Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Allison Olson

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Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.

Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you so much for joining us for another interview with one of our amazing honorees! For this interview, we were able to speak with Allison Olson, author of the Mom’s Choice Award-winning book, “Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story.” This modern take on the “where did you come from?” adoption book celebrates open adoption. Through words and illustrations, the characters express the immense amount of love that everyone involved in the process feels for the adoptee. This story is narrated by Wanda, a wise old owl who has flown all around, seen many things, and has a story to tell. She watches the birth mother and adoptive parents as they all prepare for the birth and adoption of the young adoptee. This story shows how both sides of open adoption are centered on the love of the child. Keep reading to find out more about Allison and her wonderful book, “Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story!”

MCA: Hi Allison, thank you so much for joining us today, and a huge congratulations on your Mom’s Choice Award! A book is one of the best methods we have for getting our children to talk about and think about new ideas. This is why children’s books about important topics such as open adoption are so important! Can we first start off the interview by having you tell us a bit about yourself?

Allison Olson, award-winning author of "Surrounded by Love!"

Allison Olson, award-winning author of “Surrounded by Love!”

Allison: I’m an adoptee, adoptive parent, and a children’s adoption book author. My mission is to change the adoption narrative from the “lucky” child to the “loved” child through children’s literature. This story, Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story, shows how both sides of open adoption are centered on the love of the child.

Born in 1979, I was part of closed adoption, which is why I celebrate open adoption. I want to make sure there are books that reflect this loving relationship with both birth and adoptive families.

I live in Oregon with my husband, two daughters, and our two new kittens Bo and Aero. I love to travel, spend time with my family, try new activities and food, watch movies, and read.

MCA: Oregon is so beautiful, I’m sure there is no shortage of writing inspiration living there! Speaking of inspiration, what was your path to becoming a writer like? What inspired you?

Allison: Honestly, I never set out to become an author. Since this story did not exist, I knew I had to write it.

As we waited for our daughter to be born, I wondered if she would ever know how much we wanted her in our family, or how much her birth family cared for her. In preparation for her arrival, I purchased all of the top children’s adoption books on the market. None told the story I wanted to tell.

This book is a love story from beginning to end. Making the adoptee the center of the book and showing all of the love that surrounded them from both sides. That is why I gave it the title, Surrounded by Love. Being an adoptee, I’m passionate about having adoptees grow up knowing their self-worth.

A 2013 study showed that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees. That statistic is shocking and needs to change. That is why I want to transform the adoption narrative in children’s books from the “lucky” child to the “loved” child. My goal is to provide a different foundation for our daughter and other adoptees.

MCA: Tell us how your unique perspective of being both an adoptee and adoptive parent lead you to write “Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story?”

Allison: It’s rare for children’s adoption books to be written by an adoptee, but even rarer to have an adoptee that is also an adoptive parent author this type of book. It gives me a unique perspective on both how it felt to grow up being adopted and to go through the long journey to become an adoptive parent. This combination helps me to be relatable to the young adoptee and adoptive parents, but also to show respect and care for the representation of the birth mom since she is a very important main character to this book.

MCA: What are some of the key lessons found in “Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story” and what makes it unique in the adoption children’s book space?

Allison: I believe as an adoptee I can truly understand and appreciate how important both the birth mom and adoptive parents are to an adoptee, which is why it was imperative that I write this book. There are four key themes that I wanted to get across in the book that make it different from other children’s adoption books on the market today. This book…

  • Portrays birth mom and adoptive parents in a positive light
  • Builds confidence and self-esteem about being adopted
  • Is a love story for young adoptees
  • Highlights the beauty of open adoption

MCA: Can you tell us the importance of your mission to change the adoption narrative from the “lucky” child to the “loved” child?

Allison: There has been a theme of adoptive parent saviorism in the adoption community that has really intensified over the past few decades. Societal norms from books, movies, tv shows, parental behaviors/attitudes, etc. can make an adoptee feel like they should feel or express gratitude to adoptive parents for “saving” them through adoption. This was not as prevalent when I was growing up in the 1980s, or at least not in my household.

This “lucky” theme has lifelong damaging implications on an adoptee. No one should feel grateful to another human being for simply living. It’s also a very strange narrative considering the immense amount of love that a birth mom has for her child to make the decision of adoption. In our daughter’s particular case, her entire birth family and our family love her very much. In fact, even if a different adoptive family had been chosen to raise her, they would’ve loved her. No matter which situation had turned out for her life, she was always going to be loved and cared for. It is us, the adoptive parents, who are the lucky ones to get to spend our lives with her. I understand that all adoption situations are different, and some are more difficult than others. Even in the toughest of situations it does not change the fact that this “lucky” theme is an unhealthy narrative to be saying and illustrating to a child.

There are several children’s adoption books on the market today that still carry this “lucky” theme, along with movies, TV shows, etc. This is why I am passionate about changing the adoption narrative to the “loved” child. It’s the first images they see and words they hear represented in books being read to them about their adoption situation. My first book, Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story, is focused on changing that message for the adoptee and my next book is focused on educating the young friends of the adoptee.

A narrative can only change when everyone is educated, both adoptees and non-adoptees. Every child should know they are loved and be able to see their family situation in a book, as well as learn about different ways families are created.

MCA: Tell us about the beautiful illustrations that can be found within “Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story!”

The Mom's Choice Award-winning book, "Surrounded by Love!"

The Mom’s Choice Award-winning book, “Surrounded by Love!”

Allison: Adoption is a sensitive topic, so it was important to me to find an illustrator that could portray all of the different feelings and expressions I wanted to be shown in the book. I found the perfect illustrator, Darlee Urbiztondo. Her artwork is beautiful, whimsical, and full of emotion. Her images skillfully capture the complex emotions involved in this story. When I spoke to her about this project she was inspired because her older brother is adopted. I truly believe that it’s because of both of our personal relationships with adoption that this story contains so much passion and love.

Darlee has also added a subtle, but very meaningful element to the illustration. If you look closely at the book the birth mom is always represented in pink, the adoptive mom in yellow, and the adoptive father in blue. As the young adoptee grows up, she is wearing a piece of all of those colors to show the lifelong impact each of these key individuals has on her life.

MCA: What kind of response from readers have you received?

Allison: The response to the book has been amazing! I’ve received very positive feedback from adoptive parents, adoptees, birth mothers, birth families, and people outside of the adoption community. Within the adoption community, I hear people say things like “finally a book that tells our adoption story”. I’ve even had birth mothers reach out to me and say they have purchased the book for their child and adoptive parents. From outside of the adoption community, I hear from parents that they were unaware of how open adoption works and appreciated having a book to share with their children to show that there are many diverse ways to build a family. Here are a few editorial reviews.

“…this book sends a clear and tender message about the beauty of open adoption.” — Lorri Antosz Benson, Birth Mom, Author

“… a welcome addition to the libraries of families formed through adoption.” — Abbie Goldberg Ph.D., Open Adoption Advocate, Professor of Psychology and Author

“I spoke out about being a birth mother because I wanted to see any “shame” erased. You are helping to make that happen [through this book]!” — Faith Ireland, Birth Mom, Justice Washington Supreme Court (Ret.)

“Stories like this are why I co-founded American Adoptions … 30 years ago.” — Scott Mars, Adoptee, Co-Founder of American Adoptions

MCA: All much-deserved praise, “Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story” is truly such a special book. We cannot wait to see what you come out with next!

You can learn more about Allison Olson and her award-winning book, “Surrounded by Love: An Open Adoption Story” by visiting her MCA Shop pages.

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