As you know, the National Library Board removed several LGBTQ+-friendly and sex education books from its children’s stacks earlier this month. The library board said in a statement that it takes “a pro-family and cautious approach in identifying titles for our young visitors,” and has been resoundingly critiqued for adopting a very, very narrow definition of a “family” (a man; his wife; his biological children; his parents, perhaps). Two “controversial” titles have been shelved in the adult stacks; the rest have been censored and banned.
It is in light of these events—the erasure of certain types of families from public space—that I received a copy of The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #1: Why Am I Blue? by Melanie Lee and illustrated by David Liew.
Why Am I Blue? is the first in a series of six picture books about adoption. Melanie wrote these books for her young son who was adopted as an infant several years ago. She writes, in her author’s note, that this story is her way of letting him know that she will support his decision should there come a day when he wants to find out more about his origins and his birth parents.
Books about adoption are rare in Singapore, which also makes Why Am I Blue? a very important book. Additionally, Why Am I Blue? is also a culturally-specific adoption story. Squirky’s parents are Asian (Chinese); Liew’s illustrations make that clear. Melanie writes: “Unfortunately, adoption is still a relatively taboo and misunderstood subject in Asia, and there are many negative connotations to what is essentially a beautiful coming together of families.”
Why Am I Blue? offers the opportunity for an adopted child to see himself or herself reflected in a book without judgment; to see another child have experiences similar to his or her own; and to develop strategies to cope with issues in his or her own life. But this isn’t a book just for adoptees and their families. Books like Why Am I Blue? help to eliminate cultural centrism; they challenge children to develop multiple perspectives.
Why Am I Blue? also includes a FAQ for parents of young adoptees. Melanie offers tips on how best to respond to a young child’s desire to search for his or her birth parents and how to best comfort a child when he or she expresses loss or grief in being adopted. This is a rarely-available resource here in Singapore; I hope Melanie will continue to support adoptive parents in this way in subsequent volumes of this series.
(Full disclosure: I read Why Am I Blue? in manuscript, and have already read the second volume of this series as one of Melanie’s “beta” readers. Melanie is a dear friend and I am invested in the success of these books as a parent and an educator. It is with this bias that I write this review.)