All Bears Need Love – You Know They Do!
|Tanya and her son Ben
My writing pal, Tanya Valentine, is the sweet and savvy force behind the children’s award-winning picture book, All Bears Need Love, which deals with the subject of interracial adoption. Tanya is pictured above with her son, Benjamin.
As one of Tanya’s critique partners, I was fortunate to read All Bears Need Love in its early stages. What rang true then, as now, is Tanya’s deep heart for, and understanding of, her topic.
All Bears Need Love is the story of Baby Brown Bear who arrives alone and afraid at City Zoo. Mama Polar Bear loves him and adopts him as her own. As Mama counters all of the adult animals’ objections, one sees through the beautiful illustrations (offered by artist Adam Taylor) that, unlike the adults, the children accept Baby Brown Bear. The unspoken message is that prejudice is a learned behavior, and it is handled here with subtle grace.
Here are a few excerpts from All Bears Need Love, followed by my interview with Tanya:
The giraffe scoffed. “But he doesn’t look like you.”
“I think he’s beautiful,” said Mama Polar Bear.
The elephant frowned. “But you don’t know where he came from.”
“What matters is that he’s here now,” said Mama Polar Bear.
The monkey screeched “But you have your own cubs to care for!”
“A mother’s heart grows with love for ALL her children,” said Mama Polar Bear.
The kangaroo sneered. “He’s too different. This will never work.”
“Family is family, no matter the differences,” said Mama Polar Bear.
1. Please explain what led you to write All Bears Need Love.
My husband and I adopted our son, Ben, and the flood of questions and comments we received from friends, family, and complete strangers was overwhelming and (probably naively) unexpected. Some were well-meaning and others were intentionally hurtful. You know when someone says something and an hour later you think of a real zinger of a comeback? Writing All Bears was my way of working through those belated zingers and addressing a lot of those comments. Once I got it on paper I decided it would be a keepsake for Benjamin. But, as every writer knows, your work is pure genius and you must share it with the world!
So . . . I entered it into the picture book contest at MeeGenius.com. While I’m pretty sure it wasn’t considered genius by anyone, the response was amazing. All Bears placed 1st runner up! MeeGenius hired Adam Taylor to illustrate it and I could not be more pleased with the beautiful job he did bringing my book to life.
2. Why do you think there are so few picture books devoted to adoption and, specifically, interracial adoption?
It’s a small niche and probably not terribly profitable for publishers. But I think it is important that all children are represented – especially children of color and families who are not typical. There are a few books out there. One of my favorites is A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza. There is a great list compiled by Carrie Goldman at ChicagoNow. While we are still reading picture books, I’m happy to see some books for big kids on this list. Hopefully publishers will invest in more books for our kids.
3. What is the single most important theme you hope kids and adults will take away from this book, and is it the same for each?
I want kids to know they are wanted. They are loved. And what matters most isn’t necessarily where you came from but where you are now.
4. I Googled the book and linked to all the sites where it is mentioned and the reception is overwhelmingly positive. You have to be stoked about that, right? Picture books are a tough market, so what’s your secret?
I am thrilled with the response to my book and incredibly grateful to the adoption/foster communities and bloggers who have reviewed it and shared it. Picture books are a tough market but there are very few books about adoption – even fewer books about interracial adoption – and even fewer about the questions adoptive families will encounter. So, it fits a niche, I think. But it is also a story about a mom and a baby – about family.
5. You’re an adoption expert due to firsthand experience with the process, so what advice would you offer newcomers hoping to bring home their own little bear?
Each adoption is different. I’m only an expert at my own but I am always happy to encourage and help anyone who is interested in adoption. As far as advice . . . I guess I’d just tell them to hang in there. Our adoption moved quickly – 4 months from deciding to adopt to bringing Ben home – but even then there were false starts, many expenses, and mounds of red tape. It’s a roller coaster ride, to be sure. But, when you bring your kid home, it’s worth every bit of it.
6. What is the single biggest/coolest thing to happen as a direct result of publishing this book?
There are a few really cool things that have happened. My kids proudly show my book to their friends, teachers, librarians. They are old enough now that any Not-Being-Mortified-By-Mom moments I get from them are amazing. Actor Ryan Reynolds retweeted my book to his twitter followers – I always imagine he did this shirtless for some reason. Leigh Anne Touhy (The Blind Side) sent me the absolute sweetest and most encouraging email when she read my book. The Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption shared the ChicagoNow book list I was included in. That was huge. But receiving notes and reviews from adult adoptees has been overwhelming. When someone tells you your book made them cry . . . that’s pretty fantastic.
Thanks, Tanya, for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m thrilled with the success you’ve achieved with All Bears Need Love, especially since this isn’t a story you simply created, but one that grew from real love.
Readers — Please leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of All Bears Need Love signed by the author, Tanya Valentine. If you have kids, teach kids, know kids or just love kids, this is a book you’ll be happy to share. The story is sweet, the message universal. I love this book and I know you and any child you read it with will, too.
See y’all next week for the naked truth about . . . Critiques.
Have a great week –