In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hanukkah surprise

Dear Annie,

It was so delightful to see you and yours over Thanksgiving.  I already feel like that was quite a while ago.  The toy store is gearing up to full holiday mode: we're close to sold out of advent calendars, and sales are brisk enough in both toys and books that we know which hot items won't last until Christmas.  And the first night of Hanukkah is only ten days away.

Both those holidays have to do with finding comfort and joy in unexpected places.  I've been happily surprised by the discovery of not joy exactly, but satisfaction, from an unlikely book.  It's a Curious George knock-off -- there's a multi-level industry of CG-related books and cartoons that were never imagined by his creators, H.A. and Margret Rey.  I'm not very fond of  them -- although I carry a few of the better ones.  But Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, a board book written by Emily Flaschner Meyer, fulfills its purpose quite nicely. 

The two- or three year-old setting off to Hanukkah celebrations with the relatives will get the entire rundown of what's going to happen, and a little advice on thinking about others too.  Each page of the book, marked by a tab, hits one event, starting with George and the Man in the Yellow Hat (hatless) wrapping gifts.  They arrive at a party, light the menorah, play dreidel, make latkes and clean up -- most of it in straightforward rhyme.  Except for a more chant-able cooking scene:

On the last page, George washes dishes and learns about "doing helpful mitzvahs/All throughout the year."

It's not literature by any stretch, but it's oddly endearing -- I don't think I'm doing a very good job at explaining why.  It's offering a little help for a new situation.

And even though this is a knockoff decades after the Reys died, it seems right that Curious George is celebrating Hanukkah.  In 1940, the Reys were German Jews living in Paris: they fled the city on bicycles the day the Nazis marched in.  They carried a few belongings and the manuscript for a book about a monkey named Fifi.  After they arrived in the U.S., Fifi changed to George, and the book empire began.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

Goblins! And, you know, princesses too.

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It was so lovely to see you, Bob, and Lizzie this week!  Much joy of Thanksgiving pies and reading of books.

Your mention in your last post of a YA book involving goblins made me think of one of my childhood favorites, which I remember my father reading to me: George Macdonald's 1872 fantasy The Princess and the Goblin.  We have a bit of a goblin mythology going in our house, sparked by Jeff's habit of telling the girls that the metal doors in the sidewalk (going down into store basements) or in the walls of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel are "goblin doors."  Many a morning walk to school has involved Jeff's elaborate goblin stories, with Eleanor's eager participation.

Because of this, and because of my fond memories of the book, I picked up The Princess and the Goblin with Eleanor maybe a year ago, only to run into the Stuart Little Problem.  Perhaps it's time to try again.

It's a bit of a dark tale, centering on eight-year-old Princess Irene, who lives a cloistered life in her father's castle, unaware of the goblins who live in the hills just below.  One evening, she and her nursemaid Lootie stay out too late, and are almost captured by goblins, but are saved by a miner boy named Curdie, who sings to drive them away (in this world, goblins hate singing).  Irene becomes aware after this incident of the danger and darkness just outside her walls and beneath her feet.  Through Curdie's underground spying, she later learns of a plot the goblins have to make war on the humans, who exiled them belowground years before.  My memory is that there's some sympathy for the goblins' predicament, but that they're largely described as unpleasant and ill-formed -- a tribe of Calibans.

On the upper floors of the castle, Irene discovers her great-great grandmother, who lives up in a high attic raising white pigeons, and offers Irene advice.  I can't remember if the great-great grandmother is supposed to be some kind of spirit or is definitely corporeal -- it's that kind of book.  Over the course of the story, Irene develops a friendship with Curdie, who gets a chance to rescue her from the goblins later, and there's a sequel about the two of them: The Princess and Curdie.

In the last few weeks, Isabel has caught the Princess bug, and there's been a lot of Cinderella role-playing going on (though she likes to be one of the stepsisters more often than not, because she can pretend to be really mean).  I have a feeling we'll be reading princess books for quite some time yet.

Love, Annie

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flood waters: the National Book Award

Dear Annie,

Yes, happy 500th post!  

This past weekend I read
Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander, winner last week of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.  As you know, I often try to predict the American Library Association's Newbery and Caldecott medals.  But I'm always clueless about what kids' book the National Book Foundation is going to pick.   I don't know what to make of this choice.

