Friday, March 27, 2009

I Read It So You Don't Have To

A friend shared this book with me, wrapped in a plain brown wrapper and securely taped so that neither her kid nor mine could see it. And that's just how bad this children's book is!

The book: OwlCat: The Cat Hoo Thought He Was an Owl

The back cover reads:
This is the charming story of OwlCat -- the cat who thinks he is an owl. OwlCat is an orphan cat who has been raised by owls and ventures out to find his long-lost sister. Along the way he meets many interesting animals on this amazing journey of self-discovery.

OK, OwlCat was "raised by owls" -- like the boy raised by wolves? Actually, we discover on the first page of the book that he was actually ADOPTED by an owl family. I'm not sure that "raised by owls" really means adoption in popular vernacular.

The book opens:
It was a lovely day in the forest, yet OwlCat was sad. His little friend HOO Owl asked him what was wrong. OwlCat explained that he had just discovered he was adopted.

"I had started to ask my parents why I was different and they decided it was time to explain the truth. Owl mom and dad had postponed telling me because they were concerned about my feelings. I'm not an owl. I'm a cat! I thought Owl mom and dad were my real parents, but they're not! My real parents disappeared one dark and stormy night near Route 17 when I was just a baby. That explains why I always fall out of our family tree at bedtime."

"Owl mom and dad"?! "Not my real parents"?! "My real parents disappeared"?! How's that for completely ignorant and inappropriate adoption language?! And postponing tell him to protect his feelings? Kind of hard to accept in this day and age, especially with a transracial (trans-species?) adoption!

And I never thought I'd read the line "one dark and stormy night" outside of the Bulwer-Lytton Bad Fiction Writing Contest! When I read the first line, "It was a lovely day in the forest," I kind of snickered, thinking of the infamous "dark and stormy night" line, and then suddenly there it was! What a hoot! [Oops, I can't say hoot with HOO Owl and OwlCat hanging around!]

There is one good point about the book -- it's the first children's book I've seen with a successful search for birth family. [Does anyone know of another?] The searches in adoption-themed books usually result in finding adoptive parents -- like in Little Miss Spider and a Mother for Choco. Here, OwlCat goes in search of his biological sister who was apparently adopted by a cat family "on the other side of the mountain."

They do find each other, and "then Sharma and OwlCat talked about their families and what they should do now that they had been reunited. OwlCat had an idea: why not share each others' adopted families and visit them both."

Despite this one positive point, I don't think I'll be sharing this book with the kids. There's too much on the negative side of the balance.


Dee said...

Wow, Melissa! OwlCat sounds positively awful, what with the "not my real parents" language. Thanks for taking one for the team and reading it so we don't have to.

Ann BF said...

I used to like to book, "Stellaluna" until we became an adoptive family...its not as heavy handed but there is still an undercurrent of rigidity and not belonging that I don't like...

Anonymous said...

Hello from the author of OWLCAT.
Avelea Nixon Broadhurst. Well this is quite the web site. It's nice that you have a group of people to talk to. I can see that you are passionate about your beliefs.

So, lets talk about the real parents part. What if I had used the word BIOLOGICAL????


malinda said...

Welcome, Ava! I'm glad you're considering ways to make OwlCat more adoption-friendly.

Birth parent is the most common way of referring to the parents an adopted child is born to, but biological parents or natural parents are sometimes used. Frankly, there's some amount of controversy about each of these usages, but just about ANYTHING is better than REAL parents!

Here's a link to positive adoption language that might be helpful:

You'll find lots of info with a search for "positive adoption language."