Thursday, June 18, 2009

Interview with
June 18, 2009

Talking with Andrea Nepa, Author of Red In the Flower Bed
by Robyn Chittister

I was recently contacted by Tribute Books with a great opportunity - to interview Andrea Nepa, adoptive mom and author of Red in the Flower Bed: An Illustrated Children's Story about Interracial Adoption. I read the book and asked Andrea a few questions.

Andrea Nepa and her husband adopted their daughter Leah from Vietnam in 2001. Although she is a dietician, she took on the challenge of writing and illustrating a children's book for her daughter. Red in the Flower Bed was published in December 2008, and has received several positive reviews.

In the book, a seed who is unable to grow in the garden she starts it travels the world until she settles in a far off flower bed. The other flowers are anxious to see what the new flower will look like, who she will be. When the seed sprouts, she becomes a beautiful red poppy. Though there aren't any other red poppies in the garden, she and the other flowers are happy because she completes their rainbow of colors.

Now, more from Andrea herself...

RobynC: Has writing always been a favorite pastime?

Andrea Nepa: I've always loved to read, but creative writing isn't something I do all that often.

RC: When did first think about creating a children's book?

AN: I was inspired to write this story when my daughter was about 3 years old. We felt so lucky to have such a beautiful little girl from all the way on the other side of the world. Her background was a mystery to us and when she asked us questions about her birth mother we didn't know the answer. She seemed to have feelings of abandonment when she was able to understand the concept of adoption, and it was important to make her feel loved and wanted.

RC: How long did it take the idea to become reality?

AN: It took a few years to finish writing the story. I would think about it and write a little then put it away for a while. I didn't intend on illustrating it, too, but I wanted the pictures to be appealing to children and put the words into pictures. So I decided to make it look the way I wanted it, which took another year or so.

RC: The illustrations for the book are beautiful. What techniques did you use to create them?

AN: I used a collage technique for the illustrations. My favorite children's book illustrators are Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, so I was inspired by their styles.

RC: Finally, a more personal question, because it's one I get all the time. Are you and your husband thinking about adopting again?

AN: We originally planned on having a sibling for our daughter Leah, but when we started to seriously think about adopting again she got very sick so we put things on hold. Now not only is Vietnam closed for adoptions, but we feel that at this point she would be too much older than an infant or toddler, plus we really can't afford it anyway. So that is the honest answer (I don't mind when people ask).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Interview with Road to Ethiopia Blog

Road to Ethiopia
June 16, 2009

Red in the Flower Bed
by Alicia Grinberg

I had the wonderful chance to interview the author of a children’s book about transracial adoption, Andrea Nepa. She is an adoptive parent herself, her beautiful girl is from Vietnam and is already 7 1/2 years old.

Even when there are many books about transracial adoption for adults, I wasn’t able to find any other book about that subject for children. We always wonder how are we going to explain to our children, once they are old enough, about their journey and ours, about how they became part of the family. It’s a delicate subject and each of us are trying to find a way to discuss it with the children without hurting them but also without lying to them.

Every age is different and it’s important not to say more than the child needs at each stage, more than he or she is able to understand. And we need to talk about adoption and for many of us about race too.

That’s what happened to Andrea Nepa and it is the idea behind her book at a very special time in the life of her child, when the little girl was diagnosed with cancer and many more questions about her identity were asked.

And the answers took the form of a book titled Red in the Flower Bed. The book tells about the journey of a little poppy seed that needs to go in search of a place where she can grow up.

Here is what I asked Andrea and her answers:

Can you tell us about your transracial adoption experience?

“We chose to adopt from Vietnam because we were told that young, healthy infants were available and the wait wasn’t long. We were able to choose the gender of the child we wanted, but after that it was a first come, first serve basis. We didn’t have any choice in who the child was (and no information about the birth parents or the circumstances of the adoption were known), but in many ways it seems like we were destined to have this child. From the moment I first saw photos of my daughter I couldn’t imagine any other child as mine. We went to Vietnam when she was only 4 months old to get her. As soon as she was placed in my arms at the orphanage I felt bonded to her. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but it didn’t take long. By the end of the 2 weeks that we stayed in Vietnam she seemed fully bonded to us. The opportunity to have experienced her place of birth was priceless. I remember suddenly having an intense feeling of sadness for her when we were at the airport on the way back home. It seemed like she was being ripped away from her homeland and forever separated from her birth mother. But one thing was sure: she was a beautiful baby in need of a loving home. She is now 7 1/2 years old, and we are in touch with many Asian adoptees of her age, including those in our travel group. We also attend Asian New Year celebrations through our adoption agency and other events. Her favorite restaurant is a Vietnamese restaurant near us in Philadelphia, although she enjoys many other "ethnic" foods as well!”

