years of a child’s development and I was able to have many interesting conversations with her. We tried to understand the way Jah might be feeling and why he behaved in certain ways. Obviously D. and I talked a lot, but sometimes we came to different conclusions and it definitely helped me to talk things through with Lucy.

books on adoptionShe was also very observant and helpful with Jah. One day she came to us with a very worried look on her face.

“I caught Jah scrubbing his arms. I asked him why and he said ‘I want to be white’. “

We were distressed. Since Sam was brown and he looked up to him so much, why would Jah want to be ‘white’?

It reminded me of a little Chinese boy I looked after at a nursery I ran in Malaysia. As far as I could see, his skin was white anyway, but I caught him scrubbing his little arms ferociously. I knew that the Chinese women usually carried a parasol, to avoid getting suntanned but I was very surprised to see that a small boy would ever think about that. It was of course, more worrying to me that Jah was going through a similar exercise.

We went through the usual attempts at positive affirmation and I also went to his school teacher and suggested books that she could read to the whole class – books that featured black and mixed race children. I think this helped. In actual fact, Jah was usually quite a cheerful boy.

Sam played wonderfully with Jah, but sometimes he was out with friends and the big sisters were around to keep him company.  They played games with Jah and read him stories.

Jah loved cricket as well as football. Lucy and Anna sometimes played cricket with him. It wasn’t one of their favourite games, but Jah was so happy when they played with him. I rigged up a couple of polystyrene ‘shin pads’. He thought he looked great!

Jah playing cricketThe sisters didn’t only help when Jah was very young. When he was much older, Anna gave him one of his favourite books. It was “Black Magic. England’s Black footballers”.

Black FootballersThat certainly put a big smile on his face!

Mentioning adoption and colour. And is it true that children are “always colour-blind”?

My best friend at school in the 1940s was adopted. We all knew that, so there was no mystery or hiding the fact. As far as we were concerned, it was a fact of life.

In 2011 I was due to visit my granddaughter’s school and talk about my latest picture book.

Sammy Flying coverI suggested to her Dad that he should talk to her about why I am white and she is black. She was about five years old at the time. It seemed a good time to explain to her about adoption, as I thought that some older children at the school would say that I could not be her grandmother. (We adopted her Dad who is black, when he was a baby, in the days when interracial adoption was actively sought.)

Later I overheard her playing with her various dolls and she said very matter-of-factly “That doll is adopted. . .   That doll doesn’t like wearing dresses. . That doll likes going on the trampoline etc. “ She invented all sorts of scenarios for her different dolls and was obviously quite at ease with the concept of adoption.

Our granddaughter is now aged eight. Recently she ran over to me at a playpark and said “Grandma, I’m going on the slide with my new friend”. She then explained to that girl who was wearing an African print dress. “She’s my Grandma. My Daddy was adopted”. Then they dashed off together. At that moment, perhaps she thought it a good idea to explain the colour difference to her new playmate. Presumably she felt the need to explain about me just then, although I have never known her do so before.

I recounted this episode to some friends – one of whom is married to a man from Jamaica. I got the distinct impression that they disapproved of my granddaughter saying this, but I can’t think why. I do accept that sometimes children are not aware of the colour of their friends. Sometimes the colour difference is not important or relevant, but equally I believe that sometimes it is worth noting. And why not? By the time you are eight, you have probably worked out that white people usually have white children and mixed-race couples have children who look a bit like either parent.

Why do people insist that children are always colour-blind??

As for mentioning adoption, perhaps that is more tricky? I don’t know.

I am looking forward to buying a copy of a new book by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, entitled “The Great Big Book of Families” published by Frances Lincoln Limited .

Big Book of Families As I understand it, the book mentions every possible kind of family, with combinations of step-families, fostered children, adopted children, single parents, families with two mums, two dads, children of all different colours. It should be an enjoyable and very worthwhile resource in homes and certainly in all schools.

I myself have been trying to write a book about an adopted girl and her Life Story Book. A Life Story Book is a kind of scrapbook, outlining an adopted or fostered child’s own particular story. So far I don’t seem to get it right. My critique group also give me the impression that adoption and a Life Story book are very difficult and delicate subjects to raise, especially in a classroom. Perhaps “The Great Big Book of Families” will free people up to discuss variety in families.

Families do indeed come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. I salute Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith in opening up this matter.

EXTRA NOTE

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith have written two other books. One is the” Big Book of Feelings” and the other “Welcome to the Family”.   Mary says “The new book, ‘Welcome to the Family’ is specifically about all the many different ways babies and children enter families“.

