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Book review: Billy Says series by Joanne Alper

Today we have a review by adoptive parent Amy who has read the Billy Says series by Joanne Alper…

This is a set of 6 easy to read, colourful books for children to guide them through some of the issues relating to adoption and fostering. They are written by Joanne Alper, Director of Services at AdoptionPlus.

Aimed at children aged 3-8, I personally think these are better for children age 5-10. But could be used by parents, social workers, therapists or teachers.

20160616_124826Book 1 focuses on helping the main character 5 year old ‘Kirsty’ realise that the shouting in her house is not her fault, and the visitors that come to see her mum are social workers who are trying to help her mum. The books all use the character of Billy – a soft toy who can speak, to help Kirsty verbalise her worries and to help her understand in child friendly language what is going on around her.

Book 2 explains what happens when Kirsty needs to go to foster care, and explains why (that her mum can’t look after her properly). Billy introduces Smudgy the cat who shows empathy after moving away from his own family.

Book 3 talks about the foster carers and acknowledges that Kirsty will have muddles and worries, especially about her brothers who are at different placements. It really focuses on talking about the good, kind things that foster carers do.

Book 4 is called ‘What you think matters’ and it talks about courts and guardians. Billy describes the type of meetings that have to happen and what goes on in them, and also reassures Kirsty that her views are important.

Book 5 is about waiting. Kirsty explains that she’s been making a life story book with her social worker. It also covers a little about the wait for a new family. I do feel that between books 4 and 5 there should be another book about the adoption decision and the feelings that come with that as by the time you get to book 5, it’s clear that adoption is the plan, but it hasn’t been stated anywhere.

Book 6 talks about what it’s like to live as a new family. Again, the bit between foster family and adoptive family has been missed, and we start book 6 with Kirsty having lived with her family for a  little while. Sadly there isn’t anything about packing and moving, introductions, or the early days of settling in.

I find these books brilliant at explaining the bits they cover. They use child friendly language, bright colours, a lovely character in Billy, they are short enough to hold attention. My only disappointment is the bits they miss, which in my mind are just as important.

 Amy received these books free of charge in return for an honest review. You can buy the set here at Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief by Kate Collins-Donnelly

Today we bring you a review by Sarah from The Puffin Diaries, of the book Banish your Self-Esteem Thief by Kate Collins-Donnelly

This book aims to teach young people, from aged ten, to use cognitive behavioural therapy to build positive self-esteem. The book can be used by a parent or a practitioner with the young person and is a combination of segments to read and activities to carry out.

self esteemWe have had this book some time, over a year, however we have used the book on and off through out this time. One of the main reasons for this is that we’ve accessed sections of the books which have I have considered age appropriate. So whilst my son at ten could access the first three chapters, which explored the concept of self esteem, he seemed less able to grasp the concepts of following chapters which delve deeper into how self-esteem develops. We have however returned to these sections at a later date.

The book is highly interactive and easy to follow, making a logical progression for the reader, building on one idea to the next. It was easy to break into smaller sections, which suited my son, as whole chapters include quite a lot to digest in one sitting for a younger child. That said my son asked on a number of occasions if we could work together from the book. He enjoys the one to one time and also the opportunity to explore himself with someone that feels safe by his side.

My son particularly enjoyed designing his own self-esteem vault, where you keep safe all the positive beliefs you have about yourself, from the self esteem thief, who you can also draw your own version of.

There are activities and parts of the text that are much more suited to teenagers than young adolescents. For example, there are case studies from older children which include incidents of self harming. I think this is particularly important to take into consideration when dealing with children who have suffered early life trauma and have a younger emotional intelligence than their physical age. My own son struggled a little with some of the list of emotional labels unable to differentiate between words like, embarrassment and shame or sadness and a low mood.

Another good reason to work in small sections was that reading about all the bad things you feel about yourself as you tick a long list of words you agree describe you, can be upsetting in itself. Sometimes I’d see we need to switch mode so that a dark mood didn’t stay with my son.

As the parent or teacher it is worth reading through to the end first and finding sections you can turn to and use to create positive endings to your sessions. There are some deep breathing and relaxation exercises which we introduced earlier than the progressive stage in the book because they were enjoyable to use. 