Goblin Secrets takes place in the city of Zombay where some people have been turned into not-quite-people (a play on name of city?) because their hearts have been removed and replaced with machinery.  Other parts of some people are machinery too: eyes and limbs.  The hearts are used as fuel -- "coal" -- to power other machines.  This world has some wonderfully original imagery: there's so much dust in Zombay that dust fish live in the piles on street corners, for instance.  It's a richly imagined, although not always understandable place.

Rownie, who's maybe 8 or maybe 10 years old, is a street urchin kept (not really cared for) by Graba: she's Baba Yaga in an urban setting.  His older brother Rowan has disappeared, believed to have become an actor.  Acting is illegal in Zombay "Players are liars," declares an official edict.  "Citizens may not be players and must not pretend to be other than they are."  Rownie falls in with a troupe of goblin actors.  Goblins appear to be humans who have "changed" into something more magical but are ostracized by the rest of society.  They wear masks in their performances, which may (or may not) have personalities of their own.

The tension in the tale comes from both the fascination with the illegal art of acting, and predictions of an impending flood which is anticipated to wipe out the poorer half of Zombay.  There are also the witch Graba's attempts to recapture Rownie.  Plot elements abound in this book.  There are wonderful moments.  But for me, the moments didn't add up.   The climax of the book centers on whether a flood can be stopped and a city saved.  I admit I wondered when the judges made their choice, and in what city: was it pre- or post-Sandy?

The writing is up there in the higher levels of kidlit, but the story doesn't knit together.  Goblin Secrets does not feature an early adolescent boy who must save the world through individual physical combat, for which I am grateful.  The boy only needs to save one city.  And it doesn't end on set-up for a sequel, although one is possible.

It feels like a good debut novel, with issues one feels the author is good enough to work through in the future.  Awards -- so odd.

Here we are facing Thanksgiving week, and about to see each other -- I can't wait!  So, dear readers, we're taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the holiday.  We'll be back next week.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

A few more adoption titles

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It's funny that you wrote about adoption-appropriate baby books on Wednesday -- that very morning, my friend Jonathan was talking about the search for a baby book for his adopted daughter.  There must be something in the air....

After guest blogging for us last week on Ethiopian children's books, my friend Jean checked in with the adoption listserves she's on, and has passed along a few more recommended titles:

Whoever You Are
, by the excellent Mem Fox, is not directly an adoption book, but focuses on the ways in which all children share a common humanity: "Little one, whoever you are, wherever you are, there are little ones just like you all over the world.''  It's full of richly-colored pictures of children of all races and cultures, and the message seems similar to Fox's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, one of our favorites.

God Found Us You, by Lisa Tawn Bergren, is directly about adoption -- in this case, a mother and baby fox -- and, as the title indicates, comes with a strong religious viewpoint.  The text is largely a conversation, with Little Fox asking Mama Fox to retell the story of "the day I came home."  In the comments I've found on the book, there's a split between adoptive parents who find the book's message loving and reassuring, and those who feel like it puts too much emphasis on how depressed the mother fox was before Little Fox came.

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, by Rose Lewis, is the first-person story of a single mother who travels to China to adopt her daughter, and is based on Lewis's own experience.  It seems particularly applicable to families adopting internationally, and the illustrations are warm and loving (by Jane Dyer, who also illustrated Mem Fox's Time for Bed).

On the distinctly documentary-feeling side, there are the books When You Were Born in Vietnam,When You Were Born in China, and When You Were Born in Korea, each filled with cultural information and a lot of photographs of orphanages and adopting families.  A good resource for international Asian adoptions.

Finally, Jean pointed me to this blog, The Wayfarer, which has a list of books for both parents and children about adoption, specifically adoption from Ethiopia, and largely with a Christian focus.

I'm excited for Thanksgiving, and looking forward to seeing you then!

Love, Annie

P.S. Happy 500th blog post on Annie and Aunt!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Baby book, adoption-style

Dear Annie,

Thanks to your pal Jean for the Ethiopian books.  It's interesting how the folklore stories feel very similar to ones from European traditions.  Congratulations to Jean, Casey and family on their new arrival.

