The Adventures of Squirky the Alien

A Children's Book Series on Adoption


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Squirky Wraps Up

Here’s what we’ve been up to these past few weeks, in a somewhat chronological order:

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“Tested” the final Squirky book with a storytelling and craft session at the Bukit Timah Community Club’s Reading Club with around 30 children. Squirky stuff toy almost got stolen, one girl cried upon realising there would be no more Squirky books, and one boy said the leaf skirt craft activity was dumb because “I am not a girl”. Realised while helping the nth toddler to string leaves that I am really not a craft person, but hey, some kids pulled off the Gardener skirt pretty darn well.

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A few days later, Squirky got a half page story in The Straits Times for winning the Crystal Kite Award (read full story here). The photojournalist, Marcus Tan, was absolutely meticulous about styling Squirky, and so even though I really don’t like being photographed, I like this image very much because Squirky was given due limelight.

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It was fun to be more involved in the Asian Festival of Children’s Content this year, moderating sessions with all these intelligent and experienced editors and writers really made me appreciate these steely women (they all happened to be female) negotiating the challenges of book publishing. The highlight was co-presenting a talk on “Being Honest About Difficult Issues Through Stories” with Professor Ruth Wong (we’d been discussing it since late last year). I was really excited to present all of Buddy’s favourite adoption books as case studies for my part of the presentation. Confession: I actually choked up a little during my part of the presentation, mostly because it really hit me how potentially significant children’s books can be. During the Q&A, I was actually taken by surprise when so many educators were asking about how to introduce a topic like adoption in the classroom. I think that’s a great sign!

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We also launched Squirky Book #6 during AFCC with a little art jam. There’s David doing his thing while also snuggling with Squirky. His “art jamming” always delights the children, and what’s more important, he is always so generous with his art and that big-heartedness always gets kids to open up (whether through the things they say or through their own art).

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A few days after AFCC, I went up to Kuala Lumpur to do a “Squirky Party” at the MPH Bookstore in 1 Utama shopping centre. For some strange reason, this event attracted older kids, but they were totally sporting and loads of fun.

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This is not the end end though! Squirky will still be popping up here and there throughout the year, though with far less frequency now that the book series is over.  I felt it was necessary to launch the last book with some oomph, and in some strange way, it did, in ways I would not have expected.

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Six things to know about Squirky #6

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We’re launching the final Squirky book later this month at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (more details to come soon) and we’re so glad (yet sentimental) that this series is coming to an end.

Here are six things to look forward to in this book:

1. Quentin (aka Red Commander) meeting Squirky’s Daddy and Mummy back on Earth!
2. A few gorgeous doublespreads illustrated by David (we played around with the layout a little for this last book)!
3. A sneak peek at what Squirky and Emma look like when they are older!
4. Tying up (most of the) loose strings after Book #5!
5. An adoptive parent resource on how to disclose with sensitivity with insights from adoption counsellors.
6. Re-visiting the earlier Squirky books again to see how Squirky has evolved during this awesome space adventure and appreciating the story as a complete tale!

We hope you are just as excited about the last book as we are!


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Author Matthew Salesses: The Space Belongs to Adoptees

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The first time I read American author Matthew Salesses’ experience as an adoptee, I was blown away not just by his way with words, but also by this burning frankness that I never get from reading the “self-help” kind of adoption literature (even those that interview adult adoptees).

Matthew was adopted from Korea at the age of two. After reading a couple more of his wonderfully thoughtful (and sometimes, emotionally hard-hitting) essays, I e-mailed him last year asking if I could feature him on this blog. Even though he is on a whirlwind book tour for his first novel, he said he would definitely get back to me at some point because he was “happy to do anything that can help people in the adoption triad”.

He finally did a few days ago. His answers have made me realise that there are many more adoption perspectives I have not considered, and strangely links to a realisation I had while writing the 5th Squirky book (which I’ll be talking more about in the next post). But for now, here’s Matthew:

Could you tell us briefly what it was like growing up in a transracial adoptive family?
I’m not sure it can be told briefly. I’ve written various essays about it, but none of them have captured the full complexity. It’s very complicated. There’s this essay I like on racial melancholia and Asian American literature, about the inability to get over the thing you are mourning because you never really possessed it. That’s one way to describe it.

Have you contacted/searched for your birth family? Why or why not?
I have never searched for my birth family in the way you need to if you want to find your birth family. When I was younger, I didn’t know enough about how to search, and how many lies people are told, and now (or so I tell myself at least) I don’t have time. I never wanted to upset my adoptive parents, either.