So in conclusion, this book is a really thorough and useful workbook to help young people understand how their own self-esteem works. I do consider the whole book suited more to teenagers, however I found there were sections that can still be useful for  those younger. My own son is turning thirteen soon and I’m sure he will ask me again if we can look at it again.

Book Review – Seahorse’s Magical Sun Sequences

This week I was able to use this book to teach yoga to a group of primary school children.

The Stories are all about how the magical seahorse uses yoga to help his friends in the ocean. You will meet The Starfish Brothers, Eel, Crab and Octopus, each has their own story and their own version of the sun sequence.

I used the first story featuring The Starfish Brothers as I was working with fully able bodied children aged five. The other stories adapt the sun sequence for children in wheelchairs, Children with Autism and older children who may also struggle with standing.sun sal

The characters are very friendly and easily accessible for the children to be involved with. The colourful illustrations help to engage the children with these characters.  The words are easy to follow and easy to read to the children, or for older children to read themselves. I think this makes the book work on lots of different levels and can be used in school but also at home. I like the fact that in the stories yoga is used to help with physical and mental difficulties that the characters are facing and has a very positive message about yoga. 

The illustrated movements of the sun sequence are also very clear and easy to follow. You can also print off a copy of the posters with all the movements on, via a related website, which is a great resource for teachers and parents alike.

Once you have performed the sun sequence with the children, the story continues and suggests that someone else leads the group through the sun sequence. I didn’t do this with my group of children because it was a large group which I had not previously worked with and felt, I needed to remain in charge. However with a smaller group or a group I was maybe more familiar with I could see how this might be fun.

The only thing I wasn’t overly keen on was the version of the sun sequence used in the first story which was supposed to be for the age group I was teaching, three to five. I instead used the full version of the sequence which appears later in the book, in a second story featuring the Starfish Brothers. I felt that it offered more movement and more fun for the children and they were more than capable of following the sequence.

I would recommend this book to teachers and parents alike and feel you need to have no real experience of yoga in order to use it.

Book review: Who We Are and Why We Are Special

41f9T8JRdQL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_When I first received ‘Who We Are and Why We Are Special, The Adoption Club Workbook on Identity’ by Regina M Kupecky, I was initially sceptical, says adoptive mum Kay.

Why? Well, most of the books I have read about and around adoption have been weighty, literally, or anecdotal.

So my expectation was that this book would be the same.

Identity and adoption? This is a big and knotty question!

Surely this demands a book the size of an encyclopaedia or a series of books?

This book appears slim and plain. The typeset reminds me of 70’s pamphlets and the illustrations are so simple I think I could have done them myself. Added to this is the subtitle: ‘workbook’.


Suffice to say I wasn’t looking forward to reading it, despite feeling very excited to review a book for The Adoption Social.

Guess what though? In this case you really can’t judge a book from its cover…

Like I said the title invites us to consider identity and how this makes us different and special. That’s a big ask for an adult, but this workbook is aimed at the ages 5-11. My next reservation is how on earth one book can hope to address and engage such a wide age range.

On the first few pages we’re introduced to the members of the ‘adoption club’ whose characters are drawn, both literally and figuratively, in a simple way. There’s no embellishment here just simple sketches that help to highlight them as different and special, but what holds all of them together is that they are touched by adoption in some way.

It’s an apt reminder that adoption has so many faces, ages and back stories. Being a heterosexual, married, white, middle class adoptive mum of two young white siblings, I have been known to forget that not everyone shares my experience of adoption and that my route is only one of many. So it was useful to think again about how inclusive adoption can be.  Mixed race families, single parents, and same sex parents, children with special needs or disability, overseas adoptions, transgender parents, open adoptions… Steve Jobs, who started Apple, is adopted. I didn’t know that, did you?

The best thing about the book is that none of it reads like tokenism, just a really nice personification of these different sides of the process. Like much of the writing in this book, it is matter of fact, easy to read and understand. So as much as it’s aimed at 5 – 11 year olds I didn’t find it patronising. Actually quite the opposite, after reading this book I came away inspired to use it with my children and, surprisingly, myself.