How did you come up with the idea of comparing a transracial adoption to the journey of a seed?

“The idea started when my daughter starting asking questions about her adoption, and we didn’t have the answers. One especially sad memory is her at 5 years old sitting in a hospital bed receiving chemotherapy and asking "Does my birth mother know I’m here?" She often expressed sadness about "missing" her birth mother, and I suspect she had a lot of feelings of abandonment, too. She had come so far away from her place of birth and had "landed" with us. It seemed like more than coincidence that she ended up being 20 minutes away from the best children’s hospital in the country, if not the world. Her journey as a young infant to the other side other world and then fighting cancer seemed like a big journey for a little girl. I chose a seed because when you adopt a child you don’t know who that child is, but end up loving him/her for whoever they become. It is wonderful seeing a child’s personality emerge as they grow up. In the story the garden flowers accepted the seed for who she was even before they knew what kind of flower she would be. I chose a flower seed because of several reasons: The seed blossomed into another red poppy like its birth mom to represent the fact that a child retains his/her identity no matter where it lives; heritage can’t be denied or ignored. When my daughter asks what her birth mom looks like I say "she looks like you", which she loves to hear. Another reason is that with love and good care the seed blossomed into her full potential, much like a child would in a good family.”

The illustrations are beautiful. What technique did you use?

“My main goal was to attract the attention of young children with colorful, eye-pleasing pictures. It’s important in children’s books for the pictures to bring the words to life. I was inspired by the collage techniques of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, two of my favorite children’s book illustrators.”

Are you planning to write more books?

“I think I would be more interested in illustrating another children’s book than writing one. I asked my daughter if she would like me to write a book about her hospital experience, but she said no. So I have to respect that.”

Personally I found the book very moving and it’s a beautiful and poetic way to explain a small child how he/she became a part of our “garden” and that we love him just they way he is, with his own “colors”. The identity of the child is an important part of who he is and should be protected and celebrated, not ignored and the same goes for his/her birth parents no matter the circumstances of the adoption. If you want to read more about Andrea’s story, please visit her blog, and if you want to know more about the book and see some examples the illustrations visit Tribute Books.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Interview with Children's Hope International

Children's Hope International
June 12, 2009

Interview with Andrea Nepa: Red in the Flower Bed (Children's Adoption Author)
by Jennifer Newcomb

Andrea Nepa is the author of the new adoption-themed children's book, Red in the Flower Bed. Andrea is the mother of an adopted Vietnamese daughter named Leah. She is a registered dietitian at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Red in the Flower Bed is for recommended for readers ages 6-8. This interview was conducted over email in June 2009. Thank you for sharing, Andrea!

1. When and why did you begin writing Red in the Flower Bed?

When my daughter was 4 months old we brought her home from Vietnam. She understood from an early age that she was adopted, and sometimes would cry that she missed her birth mother. She would also ask questions that we didn't have the answer to, as we were not given any info. as to who her birth parents were or why she was given up. Her saddness and my inability to answer her questions was inspiration for writing this story. I started writing it when she was about 3 or 4, and from time to time I would work on it. The story just wouldn't leave me. Then just when she turned 5 years old she was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma, a rare form of childhood bone cancer. (After major surgery and 8 months of chemotherapy she has now been in remission for 2 years). The concept of the seed's journey took on even more significance, as it seemed that she had already journeyed very far (both literally and figuratively) for a little girl. She was taken from her birth place half way around the world as an infant and then fought cancer a few years later. Furthermore, I couldn't help wondering if she had "landed" in the right place, as we live only 20 minutes away from the best children's hospital in the country, if not the world. I also happened to work there. It seemed more than coincidence that she ended up with us.

2. In Red in the Flower Bed, the poppy seed flower is beautiful but does not look like the other flowers in the family garden. Although it is not mentioned in the text directly, this story is an illustration of interracial adoption. How old is your daughter now and how does she react when you read your book to her?

I deliberately did not use the word adoption in the story so that the reader can interpret the book in their own way at their own pace according to their age level. My daughter is now 7 1/2 years old. She loves the idea that I wrote a book and asked me to read it to her second grade class and is hoping that I will end up on TV! Her favorite page is the last page with the rainbow. I think she interprets this to mean that she is wanted and needed in our family, even though she does not look like us and is not a birth child like most of her friends. She also seems to be comforted by the mother poppy being sad, as it helps her feel that she wasn't just thrown away by her birth mother. Also, I made the seed turn into a red poppy flower like its birth flower, since when my daughter asks what her birth mom looks like I can say with some confidence "she looks like you", which she loves to hear. She is proud of her Vietnamese background and always answers that she is from Vietnam whenever someone asks where she is from (even if they just mean what state). I hope that she will never feel ashamed of looking different from her family or classmates. In this story the seed retains its identity no matter where it lands since its heritage can't be ignored or denied. Note that the garden flowers accepted the seed for who she was even before they knew what kind of flower she would be. The seed blossomed into her full potential because she was given the care and love she needed.

