Foster Kids and Books
Interested in learning about what it’s like to live in foster care? Here’s a list of some books the San Mateo County Library owns about foster children written for adult audiences:
The Language of Flowers: A Novel, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This is set in the City and elsewhere in Northern California, and it’s about Victoria, who has recently aged out of the foster care system at 18. Pretty much homeless, angry and mistrustful after a lifetime of being passed around, neglected and abused, Victoria has a talent. She knows the meanings of flowers (aloe: grief; baby’s breath: everlasting love; cherry blossom: impermanence). A florist in San Francisco hires her, and at the flower market, she meets someone who will cause her to try to open up to him – as well as to face her past.
The Kid: A Novel, by Sapphire.
Sapphire’s novel is the sequel to Push, which was made into a movie, “Precious.” If you didn’t read Push, it’s about an illiterate teenage girl in Harlem who is subjected to terrible abuse by her parents. In a literacy class, she finds her voice and strength. But by the end of the book, she also finds that she is HIV positive. The Kid is about her son, Abdul, who has been placed in foster care after the loss of his mother, Precious. From the reviews, it looks like Abdul recounts a horrific story with graphic depictions of physical and sexual abuse.
Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival, by Margaret B. Jones
When Jones was five, she was taken away from her mother and placed in foster care. The best home she had was with a tough, loving, religious woman in South Central LA who was already raising four grandchildren. Despite the best efforts of this woman, Margaret followed her two foster brothers into the Bloods, and eventually learned to cook crack. But a teacher suggested that she go to college, and she determined to get an education and get out. In her memoir, she tells how she did that – without forgetting the good things about the family and friends she grew up with in South Central.
Three Little Words: A Memoir, by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
I just read this book and had a hard time putting it down. Rhodes-Courter wrote it as a young adult to expand her award-winning essay by the same name (it’s in the back of the book.). The three little words are a surprise in themselves (no spoiler here). When she finally found a permanent home after nine hard years in the foster care system, Ashley wasn’t so sure she wanted to be adopted or trusted her new parents. Despite all she went through, Ashley is now a hopeful, trusting young woman who wants to help and give hope to other foster kids.
Finding Fish: A Memoir, by Antwone Quenton Fisher
Fisher was born in prison to a young single mother, and grew up in foster care in Cleveland. Like most of the other kids in these books, he was abused and neglected by his foster parents, and was mostly not helped by the social workers who were supposed to follow him (until at last his cruel foster mother “sent him back”). He was homeless at seventeen, but after he joined the Navy, he found friends and family, and also gained recognition as the gifted writer he is. Like Three Little Words, Finding Fish is hard to put down. Fisher is now a screenwriter in Hollywood; Denzel Washington made and starred in a movie based on this book, called “Antwone Fisher.”
A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home, by Stephen Pemberton
Pemberton is now a successful corporate executive; as a child, he was an orphan and foster kid who was consoled by a box of books someone gave him. The books – and his dreams of finding his real parents -- gave him hope that there was another world and a place for him away from his mean foster parents.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
By coincidence, I just read this for a book group and realized it, too, was about a foster kid. In the story, Liesel is a poor, illiterate girl in Nazi Germany who is placed in a foster family near Munich. She comes to believe in the power of words and books, and takes to stealing them. So her foster father teaches her to read. Her foster parents end up secretly harboring a Jew in their basement, and Liesel forms a friendship with the young man. Zusak, whose parents are German, wanted people to know the other side of the story of the German people under Hitler. “Zusak's playfulness with language leavens the horror and makes the theme even more resonant--words can save your life,” says the reviewer in Publisher’s Weekly – and I agree.
Want to Learn More?
If you belong to a book club, you can choose a book about a foster child, and have a speaker from the CASA of San Mateo CASA of San Mateo come and talk with you about what it’s like for kids in the foster care system locally. CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) pairs foster children with caring mentors who help them navigate the system.
Contact Nicole Pasini at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in bringing a speaker to your bookclub; Nicole is working on a project to improve San Mateo County Library’s services to foster youth and to communicate the crisis in foster care to the public at large.
Vaughn Harrison works at Half Moon Bay Library and on the Bookmobile. Nicole Pasini is the Branch Manager of the Woodside Library.