Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Read It So You Don't Have To III

OK, I'm trying to reserve these posts to the worst of the worst, the creme de la crapper, the truly poisonous children's books about adoption. So not every book with demerits will make the list. Some books might have a narrower focus than I'd like (not mentioning birth parents, for example), or might go in a different direction from a promising start (like ignoring racial teasing to sing the "we're all the same" song). But if it's something not completely poisonous, I put it in the "I can work with this" category, and know that I won't let my kids read it on their own and when I do read it with my kids I'll have to point out different ways to look at things. And as always, your mileage may vary! If I'm trashing your all-time, very favorite, BEST book about adoption, sorry!

With that caveat, I introduce another best-avoided book: Made in China: A Story of Adoption.

First off, the book isn't as horrible as I first feared based on the title. The title reminded me of that awful "Made in China, Loved in America" tshirt that was all the vogue for adopted girls from China -- very high yuck factor in terms of objectification/commodification, with the added assumption that no one loved these girls in China (you can read a lot of APs defending these shirts after an AP suggested they were problematic by clicking here). The book is pretty awful, though.

The premise: The older sister (Caucasian, blonde, presumably biological child of APs, but not necessarily) teases her younger sister adopted from China for being "Made in China," just like her toys: "It's just like you," my big sister said, "You're Made in China. It's stamped right on your head." The girl says, "that really hurt," and goes to talk to her father, expecting a denial. He answers, "Sweetheart, you're not made like a toy. You were 'Made in China' to bring us joy."

Arrgggghhhhhhh! Could you come up with a worse answer?! Mei mei goes expecting a denial, and Dad AGREES with big sis! He does eventually explain that she was BORN in China "to a wonderful woman who really loved you." If he'd said that -- no, you weren't made in China, you were BORN like all other kids, and you were BORN in China -- right away, I'd have less trouble with the book.

But even if he had said that, I'd have a problem with the suggestion that the child was made/born "to bring us joy." And then he also says, "You were 'Made in China' so I'd be your dad."

"Made in China" to bring us joy? "Made in China" so I'd be your dad? And this in a book that acknowledges that the birth mother "really loved" the child, that she "did a hard thing when she let you go." Overall message? Your birth mother was an incubator destined for pain and loss just so we could have a child. Sheesh.

Sure, there are some potentially helpful themes in the book -- it's one of the few where it's adoptive dad, not adoptive mom, talking about adoption, so it's even suitable for single-dad families (and great for families where adoptive dad never addresses adoption, so maybe this could propel him to do so?!). It's a family with Caucasian and Chinese children in the home, and shows racial teasing can happen even in your own family (yikes! do we want to send that message?! and why isn't the dad talking to blondie about what she said, explaining that racial teasing is bad, even (especially?) when it's your sister; why harangue the victim about how she should think of the slur differently?). And, sure, the "Made in China" thing needs to be addressed with Chinese adoptees, because they WILL hear it in reference to themselves, from well-meaning adults trying to be cute and from kids trying to sting.

But in my opinion, the whole discussion of "Made in China" is seriously botched here. Yes, the dad says "you're not made like a toy (rhymes with joy -- ugh)," nor like a "shoe," not made of "plastic or cloth," but the story barely touches the born-not-made distinction. And the overall message -- "Made in China" for US -- so we can have JOY -- so I can be a DAD -- makes the child an instrument, a tool, an object made for the sake of others.

An adoption book celebrating the objectification and commodification of children -- though it seems to think it is rejecting it. How sad is that?


Amyadoptee said...

I have an adult book to not read. Its called Three Weeks to Say Goodbye. It has every stereotype on adoption in the book. They are the negative ones.

Adoptive parents are insecure, scared, and infertile people.
Adoptees are stalker types.
"Birthfathers" are there to thwart the adoption of YOUR child. They are also mental and crazy.

I asked the author a while back if he had a member of the triad read the book and critique it. He said no that it was based on the experiences of a friend of his. If he had done the research on putative fathers alone, he would have realized that his book had no merit. If he had really researched adoption, his view of the social worker and the adoption agency was wrong.

Lynne said...

One word - Ick! Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

My 6 yr old has come up with this statement on her own, after starting to notice that nearly everything we buy is made in China. "Look mom! It was made in China, and I was *born* in China!" She is very excited to discover so many things made in China all around her.

Anonymous said...

I'm an adoptee from China, and I reviewed this book earlier this year as part of a critical literature review of existing adoption books. One of my many major complaints about this book is the repeated notion of “Made in China” as shown on the cover and several of the pages within the book. The offensive comment originally by the sister, is repeated again and again by the father when he continuously tells her that she was “Made in China” for several different reasons. The repetition of the statement that the daughter was “Made in China” emphasizes a theme of child commodification and making a transaction comparable to what a person would do for any other product that was “Made in China.” The author could have remedied this by acknowledging that the daughter’s origins lie in China, but that she was not processed and manufactured. The father should have made a distinction between being “made” versus “born” in China. If the child did not pick up on the wordage of this book, surely they would visually see the matching illustrations on the dedication page and again within the story in which there are several images of dolls wrapped in plastic boxes on a conveyer belt. The father tells his daughter that she was “not made like a toy,” but the corresponding image contradicts the father’s message.