The idea is that identity can be seen as a jigsaw of many pieces and the book leads us through a series of open questions, examples of how this affects a particular member of the adoption club, with space to write our answers and ideas for reflection.

The questions and examples are leading but not prescriptive, there is plenty of space for the reader to engage at their preferred or most appropriate depth. For me, I wanted to think about the layers to my story/identity, like a complex 1000 piece puzzle of an intricate landscape. My four year old daughter was able to recognise and relate to two of the characters and their experiences. Most importantly, I think that when we re-visit the adoption club she will continue to add to her own jigsaw.

I loved the physical metaphor of an ‘identity jigsaw’. I’d love to do some work around this using big puzzle pieces, images, maybe even an outline of a child’s body to fill in.

I would really like to read the other workbooks as I think that they will help me to open discussions with my children in the future. I like the characters but most of all I like the idea of adoption being a club that we all belong to.

Many thanks to Kay for her review. Kay did not receive payment for this review, but has been able to keep the book.

Book review: Preparing for Adoption

This week we’re pleased to bring you a review of Preparing for Adoption, which has been written for us by a prospective adoptive parent…

9781849054560Upon making the decision to adopt, I’m sure we were not alone in experiencing the feeling of stumbling blindly around until it all started making sense (which thankfully, it soon did… a bit).

There’s that all important first step into the process, the mechanics of it all, when you look to somebody in a position of responsibility to tell you what will happen and how you should prepare, but I find – as I’m sure many do – that I want to absorb every bit of information that I can, there are questions that you don’t feel you can ask yet, there’s so much more to it that you feel as though it’s all just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a world of information out there, some incredible books, supportive forums and charities to help us along, but how do you know where to begin and how can you possibly know what to really expect?

I found Preparing For Adoption to be that perfect starting point. As soon as I picked it up I felt like it was answering the questions I had stored away in the back of my mind, ready to ask at the right time.

Right from the start you feel like you’re in safe hands. Julia Davis sets out in her introduction exactly what to expect from the book and explains what each chapter will cover, then throughout the book she takes the key stages in the process and breaks them down into clear, easy to read sections.

With a solid focus on the children and your family, rather than the process itself, it really does help you make sense of what lies ahead. Subjects like attachment, are given dedicated sections and explained well in an understandable and easily relatable way, giving hugely practical advice on how you can build on the ideas when the time comes.

As the book moves on, you get a very clear picture of how you can relate to your child’s early experiences, and how to begin shaping your interactions and parenting to help their development. It helps you begin to prepare your home, other family members and most importantly, your child, for starting life together; keeping a great balance between information, advice and experience throughout. Finally the book moves onto some of the feelings, emotions and challenges that may come about once your child is with you, again identifying key themes and showing some of the practical ways you can create a safe and secure family life.

We still have a lot of this ahead of us, but I feel that with this book – alongside the professional support we’ll receive – that I can start building a great emotional toolkit to face the journey ahead. I would strongly recommend that any prospective adopters put this to the top of their reading list.

Preparing for Adoption by Julia Davis is available here.

Today’s review is an honest opinion. The reviewer has not been paid although has received a complimentary copy of the book.

Book review: Forever Fingerprints – an amazing discovery for adopted children

Today’s anonymous book review looks at Forever Fingerprints – an amazing discovery for adopted children by Sherrie Eldridge.Eldridge_Forever-Fingerp_978-1-84905-778-3_colourjpg-print

I was uplifted by the introduction to this book which was addressed to parents. It highlighted key areas of concern for many parents including handling painful or missing birth history, an issue of particular relevance to me and my daughter, however the American model of adoption and the concept of children being ‘given up’ by birth families as opposed to being ‘removed’ from them, would possibly make it necessary for many adopters who have adopted within the UK to consider how they can rephrase aspects of this book to make it relevant to their children’s history and sensitive to their needs.