 

 

Memoir ? “A Rock for Jah”/Blog/Children’s stories/Poetry/Sundry reflections.

MEMOIR

Recently a friend asked me whether I would write up our family experience in a Memoir. He has seen the blog and said some nice things about it.

I replied that I had spent a few years writing and then re-writing a Memoir entitled “A Rock for Jah – a personal account of inter-racial adoption”, but that I have never received an offer of publication.

Why did I call the Memoir “A Rock for Jah”? It is because on the first occasion we met little Jah, he came and peered slightly anxiously at a photo we had brought along of our three children. They were sitting on a rock in Scotland. He noted with quiet satisfaction that the boy in the picture was ‘brown’ like himself. Then he pointed to a small rock beside the big one. I had not noticed that before, but he must have had a deep need to belong somewhere and he pointed to that little rock and said simply “There’s a rock for Jah”.A rock for JahHis deep need to belong somewhere touched the hearts of everyone present who heard his little voice.

 Since there seemed to be very little likelihood of getting the Memoir published, I had to decide whether to

  1. keep re-writing it,
  2. to try and self-publish it,
  3. or to forget the whole thing.

I decided that I could not envisage spending more years re-writing the Memoir. I have other things that I want to write.

I am not keen on self-publishing, because one has to market the book from scratch.

I did not want to ‘forget the whole thing’.

A BLOG

One day about a year and a half ago, a friend suggested that a blog might reach a wider audience than a published book. At the time I was not ready to abandon the Memoir, but listened in the end.

Now I am enjoying writing the blog and it is good to know that people appear to be reading it in over 50 countries – that is if Counterize statistics are to be believed. I think they are. It is also very good to get feedback.

OTHER PEOPLE’S MEMOIRS

Maybe our family story does not have enough Drama/Conflict/Trauma etc? We had our own problems of course, but nothing like a Misery Memoir – fortunately! Or maybe I was not conveying adequately the emotions we went through. Or maybe I just did not contact the right would-be-publisher on the right day?

I do know however, that it is not only ‘Misery Memoirs’ that sell. There are wonderful writers who can write about nearly anything and get their work published and enjoyed by many. For example, Margaret Forster has written many books about her family, including one about the death of her father at the age of 90 and her sister in law at about half that age – see “Precious Lives”, published by Vintage 1999.

Precious livesAndrew Collins has written an entertaining and affectionate memoir Where Did It All Go Right?: Growing Up Normal in the 70s by Andrew Collins (4 Mar 2004)

That is about his happy childhood in the 1970s. It is very entertaining and the title so cleverly shows how his memoir is going to buck the trend and be different.

where did it all go right?POETRY

It has suddenly occurred to me that ‘A Rock for Jah’ could be a good subject for a touching poem, but since I have not written poetry for simply ages, I don’t think that would work.

Why did I stop writing poetry? A long time ago, when I was a teenager I submitted a poem to a children’s newspaper. I had toiled long over this poem, but the reply came back that they thought some phrases had been copied from elsewhere. This was unfortunate because I knew that I had definitely not done that. I hope that today people would be more careful in responding to young people, not accusing them of plagiarism and trampling on their dreams.

 CHILDREN’S STORIES

As things have turned out, as I said above, I am now enjoying writing this blog and also have more children’s stories that I want to write.

Maybe this is enough for today and I must turn to my current story – the work in progress. It is about a little girl and her two grandmothers. Watch this space.

 My next blog post will be more on “Explaining things to children”.

 

Jah’s hair and hair in general.

When I went out with Jah into the city centre of Leicester, not only did I receive criticism about his name, but also about his hair, his matted locks – again always from black people.

Jah and hobby horse

“You should have his hair cut.”  They sometimes clicked their teeth with disapproval, or shook their heads.

These comments were hard to deal with.  We spoke to our social worker, but she was reluctant to broach the matter of Jah’s hair with his birth father.  In those days we expected that the adoption process could begin fairly soon.  She didn’t want to annoy him or do anything that would delay his signature.

One could write at length about hair.  There must be plenty of magazines that feature hair.  I suppose that some people with luscious hair are happy about that.  However, my observation is that many people wish their hair would be different.  Often curly-haired people say they would prefer straight hair and vice-versa.

I remember attending a family wedding, where about five young teenagers were present. They all normally had curly hair, but someone had brought a hair-straightener with them and one by one each teenager appeared with unusually straight hair. I expect they enjoyed the experience of feeling different. Personally I missed their naturally curly locks.  I thought they looked much prettier before.

