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Posted Monday, September 26, 2011
Pittsboro, NC - Two years ago Adrienne Bashista wanted to prepare her son, Jacob, for their family's upcoming adoption of a little boy from Russia.
"As a school librarian I naturally looked for a picture book about the subject. Small children sometimes learn better from a story than a straightforward, factual explanation. But surprisingly, there weren't any books on the topic."
She found books on domestic adoption, books about adopting from beautiful tropical countries, and a myriad of books about adopting little girls from China. "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry the day he told me he didn't want a brother from Russia anymore, but wanted a sister from China. I told him a brother was already in the works. We couldn't change our plans."
Over fifty thousand children from Russian and Eastern European countries have been adopted by American families in the past ten years. Russia and China are now the top two countries for people seeking international adoptions, Bashista explains. "I wondered why there weren't any books for our kids. I really thought there should be!"
Frustrated but also seeing an unfilled niche, Bashista decided to write her own book about adoption from Russia. When I Met You: A Story of Russian Adoption, was born.
"I guess I'm entrepreneurial by nature," Bashista says. "I saw a need and I decided that I'd be the one to take care of it."
Bashista, already a published author of articles and book reviews for adults, first had to teach herself about the publishing business. "My mom encouraged me to do it myself. It was the fact that there weren't any books on the subject that convinced me it was a good idea. At the time there was no competition."
Not that having no competition made Bashista treat her business venture any less seriously than if she was up against the bestseller list. "I wanted to create a quality book, with beautiful artwork and with a text that would have wide appeal. As a librarian I was very sure about what I liked and didn't like in a picture book."
"I was inspired to write When I Met You by a posting on an Internet message board," Bashista says. "While we were waiting to go to Russia to get our son Jamie I'd read the message boards and listservs religiously. I wanted to hear about people's successes and to know what we were in for. One day a woman posted about her the anniversary of her daughter's homecoming. She said something that really resonated with me. She said: "when I met her, she wore heavy boots to keep her feet warm from the cold. Now, she wears toe shoes and pirouettes across the kitchen floor. That was inspirational to me. "
My book is set up to contrast "when I met you" and "now." I started with that image of the boots and the ballet dancing in the kitchen and took it from there. The book talks about the food they ate in the orphanage and the food they might eat here, the fact that they lived with a gruppa, which is what the group of children are called who live together in the orphanage, and it also mentions the birth mother. I wanted to acknowledge what I could about life before becoming a member of a family here in the U.S.
Once they brought their son home and had experienced first-hand what his life was like in Russia, Bashista had the rest of the story. "I wanted to acknowledge the big change that these kids experienced. Going from an orphanage to a family is a huge change! New food, new sleeping arrangements, new people — an entirely new life! I didn't want to put down the children's earlier life, although for many of them it was a life of deprivation, but I also didn't want to glorify it. I've gotten a lot of feedback from parents that I managed to strike that balance."
The next step was finding an illustrator. After much searching, Bashista decided on Christine Sykes, an art teacher and artist from Plymouth, Massachusetts. "I wasn't sure what I was looking for in an artist, but when I saw Christine's samples I knew she was the right person.
Now, more than two years after looking for a book that didn't exist, Bashista's book has hit the shelves of bookstores, both brick and mortar, as well as electronic. A second book, Peter's Gift, about a little boy who gets a brother from Russia, is planned for next year, as well as a book about Russian folk holidays and culture.
"Jamie, our adopted son, loves the book. He calls it "my mommy book." Bashista laughs. "I guess that means it's both his book and his mommy's book. And he's exactly right. It's my book but I made it for him and for all the other children adopted from Russia. It's their book now."
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