From a personal perspective If I am to claim ‘all parts of my child’ including her birth family, I have to be constantly mindful of developmental trauma, as references to her birth family consistently trigger that trauma, which means I have to hold onto this fact when responding to her questions. For example aunt grace (a character in the book who visits the family, but unbeknown to the little girl is expecting a baby) would not turn up to our house with her big tummy without my daughter having been prepared for that. Pregnant ladies are another big trigger for my little one. In the book, when the little girl sees her she is surprised at her ‘watermelon’ tummy but is very excited at the prospect of a new baby.

From a broader perspective however, I really liked the explanation of how the baby grows in the womb and the lovely illustrations which my daughter would enjoy. It just saddens me that mine and other people’s families have such difficult early histories within them that we cannot simply share a lovely book like this without considering the implications.

I would recommend this book as the premise (that there are very specific aspects to ourselves that are unique but tie us to our birth family) is a really useful one and could be extremely helpful for children adopted within the UK, if introduced by parents and interpreted with the needs of that child in mind.

I think as an age range, age 5 upwards would be appropriate, by then children are using finger prints in play and can distinguish the patterns within them. I imagine older children approximately 8 years plus who have a deeper level of self awareness and have an emerging self identity could gain from this book too. I understand this can be a particularly tricky age for adopted children so the premise of this book could be useful for that age group.

It is a hard backed book and could be revisited many times at different developmental stages and still hold relevance. From this point of view it is worth the price.

Forever Fingerprints is available to buy here.

Today’s reviewer was not paid for this post, but did receive a free copy of the book.

Book review: Friends, Bullies and Staying Safe

Kupecky_Friends-Bullies_978-1-84905-763-9_colourjpg-printFriends, Bullies and Staying Safe by Regina Kupecky is one of a 5-part series of workbooks written for therapists and counsellors who work with adopted children.

The books’ focus is a group of fictional adopted American children, aged between 9 and 13, who get together regularly with their school counselor and an adult adoptee/teacher to discuss adoption issues within a regular ‘Adoption Club’.

The characters in this book all come at adoption from different angles so every box is ticked: There is an example of a child from a mixed race international adoption, a single parent adoption, a child who has regular direct contact with her birth family, a sibling pair who have had multiple foster placements, a child with a physical disability and a kinship adoption. This mix of children and the Adoption Club context provides the perfect vehicle for discussing a range of adoption-related friendship issues: ‘types’ of friendship; whether siblings can be friends; talking about adoption; teasing and being teased; what being a friend actually means and what makes it hard – all explored from differently adopted children’s points of view.

At first glance, I thought the stories looked a bit twee and the illustrations seemed rather old fashioned. Maybe I was prejudiced by the photograph of the very homely looking Mrs Kupecky on the back cover. But I am glad I persevered (it really wasn’t hard, the book is less than 50 pages long) because I think this little book has lots to offer therapeutic parents and their children.

It is mainly aimed at primary aged children, so I asked my sibling pair for their opinions: My daughter Red (11) said she liked the fact that all the characters were adopted but didn’t think the black and white line illustrations were very good (though she took that back when I told her she could colour them in). One morning on the way to school, our son Blue (12) started to talk about his different types of friends and I realized he had read the book without me knowing. On further probing, he said he liked the fact that his opinion was asked for in a book and that there was space for him to write and draw about how he felt.

If pushed, I would take issue with the word ‘Bullies’ in the title. The extent of the bullying is one girl being asked repeatedly about her birth family, so don’t buy it as a miracle antidote to any serious bullying your children may be experiencing. I think our children find it difficult enough to distinguish between bullying, teasing and open questions as it is – but that’s another story! Still, it’s worth both a quick read and a more leisurely exploration with your child and definitely helped mine name and voice some of their own concerns around friendships. I recommend it.

Rating: **** (out of 5): More than worth a go!

This book is available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers here.

Very many thanks to @plumstickle who has reviewed this book. No fee was paid for this honest review, but @plumstickle received a free copy of the title.

Book review: How Do We Feel About Adoption?

With very many thanks to @adoptingD for this review on How do we feel about adoption? by Regina M. KupeckyKupecky_How-Do-We-Feel_978-1-84905-765-3_colourjpg-print

(D is 8 and with us 6 years, placed at 2y2m. We are a family of 3 and D is very aware of his life story)

Having looked through this book before sharing with D we were anxious about what it might bring up for him but he was very willing to read it with us so we quickly got going with the adoption club. He was a little disappointed that it was fictional characters and one of his first questions was – are these people real so we can join the adoption club?

