Adele has been a youth services librarian for 25 years and a mother to a daughter from China for 20 years.
Books to Treasure
Here you will find memoirs from other moms, books that provide insight into the lives of Chinese people--both in China and America--and the best fiction I could find.
When I adopted my daughter from China, a whole new culture opened up to me, and it has been my good fortune as a librarian to be able to lay my hands on some of the best writing about adoption, China, and the lives of Chinese-Americans.
I've read hundred of books, and have chosen here those which I believe to be the most evocative and interesting. I hope you will find here books to treasure, as well.
Note: Click Here if You Are Looking for Books for Kids, Too
- Best Books for Families with Children Adopted from China: Fiction and Nonfiction on Adoption, Cultur
These books cover adoption and Chinese culture for moms, dads, kids, tweens, and teens. Below you will find links to sites that list dozens of books for kids, adults, families, and classrooms.
New! Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang
My Chinese-American daughter is all grown up now and working in a library. She tells me that her heart goes out to Chinese immigrant families that come in looking for information on learning English, or getting a job, or figuring out the bus routes, and she is glad that she can speak a little Mandarin to make them feel more comfortable and a little bit more at home.
I thought about those families when I read Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang, a memoir of her family’s immigration from China to the United States. Her family was also overwhelmed by the language and culture of this place we call America, especially since they were undocumented immigrants who lived in continual fear of being found out and deported. For years they had no one to guide them, and their fears not only kept them isolated and lonely, it also trapped her parents in a series of low-wage and demeaning jobs that kept them poverty-stricken for much of her childhood.
It seems like the US is always debating what to do about immigrants, especially those like Wang’s family who were undocumented because they came to the United States and then overstayed their visas, and we can argue in generalities all we want, but we can only know what it is like to be with these families if we can read stories such as hers that viscerally take us into their lives.
She begins by saying, “My story starts decades before my birth.” Her father lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the violence and betrayal that characterize that era have given him scars that last throughout the rest of his life. In adulthood he becomes a professor of English literature, but after a time he finds the constriction of the thought police to be unbearable, and leaves for Mei Guo—literally Beautiful Country – the United States. Two years later, after pleading with Chinese officials numerous times, Wang and her mother join him.
She flashes back to her memories of living in China, and they are largely sweet and loving. She talks about the joy she shared dancing with her father, how tenderly her mother cared for her when she had chickenpox, and how her grandparents spoiled her when they came to visit. This life is so touchingly described that we ache for seven-year-old Qian when she has to leave it all and get on a plane with her mother--who was incapacitated because of extreme motion sickness--and travel to a place she didn’t know at all for reasons she couldn’t understand.
The theme of secrets winds around in and through the book, and even in her idyllic Chinese childhood, we see some dark strands of what will come to pass in her life in America. I would imagine book clubs would have a lot to discuss about parenting styles as we see young Qian’s father basically trick her into attending school when she didn’t want to go. When they moved to their new country, she was often befuddled, as her overworked and overwhelmed parents often kept things from her while impressing upon her how dangerous it was to call attention to herself and risk deportation. They were a family alone, and her parents didn’t have any way to gauge the danger of their activities, or their new country, and they lead lives often constricted by fear. Wang recounts how her mother made her sit in the dark in their Brooklyn apartment until her father came home because she was afraid that if she turned on the light, people would shoot into their windows.
We know that starting out as an immigrant is hard, but Wang’s account of the numerous menial and low-wage jobs her mother had to take – a woman who had of professional job teaching math in China – is heartrending. Throughout it all, little Qian served as her mother’s xiao yi sheng, her “little doctor,” or on-call therapist. From sweatshop seamstress to waitress to hairdresser, the mother always found herself on the lowest rung of the ladder and taken advantage of.