3. What are some good questions / statements an adopting parent might add to this story to further relate to their child?

Questions to prompt the child to think about the story could include: Why do you think this story is called Red in the Flower Bed? Even though the poppy did not look like the other flowers in the garden, was she still part of its family? Who did she look like? What did the seed need to grow in the garden? Do all flowers need this? How was the garden changed by the poppy flower?

4. Can you explain the choices made in the illustration technique?

My main goal was to attract the attention of young children with colorful, eye-pleasing pictures. In children's books it's important for the pictures to bring the words to life. I was inspired by the art techniques of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, two of my favorite children's book artists. One adult reader commented that the collage style using different prints makes that point that "we are all one and can come together to form a single family".

5. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I think that it's important to accept your child unconditionally for who they are, and to acknowledge your child's place of birth and heritage. It will always be a part of them. It is also important to respect your child's desire to know their background. It is their right to know. Allow them to talk about it and ask questions, even if you don't know the answer. Be honest.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Interview with the Extraordinary Mom's Network Blog

Extraordinary Moms Network
May 29, 2009

Special Book for Adoptive Families
by Heidi Saxton

The book I’d like to review today is entitled Red in the Flower Bed, by Andrea Nepa (Tribute Books). Andrea is an adoptive mother of a little girl from Vietnam, and I had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about her book:

1. Tell me a bit about your international adoption story.

Our adoption journey began when we went to Vietnam to get our daughter when she was 4 months old. We stayed there for 2 weeks, which was an incredible way to get to know a little bit about her place of birth. We loved watching her spunky personality emerge as she grew. Our biggest challenge so far was when she was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma, a rare pediatric bone cancer, at the age of 5. (After major surgery and 8 months of chemo, she has now been in remission for 2 years).

She understood from an early age that she was adopted and sometimes would cry that she missed her birth mother. Her mourning and my inability to answer her questions about her adoption (we were not given any info. as to who her biological parents were or even the circumstances of her being given up) was part of my inspiration to write this story. Plus, I felt that somehow perhaps she was meant to be with us, since we live only 20 minutes away from the best children’s hospital in the country, if not the world.

2. What advice would you give parents who adopt an older child, and run into difficulties parenting that child — if the “flower” has difficulty fitting in their particular garden?

You have to acknowledge and respect the child’s cultural heritage no matter what age they are adopted at. The idea isn’t necessarily for the flower to have to fit in to the garden, but for the flower and garden to complement each other with their differences. It is no doubt much harder for an older child to adjust to a new family in a new culture than for a very young child. Ideally, the child should be accepted by their family unconditionally for who they are and not have to live up to expectations for the kind of person they “should” be. The garden flowers accepted the seed for who she was before they knew what kind of flower she would be. Also, I believe that parents need to be flexible in adapting to the personality of their child (whether or not they are adopted, but of course this is just my opinion!).

3. The image of “seed” can be a loaded one for some adoptive families, especially those whose children come from neglectful or abusive backgrounds. The suggestion is that — no matter what you do to raise the child, all he is and will ever be is already determined in the “seed.” How would you respond to this?

The seed retains its identity no matter where it lands, since its heritage can’t be denied and shouldn’t be ignored. Looking different is not something to be ashamed of. In the story the seed thrived and blossomed into a healthy, beautiful flower because it was given the love and care it needed. Superficially the poppy looks like her birth flower, but also in a good environment she is allowed to reach her full potential. Likewise, a child who experiences an abusive home will likely be influenced in a negative way. This is one good reason to adopt a needy child! All children deserve a loving home.

4. What do you say to grown international adoptees who long to know more about their roots, but don’t know how to begin?

I don’t have direct experience with this, but from an adoptive parent’s perspective I will say that it is important to be honest with your child as much as possible even if this means saying “I don’t know”. The child should not be made to feel guilty about asking questions about their past; it’s their right to know. The only question that my daughter asks that I can honestly answer with some confidence is when she wants to know what her birth mother looks like. She loves to hear “she looks like you”. This is another reason why I made the seed turn out as a red poppy like its mother flower. In terms of dealing with adoption issues, it is important for adoptees to have contact with other adoptees.