The characters tell their stories about why they were adopted and while these were varied they did not have reasons of neglect, abuse or birth parent illness so this could possibly be expanded on. Disabilities, siblings, kinship carers and single parents are all mentioned in relation to the adoptive families which can help to open conversations about there being all different types of families – did think that same sex couples seemed to be missing.

The workbook format was great in that questions were asked after smaller chunks of the book rather than all at the end which would have been overwhelming for everyone. D did not want to write in his answers as it seemed too much like homework for him but he really opened up when talking about the answers. The questions were very relevant and were definitely able to give us ways to focus on areas that are difficult to tackle outright. It also felt like we were not badgering him as it was the book asking the questions.

Midway there is a task to draw a pie chart about your feelings surrounding adoption and I think this was the most useful thing we took from the whole book. D was very keen to draw his and was pleased that mum and dad were going to do it too. He was very surprised at the feelings that we put on our charts and again this opened a good discussion about how we were feeling when he moved here. The pie chart showed it’s normal to have many feelings at the one time, that it was ok to be happy and sad about being adopted and that parents have lots of feelings too – not sure this was something D had considered before!

The book is aimed at 5 to 11 year olds but I would think that it’s probably more suitable from around age 7 as it could be a little daunting for younger and they may not get the concept of a pie chart. Parents may find it useful to guide them when talking to a younger child but of course each child’s ability is so different it would be hard to put exact ages on it. I think the book itself is a little expensive at £9.99 but most adoption guides are expensive anyway so it’s no different to the norm.

Overall we found it very positive and do think it’s useful for structuring those difficult conversations. It gives the child something to relate to and can allow them to deflect to how the characters would feel if it gets too overwhelming for them to think about themselves. It is also a tool that could be used again to see if feelings had changed or to revisit areas that had been found difficult. We would recommend tis to others trying to talk more about feelings surrounding adoption.

How Do We Feel About Adoption is part of a series of Adoption Club therapeutic workbooks, all available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers here.

@adoptingD was not paid for this review, but has received a free copy of the book in question.

Review: Facilitating Meaningful Contact in Adoption and Fostering

Today’s review comes from Jo Mitchell, an adoption manager and children’s therapist… and is on Facilitating Meaningful Contact in Adoption and Fostering, by Louis Sydney and Elsie Price.

Sydney-Price-Ad_Facilitating-Me_978-1-84905-508-6_colourjpg-printThis is a very comprehensive read which I felt was written in a concise, accessible and easy format that would be beneficial to social workers, foster carers, birth parents and adopters.

It starts out by tackling some of the consistent difficulties faced by all parties in adoption which upon first reading I was worried that the book may not then go on to address how we may take a different look at contact and it’s meaningfulness.

Of course I was heartened to be very wrong about this. Although the book is not definitive in saying whether contact is right or wrong, it provides a wealth of research that they carefully link with the promotion of creative and news ways to think about contact embedded in research and therapeutic intervention.

An ongoing issue in contact is the drawing up of such arrangements during what is a hugely emotive time where children become almost like ping pongs between the opposing sides and because someone once said it, plans are drawn up for toing and froing between different families that would make a well regulated adult’s head spin.

Although this book is considering in the main contact post permanency placement, it’s content, reference to research and links to theraplay for example in contact have the potential to play a hugely important role in the much earlier stages of contact. The implementation of their well thought out and considered ideas could where possible have significant benefits for children who have developmental trauma.

The case study on Page 100 (Steven) is a clear example where much better information could have been provided to Steven and his adoptive family much earlier in his life. The context of knowing this information about his birth mother latterly was a crucial and significant part of the story that had been missing for so long. It is testament to his adopters that their support and openness to knowing Steven’s birth mothers story was a vital part of her history that enabled Steven to gain a much better picture of his birth mum and therefore an improved understanding as to why her life deteriorated to the stage where she was unable to care for Steven appropriately. Sadly such information and on occasion a willingness to understand this can eventually lead to a placement struggling to survive the trauma that is played out by children who experience such early life adversity.