What would you say to adoptive parents who want to help their children find out more about his/her parents but their children show no interest?
I would say that there are a lot of potential traps there. Again, I never wanted to upset my parents, to make them feel betrayed or whatever. They never brought up searching, which made it feel like it would be a betrayal if I did. If they had pushed it, though, I suspect I would have felt (at least at first) like they were pushing me away or highlighting my difference, or testing me, and I would have refused because that would have seemed like the best way for me to tell them I love them.

There was also the fact that I didn’t want to be seen as different and didn’t want my parents to feel the pain of difference that I always felt. The adoptee is always saving the adoptive parents. So what I would say is that “show no interest” doesn’t mean “not interested.” I think it would have helped if I had felt that the option was available, that I finally had a choice in the matter. I, and I suspect other adoptees, needed to be able to come to things in my own time, on my own terms. My own time and terms were constantly things denied me.

Could you suggest how adoptive parents and agencies/institutions can create a space for adoptees to contribute more towards the adoption narrative and/or adoption issues?
I like the intention here, but I think the question starts with the assumption that the space is for the adoptive parents and agencies to give to adoptees. It should be the adoptees’ space first and foremost. It should be the adoptees’ option to give space to adoptive parents and agencies/institutions to contribute to the narrative or not. I don’t think this is so different from the way we look at parenting in general. I’m not giving my daughter space to be herself. I’m trying not to take away space from who she is-she owns herself and I’m trying to keep society from telling her differently.
You can find out more about Matthew Salesses here and reach him on Twitter @salesses

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 Do also check out his novel The Hundred-Year Flood, which has picked up a bunch of accolades such as  A Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2015, A Buzzfeed Pick for 17 Awesome New Books You Need to Read This Fall, A Refinery29 Pick for Best Summer Reading and A Gawker Review of Books Pick for 9 Must-Reads for the Fall.


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Sharon Ismail: Adoption Taught Me About Family

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Sharon Ismail is a familiar face in Singapore for her acting and hosting work in theatre and television. She’s also a polytechnic lecturer and a children’s book author. In fact, her first book “What Sallamah Didn’t Know” (2007) is based on her mother’s adoption story. Here’s an excerpt of the synopsis:

“Sallamah grew up thinking that her life was ordinary. She lived in an ordinary kampong with an ordinary family and had an ordinary group of friends whom she played ordinary games with. Little did she realize that a piece of paper would change the reality of all that she knew and understood.”

Sharon is hoping to continue this story with a 2nd Sallamah book out next year. I had a chat with her recently to find out more about why she wanted to write about adoption.

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Hi Sharon, why did you want to tell this story?

My mother is Chinese and she was adopted by a Malay family. I’ve realised that in her generation, inter-racial adoption was actually quite common, but there are no statistics or studies formally looking into this phenomenon. We hear of people being adopted by families of another race, but they are all personal anecdotes, and I felt that I wanted to create a more permanent record of this for my daughters.

How did you find out your mother was adopted?

I was 13 years old and at the wet market with my mother, waiting for my father to pick us up. Out of the blue, she said, “By the way, you’re half Chinese.” There was no prior conversation, but some things began to add up. People always mentioned that she looked Chinese and that she looked different from her siblings.

How did this piece of news affect you?

Nothing was different on the surface, but my understanding of family began to change. I didn’t love my grandparents any less, my grandfather still picked me up from school everyday, but I saw them in a different light. They had two biological children and four adopted children, and I realise how undiscriminating they were in their love to bring these babies into their family. Family is not necessarily the one you are born into, but the one who loves you. “Blood is thicker than water” deserves a rethink because if that were true, my mother and I would not be here today.

How does your mother regard her adoption?

I don’t really know as she doesn’t really talk about it. She is used to not talking about it because she came from a time when there was a huge stigma on adoption. Adopted children were perceived as being discarded and picked up from a rubbish bin. My mother does have some information on her biological family, and I did suggest that she open up the search by telling her story to the newspapers (many older adoptees in Singapore have found their biological relatives that way). However, she really doesn’t want to make a fuss and I respect her decision.

How have readers responded to your story?

It’s been really heartwarming to have people come up to thank me for telling their parents’ stories. Some adoptive parents have also told me that this book has helped them start the disclosure discussion with their children. I’d initially self-published this book under the First-Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative, but it was later picked up by Scholastic Asia and it has been translated into four languages. The Ministry of Education also made this book part of their Primary 6 English text under the STELLAR (Strategies for English Learning and Reading) syllabus.

