Thursday, June 30, 2011

Picture Book Review - Yafi's Family by Linda Pettit

Awassa, Ethiopia, 2010
As an adoptive parent, the most important thing I can give my son is a continued connection to his heritage, his homeland, the people of his birth country. Maintaining that connection -- and finding resources to help -- is an ongoing process, and one that I expect we'll be working on for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, though, we are part of a large community of adoptive families with children from Ethiopia. I honestly wonder how adoptive parents did it before the internet. Being able to consult with other moms about issues, no matter how big or small, is simply invaluable to us, and I think it strengthens our ability to support Sprout's healthy development.

Through that Ethiopian adoption network, I heard about the book Yafi's Family, written by Linda Pettitt and illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. This title is published by Amharic Kids, a small publishing house whose mission is to support adoptees by stimulating pride in their culture and heritage. Their nonfiction title Our First Amharic Words is a great resource for language development, especially for children adopted very young who may not remember the dominant language of their homeland.

Yafi's Family is unique in that it helps explore all aspects of adoption. Sometimes it seems there is a tendency to think only in terms of what an adoptive child gains by coming to another country; but in fact there is a distinct loss for most of these children as well. We learned through our pre-adoption education that what is a joyous occasion for us as adoptive parents is almost always the result of tragedy or loss on the part of the adoptee themselves.

For Yafi, there is loss on many levels -- the death of his birth mother, his grandmother's inability to continue caring for him, the separation from his friends at the orphanage as they too were adopted. Pettit describes these events through a conversation Yafi has with his adoptive family, illustrating the importance of talking openly and frankly with children about their history. Adoptees may feel conflicted about loving their new home even as they long for the country of their birth. Yafi is sad that he cannot remember his birth mother's face, and that he does not have a photo of her. But Yafi's mother tells him, "When a baby is born to a mother, that baby may not remember the mother in his mind, but he can remember the love in his heart." And she reassures Yafi that even though his Ethiopian family is not with him, they are still his family, and every much a part of him as the new family he has come to love.

This handsomely illustrated title is one that belongs on the shelf of every adoptive family, but especially those with Ethiopian children. It'll be some years yet before Sprout fully understands the story of his family, but that doesn't mean we're going to wait to talk with him about it. His story is already a familiar part of our everyday conversation, one that will be even more significant as we share books like Yafi's Family together.

Yafi's Family by Linda Pettit, published by Amharic Kids
All ages
Sample quote: "I think I remember Auntie and the bus, but I can't remember my first mother. When I think about her, I'm sad and I miss her. Why do I miss her when I can't remember her face?"
Borrowed from local library

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