I’m forever on the look-out for books that my children will enjoy reading and/or listening to me read, a task more daunting than it may appear. Olivia and Mateo know what they like, and it’s not everything. My unscientific research reveals a few surefire elements: likeable characters around 7 and 9, the same ages as my kids; a fun and engaging plot that’s not “too scary”; and a cast that includes cute, furry animals, preferably small.
So when a friend recommended Susan Clymer’s There’s a Hamster in My Lunchbox, published in 1994, and gave it this review: “Sweet school-kids. Not scary at all. A cute, furry Teddy Bear hamster named Squeaks. Oh, and by the way, the main character is a girl named Elizabeth, who was born in Honduras and adopted by a single mom from Kansas,” I took note. A chapter book about a cute, furry hamster that also featured an adoption theme? I ordered a copy that afternoon. (Used, on Amazon; the title is currently out of print.)
As I introduced the book to my kids I made no mention of the underlying theme, but when I got to page six and read this paragraph about the hamster known as Squeaks–
“Can we adopt her?” Elizabeth asked softly. She knew all about adoption. She had been born in Central America in a country called Honduras. Mom had adopted her when she was a baby. Her little sister had been adopted, too. –
Mateo turned to me with wide eyes, and in a voice filled with wonder said, “Elizabeth’s adopted too!”
Olivia, less impressed, said nothing, but the fact registered. I know this because a few chapters later my daughter said, in the world-weary tone of an older, wiser sister, ”I’m tired of thinking about adoption. Can we move on?”
In our home, adoption is a subject that’s discussed, debated, and dissected, and has been for many years. Maybe too much, too often? Reading the book together gave Olivia a way to communicate the complexity of her feelings about adoption, without having to tell me directly. Sometimes, she’d just rather not think about it, thank you very much. That’s important information I need to hear, too.
Two thumbs up from us for There’s a Hamster in My Lunchbox. Even without the adoption theme, the book is a good, fun read.