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Thanks so much, Sharon! I really enjoyed the evocative descriptions in this book (e.g. “This little bundle was fair and chubby, with dark hair so fine that it stood straight up and swayed gently whenever a breeze curled its way around her.”) and it is such a necessary Singaporean story. You can borrow it from the library here or purchase a copy here.

1st image courtesy of Sharon Ismail


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Olivia Talks About Adoption

“Hi, my name is Olivia and I am 12 years old. I was from Indonesia, Jakarta. My parents adopted me when I was two and a half months old. I am just a regular kid but just came to my family in a different way. I am very open about my adoption, so I don’t have any problems sharing about it.”

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Olivia (top) with her family

Hi Olivia, can you tell us how has your understanding of adoption has changed over the years?
When I was younger, I thought that I was put up for adoption because my birth family didn’t want me. However, now, I understand that I was put up for adoption as my birth family wanted me to have a better life.

What made you decided to help your mum at the adoption disclosure workshops over?
I tag along with my mother for these talks when I’m free. I like to experience talking to a crowd about adoption. Even though my mom is the main speaker, I feel that what she shares may not be enough information. The parents there might also want to know from a child’s perspective what disclosure is like. Thus, they get a bonus when I turn up!

What has your experience like being in these disclosure workshops?
I find it quite fun observing people reacting to what I say. Some are quite shocked when I share how annoying I can be to my mum! Others are interested to know how I did school assignments like drawing a family tree or answering science questions about genes.

What has your take been on finding out more about your birth parents?
I am going to find them when I turn 18. It’s a promise from my parents.

What are some things you wonder about your birth parents?
I wonder about how they are doing. I also wonder if they still remember me, and if so do they miss me?

Do also check out my interviews with a birth mother and an adoption consultant on this blog. 


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A Birth Mother Shares

There are days when I wonder about C’s birth parents. We only saw their passport photos. Did he get his charming smile and love for music from them? How did they feel when they handed him over to the adoption agency?

I recently connected with Rachel Roberts, a clinical social worker from California. Ten years ago, she gave her daughter up for adoption (I wish there was a more politically correct way to say this). I really appreciate how meticulously and authentically she shares this experience, because it’s something that has always seemed elusive to me. I hope that you too will be blessed by her words.

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Why and how did you decide that your daughter should be adopted?

The counsellor that I worked with helped me look at every option with an unplanned pregnancy. She helped me see what life would be like as a parent, what life would be like making an adoption plan and she educated me on the different types of adoption. It wasn’t until my 7th month of carrying my daughter that I decided adoption was the best option for both of us. The final agreement between me and her parents was a semi-open adoption contract with the goal of her becoming fully open over time. They expressed a desire that she either grow up always knowing me or waiting until she was old enough to decide to meet me.

I was fortunate to have two loving parents raising me and that’s when I started to realise something. I realised that every child born should be born with the same amount of opportunities, but unfortunately, they are not. I knew that I could not welcome her into this world in the same amazing way that I was welcomed into this world and by choosing to parent her myself, I felt selfish.

Her life was not my life but I was entrusted by God to make the most profound decision of her life on her behalf. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot. I ate a lot! Most importantly, I wrote in a journal, which saved my sanity. I think it will serve as a wonderful buffer for the time when my daughter and I can rebuild our relationship. I wrote in it every day. I wrote down my thoughts about pregnancy, about her. I wrote down her measurements and heartbeats that were reported at my doctor’s appointments. I passed this on to her when we said goodbye. I included a picture of me and a picture of her father. I included some pictures of our family with her in the hospital. I wanted her to look at it and know that there was nothing but love for her in this world.

 How did you feel when you had to let your daughter go to her adoptive family? 

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. She was crying in her crib and I was crying and I held her and kissed her all over her face and held her little hand. I could not physically place her back into the crib because to me, it felt like abandonment to just place her back down in the crib alone with no one holding her. So I passed her along to my family so that they could say goodbye and my mind has literally blocked out everything else. I don’t remember going home and I don’t remember what I did or what my thoughts were. I remember seeing my mum and my boyfriend’s mum crying outside of the hospital room when they wheeled me out. I remember crying in my kitchen when the counsellor arrived for me to sign papers to make it official. What has carried me through each day since then was remembering the 9 months I had spent praying and analysing every option and that what I chose was the best chance for her to live a full and happy life.

