It's hard for me to find anything not to like about a Grace Lin book. From her realistic yet adorable illustrations, to her sensitive characters and her affinity for detail (both in words and pictures), Lin just about never takes a misstep.
And there's a lot to like about Lin's picture book, The Red Thread. For one thing, this is a great way for adoptive families to share with young children the story of their own experience. Lin sets the story as a traditional fairy tale with familiar elements. The king and queen of a prosperous land have everything, but they are very sad and in great pain. After consulting a mysterious peddler, the king and queen discover there is a red thread pulling from their hearts. The more they pull away from the thread, the more it hurts. The only solution is to follow the red thread. It is an arduous journey, but at last they come to a distant land and discover what is on the other end of the thread - a beautiful baby girl who belongs to them!
In typical Lin fashion this book is gorgeous, with lots of small details that add texture to the picture. The story, too, comes to life with details - the king and queen's journey, for example, and the fact that they gradually lose their fine appearance and become tattered and ragged. I also love that the tale is bookended by a transracial family who is reading the story to their own child, presumably who herself is adopted.
Just a couple small things nag at me, however. First, I don't love the subtitle: "an adoption fairy tale". Maybe it's because of that assumption that adoption automatically equates to "happily ever after" (which it may, but it also may not), maybe it's just that the pairing of the terms feels off to me -- either way, I could do without this part. Also, the tale itself is singular in focus, very much geared toward what the prospective adoptive parents go through and with little consideration given to the child or her first family. I'm not comfortable with how readily the king and queen scoop up their baby and return to their normal lives. Adoption isn't this seamless, in most cases, nor should it be.
Granted, adoption is a complex issue, many would argue too complex for a picture book to examine fully. Also, this is presented as a fairy tale, and therefore idealized. But it's worth noting these issues so that adoptive families who might be sharing the book with their own families can be aware of them, and discuss with their kids as necessary. When I read it with Sprout, we talked about his Ethiopia family, retelling their story to him and emphasizing the centrality of their place in his life.
Overall, however, this is a great book with lots to recommend it, and an excellent addition to home, school and public libraries. Use this to start the adoption conversation with all children, no matter how they came into their family.
The Red Thread by Grace Line, published by Albert Whitman and Company
Sample: "And sure enough, when the queen put on the glasses, she could see a brilliant red thread coming from her heart. It ran around the room, out the castle door, and far beyond. With every move she made, the thread pulled and twisted, causing her pain."