Top Adoption Books and Resources: A Not-To-Be-Missed List of Recommendations

Portrait of an Adoption’s Top Recommended Adoption Books and Additional Resources

In this list, you will find a wide variety of nonfiction books representing diverse views and perspectives on adoption – similar in style to my blog’s acclaimed annual series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days – with different titles geared toward adoptees, adoptive parents, birthparents, and foster parents.   Given the vast majority of memoirs available from adoptive parents, I avoided this genre in favor of research-based and prescriptive books, with only a few exceptions.  Although most of the titles are self-explanatory, I have included brief summaries that draw from the book covers, Amazon, published reviews, and my own comments.  Enjoy, and please share widely with those involved in adoption and foster care!

Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming Our Families – and America by Adam Pertman.  In this multiple award-winning book, Adam Pertman, the President of the Donaldson Adoption Institute, explores the history and human impact of adoption, explodes the corrosive myths surrounding it, and tells compelling stories about its participants as they grapple with issues relating to race, identity, equality, discrimination, personal history, and connections with all their families.

Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae.  This guide draws on the experiences of over 100 contributors to offer advice to all different types of families, ranging from those who have just adopted to those who have been raising adopted children for years.  A comprehensive, 520-page tome.

Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents by Deborah D. Gray. Attaching in Adoption is a bestselling, comprehensive guide for prospective and actual adoptive parents on how to understand and care for their adopted child and promote healthy attachment. Parenting techniques are matched to children’s emotional needs and stages, and checklists are included to help parents assess how their child is doing at each developmental stage. The book covers a wide range of issues including international adoption, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and learning disabilities, and combines theory and direct advice with case examples throughout.

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by Brodzinsky, Schecter and Henig. The authors call upon years of experience as researchers and counselors in the field of adoption to describe the continual adjustments that adoptees make as they grow from infancy to old age. Most moving is the litany of losses that move adoptees to grieve, often unknowingly. Adoptees may confront the loss not only of a birth family but of a personal and genetic history. The latter is particularly painful when it is time for young adults to begin their own families. Such life crises often kick off a search for birth parents.

Birthright: The Guide To Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents by Jean A. S. Strauss. Strauss interweaves the story of the search for her own birthparents with the strategies for finding birth relatives.  She discusses the laws that make adoption records confidential in the introduction and thereby sets the stage for the search strategies that follow. As Strauss points out, the history of adoption is neither simple nor consistent, and the nature of adoption today is very different from what it was when present adoption laws were enacted. Strauss’ effort offers considerable insight into the motivations of a particular adoptee as it encourages and counsels others wishing to undertake such a search themselves.

In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You to Know About Adoption. A Guide for Relatives and Friends by Elisabeth O’Toole. In On It is a terrific guide that is specifically written for the family members and friends of those who are in the midst of the adoption process.   It explains what the hopeful adoptive parents are experiencing and offers advice for how the relatives and friends of the adoptive parents can manage their own feelings about the adoption.

Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos. Instant Mom is a personal narrative, rather than a reference style book, but it is a beautiful story that offers many lessons about how to help a traumatized toddler who was adopted from foster care learn to feel safe and loved again.  Written by Nia Vardalos, the star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the book combines humor and truth.  It is a quick yet hearty read.

In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories by Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda.  An excellent book about the lives of black and biracial adoptees adopted into white families that combines compelling personal interviews with facts, history, and the legal state of transracial adoptions.  There is not an “agenda” here as to whether transracial adoptions are good or bad; each person’s experience is authentic and different, and the book offers great insights to those adopting a child from another race.

Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory C. Keck. In this sequel to their Adopting the Hurt Child (1998), Keck and Kupecky explore how parents can help adopted or foster children who have suffered neglect or abuse. They begin by outlining changes in adoption and fostering procedures in recent years and use case studies to document the friction and disruption introduced into a household when a hurt, adopted child is brought into the family. The authors examine attachment disorders and control issues as well as parenting techniques that work and those that don’t work.

Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen.  Cogen, who leads First Year Home groups for adoptive families, and advises parents all over the United States about their internationally adopted children and lectures to organizations across the nation on adoption and child development. Patty Cogen explains behavior patterns of internationally adopted children as related to scientific research in child development and brain development.

Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier.  Primal Wound can be a difficult read for adoptive parents, because it starts with the premise that every adoptee is suffering a primal wound, no matter how wonderful and loving their adoptive families may be.  Some adoptive parents want to reject the idea of a primal wound; others accept it.  I believe it has been helpful for me to have read the book, and I do acknowledge my daughter’s feelings of loss because she was separated from her birthmother.

Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder by Tina Traster.  Rescuing Julia Twice is the unflinching story of a Siberian adoption, from the difficulties of navigating the frigid landscape to the uneasy sense that something is amiss as the child grows from a baby to a toddler to a child.  Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is the elephant in the room every time that Traster and her husband try to interact with their young daughter, Julia.  Traster recounts her feelings of distress and denial before ultimately seeking diagnosis and treatment for her child.  A story that is raw and hopeful, this is a necessary read for those who adopt from foster care, particularly from Russia.

Talking With Young Children About Adoption by Mary Watkins and Dr. Susan Fisher.  This book helps parents, therapists and teachers address the topic of adoption with young children.  It draws on examples of true personal conversations between parents and their children, aged two to 10, from 20 families of all kinds, including single, lesbian and interracial. Psychologist Watkins ( Waking Dream ) and psychoanalyst Fisher (coauthor of To Do No Harm ) are themselves adoptive mothers. Stressing that “the adoptive family integrates diversity,” and that “children come into families in different ways,” the authors seek to prepare parents to acquaint children with their origins through frank talk, stories and play.

The Complete Book of International Adoption: A Step by Step Guide to Finding Your Child by Dawn Davenport. Davenport, an attorney, has firsthand experience with international adoption; she’s the mother of four children, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Davenport covers topics such as choosing between domestic and international adoption, deciding on a country, locating an agency, determining adoption costs and wading through the often overwhelming amount of paperwork. She also delves into emotional issues, including how to know when you’re ready to adopt, anxieties about the health of the baby, worries about becoming a parent and telling other children and/or friends and relatives. Though upbeat, the author doesn’t sugarcoat the experience, exploring the risks of adoption as well as the rewards.  A comprehensive resource guide is included, as well as an invaluable chapter on what to bring and expect when traveling to pick up one’s child.

The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family By Karen Purvis.  “The Connected Child” is a bestselling book that is highly recommended for anyone considering adoption or foster care of children and is particularly important for families with any child who has experienced the trauma of abuse, neglect, abandonment, loss of parent, divorce, or other intensely emotional circumstances.

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler.  I could not put this book down.  It was the first book I read that changed my preconceived childhood ideas about why infants were placed for adoption.  Especially recommended for adoptees and birthmothers from closed adoptions that took place during the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  Reveals the secrecy, shame, and coercion that many birthmothers endured.

The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer.  In this sequel to the autobiography A Child Called It, we learn what happens after Pelzer is removed from the home of his abusive alcoholic mother.  As he moves in and out of foster homes, he seeks love and stability in a very unstable world.  Best read as a series, starting with A Child Called It and finishing with A Man Called Dave, this inspirational series offers hope to those who come from even the most horrifying of backgrounds that resilience is possible and life can get better.

The Open Adoption Experience: A Complete Guide for Adoptive and Birth Families by Lois Ruskai Melina. An excellent guide to open adoption which helps to answer the questions of both birth parents and adoptive parents and allays the fears of both parties.  It works well for planned domestic adoption but is less relevant to those who are doing fos-adopt, as it doesn’t really discuss how to have an ongoing relationship with birth parents who have had their parental rights terminated involuntarily.

The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole by Lori Holden and Crystal Hass.  This book resonated strongly with me.  Although most adoption agencies now recommend open adoptions wherever possible, they often provide little guidance on what an open adoption actually looks like.  Through their own stories and those of other families of open adoption, Lori and Crystal review the secrets to success, the pitfalls and challenges, the joys and triumphs. By putting the adopted child at the center, families can come to enjoy the benefits of open adoption and mitigate the challenges that may arise.

Three Little Words: A Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Couter.  Technically a book for Young Adults, this book provides a voice to marginalized foster children as it tracks the experiences of a young girl who was taken from her birthmother at age four and spent the next nine years in the foster-care system before finding a family to love her.  It is an insightful read both for foster parents and foster children, because it shows the need for compassion on all sides.

Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft  by Mary Hopkins-Best.  The author is a child development expert and mother of a child adopted as a toddler.  She provides a guidebook for those considering toddler adoption or those already struggling with its special challenges. She provides strategies for dealing with issues such as a grieving toddler or attachment disorder.  She also explains normal toddler development and possible variances in the adopted toddler.

Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge.  As an adoptee who was one of the first to fully acknowledge the complex range of emotions that adoptees experience, Eldridge writes to inform adoptive parents of the unique issues adoptees face.  She discusses adoptee anger, mourning, and shame and adoption acknowledgment while using case studies to illustrate how parents can better relate to their adopted child.

You Can Adopt: An Adoptive Families Guide by Susan Caughman and Isolde Motley.  Written by the editor of Adoptive Families magazine, this book is full of practical, realistic adoption advice from leading attorneys, doctors, social workers, and psychologists, as well as honest, intimate stories from real parents and children.

