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You’re Not My REAL Mother!

by Molly Friedrich; illustrated by Christy HaleLittle, Brown; $15.99.

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One afternoon, my son, Aaron, and some friends from the neighborhood were in our kitchen eating crackers and string cheese. I was half listening to the kids’ frantic conversation when Jennifer, who lives down the street, stated—casually and confidently—“But Natalie’s not REALLY your sister.”

I was flabbergasted. Our friends and family had warmly welcomed our daughter, Natalie, when my husband and I brought her home from a Russian orphanage. Jennifer’s mom had driven Aaron to school and activities while we were in Russia. Jennifer was one of the first to give Natalie a welcome-home gift. I thought they understood.

What conversations had taken place at Jennifer’s house about our adoption of Natalie? How had I presented the upcoming addition to our family during the wait for her arrival? Natalie could not yet understand Jennifer’s words, but Aaron and the others certainly could. How should I respond?

I spoke up. I told the kids that Natalie is legally and in every other way Aaron’s sister, that my husband and I had appeared before a judge in Russia and that we had all kinds of paperwork to prove that Natalie is part of our family. I explained that later, when Natalie understands more English, telling her that she is not really Aaron’s sister may hurt her feelings and confuse her.

If I’d read Molly Friedrich’s new book, You’re Not My REAL Mother!, I would have done a better job. In it, a mother and daughter talk about exactly what it means to be REAL.

“You know, Mom, you’re not my real mother,” the story begins. Then the dark-haired, dark-eyed, serious-faced daughter joins her blonde-haired, green-eyed, smiling mother in describing with words and gorgeous pictures the love and caring the two share in their day-to-day lives.

As the story progresses, the daughter asks, “I know you love me, Mom. But why don’t you look like me?”

“I don’t look like you because I’m not your birthmother.”

The mother’s simple explanation proves effective, and the daughter seamlessly takes over, telling the story of the REAL love they share and the REAL life they live together. The book ends play-fully, and quite satisfactorily, when the daughter proclaims, “…you’re my bandage-putting, car-driving…tens-counting, shoe-tying, jacket-zipping…trampoline-jumping, firefly-catching…REAL MOTHER.”

If I could go back, I’d respond to Jennifer differently. I’d tell her that being a real family has little to do with either genes or judges. And I’d explain what makes a family REAL by describing Aaron—Natalie’s bed-jumping, giggly wrestling, hand-holding, no-saying, laugh-making, I-love-you-whispering REAL BROTHER.

Reviewed by Kay Marner, a mother by birth and adoption who works for the public library in Ames, Iowa.

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