My mother often suggested I put myself in someone else’s shoes when trying to understand their viewpoint or reaction to a situation. A good story allows me to do just that. And as a parent and educator I know that relating to characters or events in a story often nurtures real learning as opposed to the mere mastery of facts. In “Stories to Grow On,” a periodic Ties Program blog feature, I look forward to reviewing books that use story to explore issues of adoption, identity and culture.
~Bea Evans, Ties Program Director
A book review of Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock
Written with the middle school reader in mind, Carol Antoinette Peacock’s latest book, Red Thread Sisters, provides an insightful read for adults as well.
Before joining the McGuire family, eleven year old Wen lived most of her life in a Chinese orphanage. Over the years her friendship with Shu Ling, a girl who befriended Wen when she came to the orphanage, blossomed into sisterhood. As Wen saw children leaving to join new families, she dreamed of being adopted too. Shu Ling, on the other hand, did not allow herself to share this dream. After all, she wasn’t even allowed to attend school because of a disabled leg. But as Wen departs the orphanage with the McGuires, she makes a solemn promise to find Shu Ling a family.
Red Thread Sisters not only conveys Wen’s determination to achieve her goal of finding Shu Ling a family but also portrays the life adjustments she faces. Imagine being 11 years old and moving to another part of the world where nothing is familiar. How do you communicate the simplest of needs, such as hunger, when common words do not exist? What’s it like to sit by yourself in the back of the cafeteria because that is the only place you feel comfortable eating your noodles, something you have eaten every day of your life? Can you recall what’s it like not to fit in with anyone around you? Do you remember the sense of panic you felt when someone was late as you waited in an unfamiliar place? Putting yourself in Wen’s shoes and empathizing with the depth of her feelings is possible thanks to Ms. Peacock’s descriptive narrative.
The author also touches on the complex layers of understanding and discovery often present for those who have joined families through adoption. For example, the accounting of how Wen and Shu Ling used to play the “choosing game” with dolls in the orphanage reflects how it must feel to observe children being chosen to join families. Reference to a “keeping sign” illustrates the concern kids often have associated to whether they can continue to be good enough to merit being” chosen” by a family. Wen’s sense of loss related to leaving Shu Ling is but one example of losses associated with adoption.
While the reasons for Wen’s feelings are unique among her friends, the feelings are not. Issues of loss, fitting in, or uncertainty arise for a variety of reasons. The challenges, such as divorce, faced by other characters in Red Thread Sisters stem from issues familiar to many kids. Incorporating their stories, Ms. Peacock reaches a broader audience. In doing so, I believe she helps some of her readers understand issues faced by individuals who have joined their families through adoption. Equally important is her ability to convey Wen’s journey as it validates and gives voice to thoughts and feelings that may be familiar to adoptees. It is this sensitivity and understanding that makes Red Thread Sisters a story to grow on.
Visit The Ties Program Bookestore (powered by Amazon) to order a copy of this marvelous book!
Carol Peacock, the book’s author, has created comprehensive Teacher’s Guide complimenting Red Thread Sisters. Featuring a variety of inter-disciplinary activities this guide is a wonderful resource not only for teachers but also parents and book group leaders. A copy can be found on the author’s website.