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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Letter of Love from China Scores Big With Resident Kid Lit Expert

Although I read a lot of picture books to my kids, I've never reviewed one on BBB. So, I was really excited to get this one in the mail. Since adoption has been a big topic of discussion at our house lately (if you don't know why, click here), Letter of Love from China by Bonnie Cuzzolino (illustrated by Jax Bennett) struck a chord with our family. It especially touched my 6-year-old daughter.

On her website, Cuzzolino explains that she wrote the book in response to a question from her daughter, Jillian Mei. The child, who was adopted from China in 2001, wanted to know what her birthmother might tell her given the chance. So, Cuzzolino imagines a Chinese mother writing a letter to the baby girl she is placing for adoption. The mother explains Chinese law, which limits family size, requiring many babies to be placed in orphanages. She talks of wanting her daughter to have a "prosperous life, filled with much happiness," wishes that can come true only through her adoption into a new family. Still, the birthmother tells her baby, China will always be a part of you. She goes on to describe the country's landscape, traditions and celebrations. It ends with a plea to "look to the light of the moon ... and there you will see my face, which is the reflection of your own beautiful face."

I found the story sweet, although not spectacularly written or illustrated. The writing is very simple and straightforward, with no real images or phrases that stand out. It's a nice story, but it lacks the kind of sparkle that makes me want to read it over and over again (or at least not groan when my child hands it to me for the 50th time that week). I feel similarly about the illustrations, which are chunky and rough - I don't hate them, but they don't particularly move me either. The thing I do like about the book is the perspective it gives on birthmothers, especially those in China, who bravely choose to place their daughters in orphanages rather than take extreme measures to "honor" Chinese law. I also liked that Letter of Love from China offers loving affirmations that will help adopted children empathize with the mothers who gave birth to them.

While the book garnered a lukewarm response from me, my daughter loved it. The story stuck with her (she explained it in detail to her grandma a couple hours after she read it), and she loved the bright pictures, especially the one of the dragon parade on Chinese New Year. In fact, Letter of Love from China inspired her to write her own adoption story, which ends with our family adopting the infant (have I mentioned she has baby sisters on the brain?). So, while I thought Cuzzolino's book was nice, but not outstanding, my daughter clearly disagrees. And, I have to say, if there's a kid lit expert in my house, it's my little girl. Cuzzolino scores more points with her than she did with me, but we both agree that Letter of Love from China carries a sweet and important message. We recommend it for anyone who is adopting, has adopted, or just wants to better understand the process.

Grade: B


  1. Hi Susan,
    Sorry to hear my book did not make a big hit with you but I am happy to hear it did with your daughter.

    We all have different personalities and no one book is ment to appeal to everyone.
    Thank You.
    Bonnie Cuzzolino

  2. Don't fret, Bonnie! You probably caught Susan on a "cranky" day .. Your book sounds marvelous and the illustrations are precious.

    (Now if only Susan could a have a few less "cranky" reviews) Lol!

  3. What?? Me? Cranky?? No way!

    Like I mentioned, I don't usually review picture books, so I actually found this review really difficult to write. I guess I compared this book to the picture books I love - Polar Express; I Love You This Much; the Arthur books; Max & Ruby, etc. - and it just wasn't as good as those. It was good, it just didn't enchant me like the above books do. Does that make sense?

    The important critic here is my daughter, because Love Letter From China is a children's book and she is a child. From the moment I got the book in the mail, dd wanted it. She loved everything about it - the subject matter, the story itself, the illustrations, everything! My point is that her opinion is the one that really counts here, since the best person to judge a children's book is an expert - in other words, a child :)

  4. It is a "nice" book. However it candycoats much of the issues and is not well researched. The pictures alone show that the author or illustrator has not spent much time in a Chinese orphanage.

  5. I loved my gd's retelling and I loved the book she was inspired to write and illustrate in response to being exposed to this book. I also love that she can read, write, and illustrate at age 6. That is inspiring!

  6. I got this book from Pump it Up too and will be reviewing it soon.


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