This is a copy of a letter I sent to popular children's author Anne Mazer regarding one of her books. Books like hers do a disservice to adoptive families, and it's especially crucial to know about it when they're intended for kids aged 7-9, who are beginning to read—and comprehend—on their own.
Author of The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes, published by Scholastic, Inc.
Dear Ms. Mazer,
Picture this: It is bedtime. My 8-year-old daughter and I climb into her bed to engage in one of the most relaxing times of our day, sharing good books together. She eagerly pulls out Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, from your Abby Hayes series. She is excited to begin this book that one of her friends gave her, which many of her peers are reading.
Now picture this: I am reading aloud from the opening page:
"How can a person be SO different from her family? I have come up with the following reasons:
1. They are aliens; I am the only normal person.
2. They are completely normal; I am the alien.
3. I was switched at birth. Some boring, ordinary family (with tangly, curly hair) wonders why they have a daughter who is so brilliant, popular, and good at sports.
4. Our family has a deep, dark secret: I was adopted.
5. What did Mom eat when she was pregnant with me?"
Now imagine this: my 8-year-old daughter—the adopted one—has a flood of questions.
"Mommy, is she adopted? Why is it a secret? And why is it dark?"
She reads the first sentence again. "How can a person be SO different from her family?" Our nightly ritual is abruptly ended as I pull the book away from her and announce that we won't be reading it. To my surprise, she is not upset. She is stuck on the idea of adoption being a source of difference within one's family, tantamount to being an alien.
On behalf of all adoptive families, I would like to say NO THANK YOU to you for carelessly and insensitively reinforcing the ignorant stereotype that adoptive families are, by their lack of genetic ties, undeniably strange or "different" from "normal" families.
As adults, my husband and I (and most of the adoptive parents we know) work hard to dispel that myth that won't die in our culture. Thanks to the stereotypes constantly reinforced in the media, even well-intentioned adults need to be educated at times.
We were hoping, however, to shelter our child from such overt bias a bit longer than eight years. Your book—available in our school libraries and book fairs, as well as the bookshelves of most of her friends—has burst that innocent bubble. Through your popular character, you've reinforced that ignorant assumption that if you do not share DNA, you cannot be a compatible, similar, or, as you call it, a "normal" family.
As an author targeting children, don't you feel you have an obligation to protect your readers by avoiding prejudice? There are few factions of our society (or publishers) who would tolerate such direct bias against a group as you have shown. For example, you wouldn't have your protagonist speculating that her oddness could be due to the color of her skin or her ethnic heritage. Perhaps as a children's author, the same political correctness should be extended to adoptive families, as well.
Perhaps you would like to answer my daughter's questions: Why would adoption be a “deep, dark” secret? And why would it make Abby Haybes SO different from her family?
Cc: Scholastic, Inc., Adoptive Families magazine, Clarkstown Central School District, Barnes and Noble Booksellers
Dear Ms. Finck,
Thank you for your email regarding Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, book one in the Amazing Days of Abby Hayes series. We appreciate your taking the time to write to us, and we take your concerns seriously.
No insensitivity toward adopted children or their families was intended by Scholastic or the author, Anne Mazer. At Ms. Mazer's suggestion, we are removing the line "4. Our family has a deep, dark secret: I was adopted" from all future editions of the book and replacing it with "4. Did they find me on a desert island?"
Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.
Anica Mrose Rissi
Book Group Editorial