My daughter-in-law tells me that her mother told all her daughters that their hair is their crowning glory.  I like that positive approach to Afro-Caribbean hair.  And I love the beautiful and varied hairstyles they adopt.

images_006 

cornrow plaits

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some people view Afro-Caribbean hair with less enthusiasm.  They record the struggle they have had over tangled hair and the long process of having the hair put in plaits. – a process that can take at least a couple of hours.  Fortunately Mia, our granddaughter – Sam’s daughter – is quite happy about the plaiting, as she is allowed to watch a dvd during the process and she LOVES watching films!

My short, straight hair can only be varied when it is newly cut. It progresses through the following phases:-

  • Short, newly-cut and smart  (I like to think)
  • OK. Settling down (I like to think)
  • Looks fairly good (I like to think)
  • Suddenly gets straggly and looks urgently in need of trimming (I know!)

During our early days with Jah we made an exciting discovery.  There was a group called “Harmony” that had been formed to give support to multiracial families, both adoptive and natural.  We found their meetings so helpful.  I can see now that any foster parents of black or mixed-race children should have automatically been given to information on hair and skin care.  I hope they are given this information today. We had to find out things bit by bit.  We were fortunate to have eventually discovered the Harmony group.

Harmony badge

One family we met at a Harmony meeting had done well with their daughter’s hair.  They had a friend who showed them how to do cornrow plaiting.  I was glad that Sam and Jah were boys and could get away without having their hair plaited, although of course I knew that some boys did choose to have complicated hairstyles.

Here is a book that I think sounds fun and would be enjoyable.  (Usually I do not like to suggest that a book is to be recommended mainly for girls or mainly for boys, but in this case I think this book would appeal more to girls)  Princess Katrina and the Hair Charmer, by Christina Shingler [Illustrated by Derek Brazell] [Paperback]  Tamarind Books

Christina Shinglerhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1870516680/ref=rdr_ext_tmb (Author), Derek Brazell (Illustrator)

I have seen the following information about “Happy Hair UK”. It was published on an interesting blog – Mixed Race Family.  See below, with Elizabeth White’s permission:

Mixed Race Family  http://mixedracefamilies.blogspot.co.uk/

For global people who are mixed race, belong to a mixed race family, are starting a mixed race family or who are from the global human race and are interested in learning more about the experiences of global mixed race families.

 

Happy Hair UK

mixed-race girl's hair

Happy Hair UK’s  mission is to make every child with Afro/Mixed (Kinky to Curly) hair feel happy with their hair. To make Afro/Mixed hair manageable using natural products whilst keeping hair care to a high standard. We want to make Black/Mixed children’s hair care accessible in all areas of the UK. And if it cannot be accessed to provide tips, advice and support.
We will achieve this by hosting free events to promote and educate people about black/mixed hair care.”

I’ll be back soon with news about Jah’s hair.

Diversity. Where are the books that reflect our multiracial society?

When I thought about writing a blog, I imagined that I would write quite a lot about my reflections on being a multiracial family and multiracial issues today.  I still intend to, but for the last few weeks I have been describing the early days of our younger son’s introduction into the family.

Arriving LeicesterAs he was nearly four years old at the time, I found that there was a lot I wanted to say and the feedback is that people have been interested. I shall resume the story in the next blog post.

However, an issue has come up in an internet discussion group that I feel I want to comment on.   It relates to a question I have been asking myself and others for decades – namely Where are the books that feature black and mixed-race children? 

Please  believe me that I am not the only person concerned about this.

The flurry of correspondence that arose on this matter all began when somebody quoted an article published in the New York Times

 “According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, of the approx. 5,000 children’s book published in 2013, just 93 were about black characters, 57 were about Latinos.”  She commented  “Thanks to the New York Times for putting this on the front page of the Sunday Review”.

The view among British contributors to the discussion is that the situation is no better in the UK.

I know that there are some excellent black and ethnic minority writers. There are also other authors who have written about characters from diverse backgrounds.  Since the writers and books exist, is the problem with the bookshops? Why don’t they stock such books?  Our Willesden Independent bookshop certainly did stock them, but sadly it had to move to another area when their rent was greatly increased.

OR is the problem that there are not enough ethnic minority writers?

OR is it that such books would not sell?  If so, why not?

