I Bet She Called Me Sugar Plum
by Joanne V. GabbinFranklin Street Gallery Productions; $14.95
I've always admired children's books that tell a compelling story in spare, poetic prose, especially when accompanied by memorable artwork. With its lyrical language and warm illustrations collaged from paint and fabric swatches, I Bet She Called Me Sugar Plum succeeds in both departments.
Unlike most adoption-themed children's books, Sugar Plum is not about adoption, per se. Instead, it portrays the powerful bond that connects three generations of females while blurring the distinction between family members related by blood and those who aren't.
As the narrative begins, we see an African-American girl, dressed in a pink tulle ballet skirt, having tea with her mother. You can almost hear the mother's reverential tone as she begins telling stories of her own mother, who was at once wise, industrious, generous, and playful.
Their conversation continues into the evening: "Mama, tell me about the game—you know the one, When she called you every sweet name under the sun."
"Oh! I remember all the lovely names: Dumpling, Sugar Lump, and Sweet Potato Pie, But I loved it most when she called me the ‘apple of her eye.'"
Then the girl begins to ask questions about her adoption. "Another mommy first kissed your cheeks and touched your soft brown hair. Another mommy loved you and left you to our care," explains the mother. By the story's end, the girl is ready for bed. (Readers will spot the ballet skirt she was wearing earlier hanging over the back of a chair.) She speculates about names her birthmother might once have called her, and concludes: "Oh, I know, Mama, I bet she called me Sugar Plum!"
I'm just sorry that Sugar Plum wasn't available when my own bright, beautiful daughter was still reading picture books. Then again, it's the kind of book you don't want to give away—so perhaps it'll still be around for my grandkids. It's a gem. [The book is available from www.sugarplumgabbin.com.]
Reviewed by Annie Kassof, a freelance writer, adoptive mom, and foster parent who lives in Berkeley, California.
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