99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Choosing Adoption by Robert A. Kasky and Jeffrey A. Kasky.  99 Things addresses the mysteries and myths that surround and permeate the adoption process, simplifying them for the non-lawyer and keeping the reader entertained all the while. The Kaskys, with their 60+ years of combined experience, efficiently answer all of your questions in a straightforward no-nonsense manner.

This Is My Lemonade: An Adoption Story by Robert Alan Mulkey. Robert Mulkey was adopted as an infant. At age eighteen, he first learned the details of his birth family. This Is My Lemonade shares his momentous thirty-four-year quest to get to know his birth family and understand his identity. He grapples with pain and loss before coming to the point of acceptance and broader familial love.

The Girl Behind The Door: A Father’s Journey Into The Mystery Of Attachment by John Brooks. A California community was shocked and saddened when seventeen-year-old Casey Brooks took her own life, just months before she was intending to start college.  Her devastated father, John Brooks, channeled his grief into searching for answers.  Casey had been adopted from a Polish orphanage when she was a baby, and her emotional pain roots back to problems with attachment that began in her earliest days. Brooks combines a heartbreaking personal narrative with valuable information from experts in the area of attachment.

Additional Books Addressing Issues Often Relevant to Foster Kids and Adoptees:

Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Robert Karen.  This book addresses the deeply complex history and evolution of attachment theory and brings it into today’s world.  The author, formerly a psychotherapist in the pediatric unit of Bellevue Hospital, attempts to demystify “mother love,” or the bond babies have with their primary caregiver (Karen is also concerned with what happens to babies when that bond is disrupted).  A compelling and thought-provoking read.

Raising A Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child With Sensory Processing Issues by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske. Sensory integration dysfunction, also known as sensory processing disorder, affects all kinds of children, from those with developmental delays, attention problems, or autism spectrum disorders, to those without any other issues.  Use this book to learn how to help your child function and navigate the world more easily.

Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Signals: A Practical Daily Use Handbook For Parents and Teachers by Angie Voss.  A well-organized “go to” handbook that is geared for daily use.  It is a quick sensory reference guide designed to work hand in hand with, where you can find free printable handouts, sensory how-to videos, sensory tools and equipment ideas and links.

Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs To Know by Carrie Goldman.  Kids who are different from the mainstream are at elevated risk for being targeted.  Every person deserves a life free from fear and discrimination.  This book offers research-based strategies for dealing with taunting, teasing, cyberbullying, and harassment by peers, with special attention given to the following groups: kids who have autism spectrum disorder; kids who are overweight or physically different; minorities; kids who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender; kids who are quirky; and kids who are “geeky.”  (Full disclosure: I wrote this one.  It rocks.)

Mindset by Carol Dweck.  Reading this book is invaluable, especially if you are trying to raise resilient kids who can face challenges and work through them.  It teaches you how to say goodbye to rigid thinking and how to filter the events of your life through a lens of flexibility, hard work, and success.  If you are a parent, a teacher, a coach, or a person who struggles with feeling like life is a series of obstacles, read this book and learn how it is always possible to change and live a more fulfilled life.

Additional Resources for Adoptive and Foster Parents:

The Donaldson Adoption Institute Check out every one of these publications for extensive research and recommendations on a wide variety of adoption topics.  This is the number one think tank on adoption and should be your go-to for research and publications.

Empowered to Connect An organization providing extensive resources for adoptive and foster families, helping you learn what your child needs and how best to respond.

Theraplay A unique child and family therapy for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement.

Rainbow World A 501.c.3 nonprofit dedicated to creating and distributing multimedia educational content about the international adoption experience. and are all good places to start if you are interesting in learning more about everything adoption-related (i.e. searching for your birth family, learning adoption laws in your state, placing your baby for adoption, finding an adoption agency, etc.) A great place to learn about U.S. foster-care adoption.

Adoption Learning Partners: They offer webinars and affordable online classes for Hague Training requirements, CEUs for adoption professionals, parenting classes for bonding with older adopted children, etc.

Sensory World Substantial collection of sensory-related books, CDs, and DVDs.  Provides education and conferences around the nation, especially for kids with SPD, ASD, ADHD. Feeding solutions for kids with trouble eating or gaining weight, which can be an ongoing issue in malnourished orphans.

Adoption Music: Our favorite CD of adoption songs is called Same Same by Chuck Kent.   It is geared toward younger children.

Looking for top recommended adoption books for children?  Do not miss my fantastic list of children’s adoption and foster care books.  

Interested in submitting your story to the acclaimed Portrait of an Adoption 30-day guest series?  Send an email to with your 1000-2000 word personal essay, 2-3 sentence bio, and optional photo.

Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.

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