Two of the books nominated for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction award focus on foster children and their adjustment to living in a family not their own.
In Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, eleven year old Tess Brooks and her five year old sister Libby are excited about welcoming a foster brother into their family’s life on a small island off the coast of Maine. (Don’t you just love that cover with the Monopoly pieces against the blue Maine-ish background?) As her family prepares to welcome Aaron, their new foster child, Tess says,
“I’ve never met a foster child before. But I’ve read books about them. There’s Gilly in The Great Gilly Hopkins, Bud in Bud, Not Buddy, and Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. I hope Aaron’s the most like Anne: full of stories and eager to meet us. Of course, he won’t be exactly like Anne, because he’s not eleven years old.
Or a girl.
It turns out that Aaron isn’t much like any of those kids in the books. He’s a thirteen year old trumpet player who still misses the mom who deserted him and still hopes to be reunited with her. Tess must deal with her disappointment and with her inability to control events as she tries to find a way to help Aaron become part of the family and comfortable with island life.
Dream of Night by Heather Henson reads at first like just another horse book, and I’m not too fond of horse books. However, it’s really about abuse and adoption and learning to trust. Shiloh, a twelve year old foster child and Dream of Night, a retired Thoroughbred racehorse who’s been abused and neglected by his owner, both come to live with Jess DiLima, a middle aged rescuer of both horses and children who’s not sure she still has the strength and energy to foster yet another child and a nearly starved horse. Shiloh and Dream of Night, of course, have a lot in common; both have been abused and both have trust issues. And eventually the horse and the child bond, but the inevitable friendship that grows between is not forced or sentimental. I’m not sure how, but author Heather Henson takes a formula plot and makes it seem real and emotionally engaging.
“Shiloh looks up at the black horse. He’s so big. She doesn’t understand how he got his scars. How he would let anyone hurt him like that. With his hooves and his screaming and his legs kicking out. It makes her angry. She can’t explain it, but she’s angry at the black horse for letting himself get those scars. She turns abruptly away. She walks toward the house. Without looking back.
If she were big, like Night, if she were big and fierce and strong, she would never let anyone near. She would never let anyone touch her ever again.”
Told from three different points of view, that of Shiloh, of Jess, and of the horse, Dream of Night, the novel’s strength is it’s characterization. I felt the hardness and fear in Shiloh and in Dream, and I understood Jess’s apprehensiveness about her ability to get through and earn the trust of either the girl or the horse. In fact, as I compared the two books, Touch Blue and Dream of Night, I thought that maybe Touch Blue could have benefitted from a change in viewpoint. Tess talks a little too much and understands too little, and I could have used some more insight into what Aaron was thinking and feeling.
But that’s really a small complaint. Both books give insight into the experience of foster children and into the feelings and difficulties of those who do the fostering. Both certainly deserve to be placed on the list alongside The Great Gilly Hopkins, Bud, Not Buddy and Anne of Green Gables as books for children who want to understand foster children and foster families.
Other titles about foster children and adoption:
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Semicolon review here.
The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes. Semicolon review here.
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson. I read this book a l-o-n-g time ago. As I remember it, it’s about a wise-cracking foster kid and the foster mom who loves her anyway.
Homecoming and Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt. These two books are about homelessness and being abandoned by a parent who can’t cope, and about four resilient children who bring as much to their new home with their grandmther as she gives them.
Heat by Mike Lupica. I read this baseball-themed book for the Cybil Awards, and I really liked it. It’s bout two boys, brothers, who’ve lost both parents, and are trying NOT to get caught up into the foster care system. Semicolon review here.
Alabama Moon by Watt Key. A boy raised in the wilderness by a survivalist father runs away from a foster care facility. Semicolon review here.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. I’ve got to read this Newbery Award book soon. It’s about “Bud–”not Buddy”–Caldwell, an orphan on the run from abusive foster homes and Hoovervilles in 1930s Michigan,” according to Amazon.
The Pinballs by Betsy Byars. Three children in a foster home grow and learn to care about each other.
The Orphan Train series by Joan Lowery Nixon.
In The Face of Danger (Orphan Train Adventures)
A Place to Belong (Orphan Train Adventures)
A Dangerous Promise (Orphan Train Adventures)
A Family Apart (Orphan Train Adventures)
Keeping Secrets (Orphan Train Adventures)
Where the River Begins by Patricia St. John.
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff.
Gossamer by Lois Lowry. Semicolon review here.
The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Carlson Savage. This title is written for younger children, and it’s not as contemporary as the other books on this list, but definitely worthwhile. It’s the story of three children and their mother who must live under a bridge in Paris after they’re evicted from their apartment. It’s also about the old tramp who becomes their adoptive grandfather in spite of his determination not to get involved with any “little birds.” (children who steal your heart)
Can you suggest any other children’s titles that have to do with foster children and adoption?