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The Red Blanket

Eliza Thomas; illustrated by Joe CepedaScholastic Press; $15.95

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On the crowded shelf of children’s books about adoption from China, don’t overlook The Red Blanket, a new book by Eliza Thomas, with irresistible illustrations by Joe Cepeda. Children adopted anywhere will cuddle up to this story of a little girl, a loving single mom, and the cozy blanket that eased their transition from strangers to family.

The story of PanPan’s adoption is told from her mother’s perspective. As she explains her desire for a child, her sadness is palpable, but there’s no self-pity. Adoption can solve this problem, so Thomas gets down to work. When she receives her referral for PanPan, she buys all the usual baby gear plus a soft red blanket, perfect for cuddling. Into the suitcase it goes, and Thomas heads for China.

At the orphanage, deliriously happy with her new baby in her arms, Thomas notices that PanPan won’t meet her gaze. Building attachment will take time and effort, consistency, faith, and patience. In their hotel room, Thomas talks encouragingly about their new life together, but she recalls, “you weren’t listening. Instead, you looked around the room at the chair, the bed, the bureau….You looked everywhere but at me.”

After a day of rejection, Thomas remembers the red blanket tucked away in her suitcase and cuddles her daughter in it. At last, with PanPan snuggled in the warm folds of that soft blanket, the two begin to bond.

The publisher says this book is for children ages 1 to 4, but that’s too limiting. Like In the Night Kitchen or Winnie-the-Pooh, this book is to be treasured well beyond toddlerhood. PanPan, now age 10, still packs her red blanket for weekend trips. And my 11-year-old loves to read this book when it’s late and she’s tired and we feel like cuddling. Her own baby blanket, chewed to rags, is squirreled away in the drawer by my bed.

Reviewed by Amy Klatzkin, who helped her daughter, Ying Ying Fry, write Kids Like Me in China.

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