Book Reviews

by Sally Shank

Before we were yours

Before We Were Yours
by Lisa Wingate
New York: Published by Ballantine books, 2017,342 pages.
Cost $26.00.

When I read Proverbs 31:8, 9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the right of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy, I often wonder how I can do that? Maybe all of us ask that same question.

Lisa Wingate’s novel, Before We Were Yours, a 2017 New York Times bestseller based on a true scandal in the 1930’s involving the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, powerfully addresses the issue of those who cannot speak for themselves. (Note: Tennessee Children’s Home Society is not connected to Tennessee Children’s Home, Inc. that is part of Network 1:27).

Written from two viewpoints, both immediately captivate the reader. The first takes place in the present as Avery Stafford, the daughter of a politician considers her grandmother’s past and discovers hidden family secrets of orphans and adoptive parents. The second viewpoint comes through the eyes of twelve-year-old Rill Foss. Living on a shanty boat with their mother and father, Rill and her four younger siblings are poor but happy. One-night Rill is left in charge as her father rushes her mother to the hospital. Soon strangers arrive promising Rill and her siblings that they will see their mother and father. Instead they are thrown into the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Although assured they will be returned to their parents, the children soon learn this is one of many lies they hear at the children’s home. The two viewpoints eventually intersect, as Avery considers her unknown past and Rill looks into her uncertain future.

Wingate reveals the injustice of children and poor families at the hands of Georgia Tann, the director of the Children’s Home. Based on a notorious real-life scandal, Before We Were Yours reminds us that we must speak up for children who cannot speak for themselves.

The book’s dedication is especially relevant to those who are part of Network 1:27 and work in childcare. It reads: “For the hundreds who vanished and for the thousands who didn’t. May your stories not be forgotten. For those who help today’s orphans find forever homes. May you always know the value of your work and your love.” This is important to keep in mind when facing daily challenges that come with working with children as part of Network 1:27. Whether the difficulties be with the children, funding, conditions, opposition, families, or lack of appreciation, helping children is valuable.

One of the strengths of the book is realizing how children in our country suffered for three decades at Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Mary Sykes, one of those children along with her infant sister, was stolen from the porch of her unmarried mother’s home when she was just four years old. Placed in the care of the TCHS Mary reflects, “I remember sitting on the floor in a room full of cribs, reaching through the bars and just patting my sister’s arm. She was too weak and dehydrated to even cry. No one would help her. Once it was clear that she was too far gone to recover, a worker put her in a cardboard box and carried her away. I never saw her again. I heard later that, if babies got too sick or cried too much, they’d set them in the sun in a carriage and leave them.”

At the end of her novel, Wingate gives several sources for further reading and research on Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Two of the most recent books are “Alone in the World: Orphans and Orphanages in America” by Catherine Reef (2005) and “The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption” by Barbara Bisantz Raymond (2007).

While exposing a chapter in our nation’s history that involved the stealing and selling of children, this novel encourages all who work with children. The dedication reminds us that it is those who are involved in foster care and adoption, from the Board to house parents, that can make a difference in the lives of children. These are the men and women who can and must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Faith and Foster Care

Faith and Foster Care: How We Impact God’s Kingdom
Dr. John DeGarmo
2016, New Hope Publishing
Amazon: Kindle $5.58, Paper $14.99

Are you a foster parent? Have you considered being a foster parent, or do you know someone who is currently fostering children? The turnover rate of foster parents in the US is 30-50% each year. Dr. John DeGarmo, a foster parent for twelve years writes to inform and encourage those fostering or considering fostering children. At the time he wrote the book, he and his wife had 6 biological and adopted children and 5 foster children.

After a brief history of the foster care system in the US, Dr. DeGarmo tells why he and his wife decided to foster. Foremost he believes it is his responsibility as a Christian to follow through with Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35, 36. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Many foster children fit this description.

The book is an easy read and gives an accurate assessment of fostering. Dr. DeGarmo recounts the positives, for example feeling one is fulfilling their purpose in life, as well as the challenges that come being a foster parent.

One of the highlights of the book is the actual stories from foster parents and foster children. For those who have never been involved in fostering these give insights from two different perspectives.

Dr. DeGarmo gives advice to foster parents about being too busy and not having time for self or one’s spouse, and the reality of burnout. I felt Dr. DeGarmo and his wife could not say “no” when asked to foster. Even when they had as many children as they felt like they could handle, when a call came they responded by taking more in. At one point they had 9 foster children and the author admits they could not even schedule a date night. It seemed he was not practicing what he advised.

A highpoint of the book is the sixteen ways one can pray for foster children. These could be used by parents, children, childcare agencies or anyone who has a heart for children and fostering.

His practical suggestions of how churches can get involved in foster care could be helpful to classes, small groups and ministries in congregations looking for a way to serve. These include:

  • prepare a mal at the building, feed foster families and then take care of the children, giving the foster parents a reprieve
  • coordinate family visitation at the church building for children in foster care
  • provide respite care -adopt foster children during the holiday season
  • provide a new or gently used suitcase for foster children
  • provide mentoring for those who have aged out of the system

The book ends with several pages of helpful resources, including (1) foster care offices by state (2) national organizations (3) faith-based organizations.

I believe the book could be used by Network 1:27 agencies as a resource for families who are fostering or considering fostering. Or perhaps, it could be used by a staff member, gaining ideas to share with foster parents or perspective foster parents.

Book Review written by Sally Shank

Karyn B. Purvis, Ph.D., David R. Cross, Ph.D. and Wendy Lyons Sunshine

McGraw Hill, New York, 2007. Paperback $6.74 on Amazon

Karen Purvis – Director of Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development of Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development.
David Cross – Associate Director of Development and professor in TCU’s Psychology department.
Wendy Lyons Sunshine – award winning journalist

Are you a parent, or do you know a parent at the end of their rope? Frustrated and confused by their child’s behavior and realizing everything they have tried doesn’t seem to work, they don’t know where to turn.

Written by two research Psychologists specializing in adoptive and attachment, "The Connected Child" uses a holistic approach in dealing with children. This book will help you build bonds with your child, deal with learning and behavioral disorders and discipline your child with love.

“The Connected Child” is written to adoptive parents, especially those who have adopted children that have been wounded or are at risk. Although the adoptive family is the target audience, this book is an excellent resource for all families striving to connect with their children.
Some of the issues addressed are compassion, risks, attachment, dealing with defiance, misbehavior, proactive strategies, stress, life values, and dealing with setbacks.

A strength of this book is the concrete suggestions that are proven and give parents guidance in dealing with many issues they face, whether they are foster parents, adoptive parents or biological parents. A second strong point is helping parents see and understand why the child is acting and responding like he does.

A weakness of “The Connected Child” is wondering if one can implement the hundreds of suggestions discussed. Yet, focusing on one area at a time, and following the practical suggestions given, one can certainly improve any parent child relationship. This straight forward book will be beneficial to parents, child care workers, teachers and anyone working with children. For those who are a part of Network 1:27, I believe it would be especially useful for houseparent’s and families who are fostering and adopting.