In everyday life, what are some common thoughts that cross your mind when you think about your daughter and the life she’s leading? 

Ten years later, what I long for the most is to know what her laugh sounds like. I see the joy on her face in so many pictures and I know that her laugh has to be so deep and contagious. The days that I spend crying because I miss her are now few and far between. I am able to be proud of her on a daily basis. And deep down. I know that she wouldn’t want me to spend my days crying in grief, so I’ve worked hard and I’ve attempted to do good and help others.

I often wonder how disciplined her parents are and if she gets into a lot of trouble. I wonder if the gifts that I send are appropriate or if she will even like them. Maybe she already has the book I’ve sent or doesn’t like the shirt I bought her. I wonder how close she is to her sisters, who are also adopted. My mind is never worried or concerned about her safety or happiness. I believe that God has been gracious to me throughout her life and has granted me peace in this regard. I never think about her crying or hurting or anything like that, I trust that she is ultimately living a life that is good and meaningful.

What are some things you’ve learned about your daughter that are similar to you? (e.g. appearance, personality, talents etc.)

In appearance, our faces have the same bone structure. She also has my ears and the shape of her eyes are like mine. We both love chocolate, coffee, and cheese. They would always talk about how much she loved coffee (decaf) at a very young age. What they don’t know is that I worked in a coffee shop the entire time that I was pregnant! Recently, she decided to paint her bedroom purple … I also had a purple room when I was her age. We both love performing, dancing, and being outside. She is apparently also very stubborn and I have to admit that trait comes from me. They also talk about how affectionate she is, I am too. They talk about how social she is and that many of her teachers refer to her as a future CEO – I’d like to think she gets that from me! But there are also many things that we do not have in common. For example, she loves to cook and watches the Food Network all the time while I hate to cook.

What advice would you give to adoptive parents who are reluctant to reveal to their children that they’re adopted? 

I think it’s all about the parents’ perception of adoption. Children can pick up the hidden messages that we often try to hide. If you have insecurities and fears about revealing this to your child, you should first look within to examine why you are having these feelings. You have to accept that your child was adopted before they can accept it as well. Your child should ultimately feel that their adoption only gave them more people who love them even if their birth family isn’t in contact or in their life. They need to know and hear from you that the reason they are with you is because many people loved them – both their birth families and their adoptive families. And you should ultimately let them lead you through the discussion. They’ll ask things when they’re ready and it will probably happen over the course of their life, not in one big “sit down” moment and then it’s over. Honesty is best in this situation. Love them daily, showing them through your actions how loved they are.


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Preparing for Book #2 (and some Book #1 meanderings)

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We are working on getting Book #2 ready later on this year, and have some Squirky promo lined up during the year-end school holidays. I’m really loving how illustrator David Liew has imagined my fictional space world, it’s exactly how I pictured it – and much, much more. 

In the meantime, there’s life. Little C. fell sick soon after the launch, then I caught his bug and am currently awake at 3.30am trying not to cough and being acutely aware of my limitations. To be honest, I’ve been feeling particularly challenged in the parenting department. Being the free-spirited little boy he is, everyday is a huge creativity exercise in working out enough space and fun for discovery, but also setting up the necessary boundaries of what is acceptable and not acceptable in our home (with love). 

Besides this, I’ve also been thinking about how people have been responding to the topic of adoption with Squirky Book #1. Here’s how it’s been: 

– Received a few random e-mails from strangers asking if I could help them answer the more emotionally-gruelling questions of their home study reports. I had to tell them that the answers had to come from them, no such thing as “model answers” but what they honestly feel about the prospect of becoming adoptive parents. 

– Received a few discreet queries on behalf of “friends of friends (of friends)” who are exploring adoption but don’t know where to begin. Perhaps I’ll do a simple “getting started” post  on this soon. I also found out that a friend of a friend adopted soon after reading an FB post we did when we announced our adoption to our friends and family (we tagged a few people, and their contacts saw what we had written). 

– Received some genuinely concerned queries on the topic of disclosure. Someone told me that they were afraid that if they told their child, their child would run away from them. Someone mentioned that it was good that he did not know his cousin was adopted earlier, because if not he would have made fun of her when they were kids. Ooof. I know it’s so taxing emotionally to speak hard truths and leave things to the great unknown. I know this part of the world can be particularly ignorant/discriminatory about adoption. But to me, disclosure is the only way to go. Here’s why

– Received a few lovely accounts of adoption stories. I’m so thankful for this. It is comforting to know of other people who have been through similar (and yet different) journeys.