One of the areas of the book, which I found to be most useful and thought provoking, was the idea of video messages. Although Skype and face time are a common consideration of late in contacts, the concept behind a video message I found was a very powerful one. My own reservations about Skype and Face time are the use of this at times with very young children who are not able to understand fully how it can be that a person who they know is effectively inside a box and the impact of this, where are they etc?

The case study of Jodie on Page 10 was fascinating and the skill of the worker and the openness of the adopters, kept Jodie central to the decision making and their creativity in “adjusting” the context of contact enabled both Jodie and her birth mother to gain more from one another through a series of questions and a video message that continued direct contact was unlikely to achieve.

The layout of the book made it a very easy and accessible read to. There was a general acknowledgement of ongoing difficulties in contact, the pressures on local authorities to put contact plans together and a vast range of case studies that made this seem so much more real.

What was most refreshing was that within the book it consistently provided ideas, ways and paths through what is an undoubtedly contentious and fragile area of children and families lives. An excellent point that was raised was the rationale behind letterbox contact. All too often we have postbox files where either the birth parents or the adopters haven’t written, some since the beginning, and an often “roll of the tongue” approach is to say to the party still willing to write that it is best in the long run for you to write. What this book does very cleverly and without apportioning any blame is to urge you to consider that contact should be fluid from the outset. It asks us to think about who should be involved in making contact plans, who is best placed to put this together and who is there now and in the future to support those involved in plans for contact.

The reference to their work with birth parents begs the question as to why so often there is absolutely no service for birth families beyond the adoption order.

This book has given such food for thought in terms of what we do now and in the future and whether if we just stop to think more carefully and considered at contact. If we no longer see this as the tick box exercise it so often sadly becomes, then we have the opportunity to consider the true shape that contact needs to be for every individual child, potentially improving at every stage, every change, every review a plan that facilities, enables and enhances the lives of the children and the very centre of such planning.

This review is Jo’s own opinion of the book. We have not made any payment in respect of this post, however Jo has been able to keep the book reviewed.

Facilitating Meaningful Contact in Adoption and Fostering is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and available from their website.

Book review: A Place in My Heart

untitled (3)I was recently sent A Place in My Heart by Mary Grossnickle. It’s an illustrated book for adopted children aged 2-5 that addresses birth parents and transcultural adoption.

Charlie the Chipmunk is different to the rest of his family – he looks different, he’s smaller and his tail is different. Charlie is adopted, his adoptive family are squirrels, and he loves his mother to explain how he became part of his family.

One night Charlie realises that adoption means he has another set of parents – his birth mother and birth father. He sits and thinks about this for a long time, and the following day is spent wondering about what his birth family are like – what their names are, whether they are famous. Charlie doesn’t feel like playing, and instead he bites his brother, and spills his lunch.

Charlie’s mum sees that Charlie is struggling and does a little wondering of her own – perhaps Charlie has been thinking about his birth parents? She reassures him that it’s OK, and that they are probably thinking of him too.

Together Charlie and his mum explore hearts and love, and again, mum explains and reassures that it’s OK to have space in his heart for his birth mother and birth father. Feeling happier, Charlie runs outside to play with his family again.

I shared this hardback book with my 4 year old birth daughter who hears the word ‘adoption’ a lot, and know that her brother is adopted. It’s pitched just right for her and she LOVED the illustrations (by Alison Relyea-Parr). She has a simplistic view of adoption, but this book helped her understand that her brother has another set of parents out there, and that it’s OK for him to talk and care about them.
And at a time when she’s quite interested in who she looks like and why, it gently explained why her brother looks different to the rest of us.

My son is now 8, so this book is a little young for him, but I think if we’d had this book when he was young, he would have enjoyed the story even though he probably wouldn’t have related to the character. It explores big feelings that he wouldn’t have been able to acknowledge when younger.

A Place in My Heart is available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers at £9.99.

Today’s review is by Vicki from The Boy’s Behaviour. If you have a book, movie, tv programme or training course review that you’d like to share, please drop us a line at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com.