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.