The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Ethiopia adoption, books, and the path to wholeness

For years, I’ve gotten emails from parents of adopted Ethiopian kids thanking me for my books that show beautiful Ethiopia and asking if I’ve considered writing a book for the thousands of children who were born in Ethiopia, adopted into families in America.

In my return emails, I say thank you thank you.  Those families (and their school and community libraries) are buying the copies of my Ethiopia-connected books that are keeping them in print.  I recommend Over Land and Sea by Steve Layne.  I talk about the state of publishing.  I encourage people to find the many ways we all have these days to write our stories and hold them out to readers…ways that usually have nothing to do with expensive paper and ink and binding.

I (gulp) bring up expensive paper and ink and binding because it’s hard to find a large enough market–enough buyers–to balance the expenses for telling many of the world’s stories in picture books and novels.  When I was speaking in international schools this spring, I heard over and over that American kids going to school in other countries don’t very often get to see their lives reflected in books.  “Hey,” I said.  “Tell me about it.”  In fact, when I was just such a kid (I’m the one holding the BOOK in the off-to-school black and white picture), I don’t remember seeing my life in a book even once.  That’s why I was pretty tickled with being able to send Lanie’s best friend off to have an adventure in Indonesia saving orangutans.

I’m also tickled to hold a brand new picture book in my hands today.  Nobody knows better than I do what a hard and brave accomplishment it is to create this kind of book.  Hats off to my talented fellow Vermont MFA faculty member, Sharon Darrow (grandparent of an adopted Ethiopian boy), for her brilliant editing…and to the great author and illustrator and the brave publisher, Amharic Kids (

Author Melissa Fay Greene writes in the introduction, “Love and family are enough to help a child thrive in almost every way but this one: the human need to feel part of a deeply rooted, vibrant, and growing family tree….The message we relay to the children who are ours by adoption needs to be: You came from somewhere.  You came from good people.  You came from this spot on the globe.”

Whew.  Yes.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing the teachers and parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins who are using their powerful dollars to buy books– especially books where the children of Ethiopia can see their faces and lives in those pages.  As Melissa Fay Greene says, knowing where we come from and who we are is the path to wholeness.  (Trouble available at

14 thoughts on “Ethiopia adoption, books, and the path to wholeness”

  1. This is so awesome and exciting!!! Thank you thank you thank you for posting this. I can’t wait to get this book!

  2. After reading your post I immediately went online and ordered every book you listed (and some more, besides!). I will be sharing these books with a family I have come know and love from Paradise Valley, Ariz. They now have four Ethiopian-born children under the age of 4!

  3. Thank you so much for your books. I found two of them as I was looking for gifts for a classroom of refugee kids from the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea). It’s just wonderful to find their faces and stories depicted in print. I have mentioned the two I found in my book review blog, but will certainly keep looking for the others. With gratitude, Alison Sampson, Melbourne, Australia.

  4. Jane
    This is such a great blog. Over the years I have used so many of your books in my classes even though we have not communicated since I was in grad school in Iowa. I am doing a presentation on Saturday in Birmingham, AL at the Black Caucus American Library Association conference. The title “The World is Round as Well as Brown” and while completing my research I thought of you. I got attached to “Ethiopia Books for Children” then moved to “Ethiopia Reads” and then your blog. Wow! What a fantastic blog. I have enjoyed it so much. Thanks so much for making a difference in children’s literature.

    Nancy D. Tolson

    • Wow, Nancy. Great to hear from you after all this time. Please spread the word that my son and daughter-in-law (who’s Ethiopian) and their two kids just left Lawrence and moved to Birmingham, and I’d love an opportunity to do an author visit there sometime. Thanks so much for spreading the word about Ethiopia Reads and about my books.

  5. Hi Jane,
    Just wanted to say that we love your books at our house and have nearly all of them! My daughters, both Ethiopian, pushed and pushed our library to also get them. 😉 Thanks for all you do for our Ethiopia! Hope you come up to the coastal NH area sometime, as I know we would love to meet you. Do you ever get up this way? Do you do library readings?

    Thanks again!

    • That’s terrific, Beth. I love it that you took time to let me know. I do come to Vermont twice a year to teach in the MFA in children’s literature program (low residency) and also do a writing retreat in the Boston area. In terms of what I “do” when I’m on the road, I’ll happily go and speak to a group anywhere–house, library, church, Rotary meeting, school, community center just to name a few where I’ve been a lot–that wants to hear about reading and Ethiopia. It just takes someone to organize it (and cover my expenses). Jane


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