Friday, March 07, 2008

Flashback Friday

I've been reading since I was six, but I didn't start this blog until I was forty-two. As you can probably imagine, I finished a lot of books during those 37 years. On this and subsequent Fridays, I will select a book from the "lost years" and discuss it.

Today's book is The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. In 1970 or '71, I found this pocket-sized Scholastic book on the living room bookshelf at my grandparents' house, and asked if I could take it home with me. My grandmother had read the book too, and recommended it warmly, but said that she would like to have it back when I finished. [Sorry, Grammie...] I reread this book constantly through my childhood, entranced by the idea of such a large, loving family. In the early 1990s, I read it together with my son, enjoying it just as much.

First published in 1954, The Family Nobody Wanted is a memoir of a young couple who wanted to have children, but the wife, Helen, was unable. When they decided to adopt, they ran into many obstacles -- the chief one being that they were poor, and at the age of 29, Carl, the husband, had decided to return to college, then seminary to become a minister. By a stroke of luck, they were able to adopt Donny. Helen dreamed of having a little girl as well, but ran into the old, familiar problems with the adoption agencies.

Many of the agencies classified some of the children as "unadoptables". Why? Because they were of different nationalities, or mixed-race children. Back then, adoption was more of a hush-hush issue, so people didn't want children whose appearance would shout to the world: ADOPTED! There was also a feeling that these children were inferior in some way because of their skin color, or from being of mixed-race parentage.

Carl and Helen, who were quite progressive for their time, realized that all of that was stupid and ridiculous. The most important thing, they realized, was to remember that these were children who needed love and a good home. They bucked the prevailing trends, encountering closed-mindedness and prejudice from nearly everywhere, even in their own families. Over several years, they adopted 12 children from almost as many different nationalities. The family eventually attracted so much attention ("a United Nations family!") that they appeared in LIFE magazine. [I've seen the article. Nice story, great photos!] Carl and Helen's example went a long way in changing U.S. adoption policies and attitudes of would-be adoptive parents. People began to look positively at international adoptions. Either directly or indirectly, Angelina Jolie was probably influenced by Helen and Carl Doss.

The Family Nobody Wanted was reissued in 2001 with a new epilogue by Helen Doss, bringing readers up to date on the children in the family, which means that this could be a cross-post for Wishlist Wednesday.


Eva said...

That sounds so interesting! I became fascinated by cross-culture adoption when I was in middle school (I'm not sure why...I'm not adopted, and I didn't know anyone who even had parents from different cultures, much less were adopted). I want to hunt this one down now. :)

Jeane said...

Sounds like a very interesting book. I appreciate hearing about books that aren't spanking new off the press, but a bit aged and maybe not as noticed anymore.

Anonymous said...

I love that book! I picked it up for twenty-five cents at a book fair in Maine, years ago, and I've reread it every few years since.

Bybee said...

It's really a good read.

Actually, I got the idea from you to review things I've read in my past. Knowing the buzz on what's new is great, but discovering the older treasures can really rock a bookworm's world. Thanks for the inspiration!

It's been about 12-15 years since I last read this book and I'd gladly read it again!