Way back in the 1970s and 1980s we felt concerned about the lack of books portraying black or mixed-race children. We searched everywhere for such books to share with Sam and Jah. We found one or two, mostly from The USA.

books photoI kept searching. It was obvious to us that the boys needed to see children like themselves in books.  If not, what is the unspoken message?  Is it that they are not important enough to feature in stories? It is depressing to realise that this is still the situation today in 2014! MalorieThe current Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman uses the phrase “A mirror to every child’s life”.  She has mentioned that when she was growing up, she longed to see a child in a book who looked like she did.  She herself has written books for children of most age groups and is truly an inspiration to all.

The lack of representation of children from all ethnic groups is not only a problem for children from ethnic minority backgrounds.  I am sure that good books portraying children of every race and colour and background should be available for everybody to read, not only for children who are from ethnic minorities themselves. We are all human beings and we live in an inter-connected world.

Here –  as a shameless plug – are two of my books that are still available.

Sammy Flying cover This book was inspired by Jah who always wanted to keep up with his older siblings.

JJ cover for Buzz This book was inspired by Sam’s school friend who frequently had to look after his little sister.  I remember one day, when both boys said to me rather sheepishly  “We have to take N. to the park to see the ducks”.  As teenagers, they thought that they had left such childish behaviour behind them.  In the end I think they quite enjoyed the experience.

The topic of books for children of all colours and creeds is one I shall want to return to.  For now I’ll give you a link to the Letterbox Library.  This is a marvellous resource of books that celebrate equality and diversity.

http://www.letterboxlibrary.com

Here is another important resource.  Tamarind Books, set up by the visionary Verna Wilkins

www.tamarindbooks.co.uk

(Next blogpost will be  “Back to reality after the long summer holiday. Return to our Leicester home.”

Two moving memoirs about adoption.

iStock_000013838726Small I have been trying to think of some of the best books I have received as Christmas presents in the past.

There really are so many.  However, to stay true to the themes of this blog – Adoption and Multiracial family  –  I  shall choose two memoirs by people who have been adopted.  And these are both books that I really treasure.

Caradoc King In 2012 I received the Memoir Problem Child by Caradoc King, published by Simon and Schuster in 2011.  It is described on the cover as “A tale of neglect, courage and hope”.  Caradoc, a white child, was adopted by a white middle-class family.  This is a tale of a fairly love-less adoption.  It is disturbing and heartbreaking to hear that he was sent to school with ‘I am a Liar’ embroidered on his jersey.  What is even harder to comprehend is that his adoptive parents rejected him completely at the age of sixteen.  I cannot even write or think about this without feeling a pang of sorrow in my heart for him.   Apparently he did not even find out that he was adopted until the age of fifteen.

However, this Memoir is written by a wonderful writer and is in no way a “misery memoir”.  It has been described as devastatingly honest and written with warmth.  This is not surprising, as Caradoc King grew up to be a highly respected Literary Agent.  He writes at length about the boarding schools he attended.  (He was sent away to school from the age of six. ) He mentions the sisters he was brought up with and I was relieved to learn that much later in his life he has been able to re-connect with them.  It was interesting to learn that he managed to meet his birth mother, just a few months before her death.

The second Memoir that I would like to share with you is Red Dust Road, by Jackie Kay, published by Picador in 2010.

Jackie KayLike Caradoc King, Jackie has also grown up to be famous in the literary world.  She is an acclaimed poet, as well as an  author of novels and short stories.

Jackie, a mixed-race child,  was adopted by loving white parents who were both ardent Communists.  They lived in Glasgow.  As a result Jackie has a strong Glaswegian accent – at least that is how it sounds to my ears when I hear her talk on the radio and read her poems.  Her parents first adopted a black son. (In those days the term ‘coloured’ was more often used).  They then adopted Jackie to complete the family.  Jackie’s birth mother was from the Highlands of Scotland and her birth father from Nigeria.

Jackie’s account of her first meeting with her Nigerian birth father is brimming over with humour.  Warmth, humour, honesty and deep emotions run through this whole memoir.  Her account of her eventual meeting with her birth mother, following a few cancelled dates, had me sitting on the edge of my chair.  My heart was ‘fluttering’ along with hers.  Would her mother turn up this time?  She did.

The Independent quoted on the back cover says:  “Like the best memoirs, this one is written with novelistic and poetic flair.  Pitch-perfect, page-turning.”

If any reader of this blog has an adoption memoir to recommend, I would be very happy to hear from you.christmas-tree-mdThank you for reading this blog.  A very Happy Christmas and New Year to you all!