On occasion, adoptive families are faced with small reminders of their differences from birth families.  In the world of books, those reminders often show up in one of the staples of baby shower gifts: The Baby Memory Book.  They're those books that one always intends to go back and fill in the spaces one was too tired to write at the time: exact time of birth, weight, baby's first smile, baby's first solid food/steps/words/etc.  The first page often includes spaces for details of pregnancy ("Mommy's food cravings") and childbirth ("what Mommy was doing when she went into labor" etc.). 

Along with those books, I also carry
Our Chosen Child: How You Came To Us And The Growing Up Years
by Judith Levy.  It's a fill-in-the-blanks book chronicling an adopted child from "Waiting for You" all the way up to "Teenage Years"  and "Looking Ahead."  It's got the how mom and dad met stuff, and the family tree (no mention of birth parents, but one can add lines fairly easily if one chooses).  Once the adoption's official, it keeps following the milestones in a child's life.  Like many books in this genre, it can get cloying fast:
We're two loving people,
Almost as happy as we could be.
We just needed a special angel,
To join our family tree.
And like some of the gay parent books we talked about, it doesn't make being adopted the point of the book.  The focus is the kid growing up, and the adoption is one of the details.



Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest blogger: Ethiopian children's books

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I've often wondered whether the people who design the covers of many YA books ever actually read the books themselves.  The cross-legged stance of the girl on the cover of A Corner of White might keep me from picking it up, too.

I've written recently about our friends who are adopting a 1 1/2 year old girl from Ethiopia.  Jean, mom of Eleanor's friend Casey, who will be the big sister, is our guest blogger tonight.  When I asked her if she knew of any international adoption books she'd recommend, she said that instead, they've focused on books which will give Casey a clearer understanding of Ethiopian life (and a little bit of the Amharic language) before her sister arrives.  Here's Jean, with a summary of some of her favorites:

So here are the Ethiopian books I was telling you about.  Hope this is helpful for your blog!

Silly Mammo, retold by Gebregeorgis Yohannes
Silly Mammo is the story of the obedient, if not the most astute, young boy of Weizero (Mrs.) Terunesh.  When Weizero Terunesh finally decides Mammo needs to start helping with expenses, she sends him out to earn a living.  But while obedient and hard-working, Mammo never quite figures out how to bring his earnings back to his mother.  One mishap after another (e.g., carrying money in his hand, falling and dropping the money because he didn't know to put the money in his pocket - upon his mother's scolding that his earnings should be in his pocket, he goes out the next day, finds work and is paid with a bottle of milk . . . which he dutifully pours into his pocket . . . and the story continues with similar mishaps about how to get the earnings back to his mother).  Meanwhile, a beautiful, but mute girl, Tewabech, lives in a nearby town.  Her father heard that she would be cured if she could only laugh and offers her hand in marriage to any man that can make her laugh.  You can see where this is going.  As she sadly gazes out her window, she sees the obedient young Mammo carrying a donkey on his back - another failed attempt to follow the instruction of his mother, at which point she promptly breaks out into laughter.  Mammo is brought into their home and they fall in love.  It's a cute story and Casey enjoys all the silly antics of Mammo.  What's also neat is that it incorporates some Amharic words, so exposes Casey to a few additional words in another language (e.g., Ababa (dad), Weizero (Mrs.), eshi (ok))  Also, in  the version that we have also, the story is printed both in English and in the Amharic fidel (Amharic characters), so she becomes familiar with a different kind of script than the English letters.
A Saint and His Lion tells the story of Tekla, who at birth is determed to be destined for greatness, but ultimately suffers a crippling accident that affects his ability to walk.  While he is bed-ridden, he falls in love with scripture and dreams of becoming a priest.  Despite his disabilities, he attempts to find monks who will teach him to become a priest.  On his way to the monks, he discovers an injured lion and cares for the lion until he is healed.  Thereafter, he settles in with the monks and, upon mastering his biblical studies, he sets out to share the good news of Christ.  But as he is attempting to travel, he falls.   After many attempts, given his bad leg, he simply cannot stand back up.  But the same lion he once saved returns, carries him on his back to safety, and ultimately travels around with him.  Being able to enter villages on the back of the lion does wonders for spreading the word of Christ and opens people's minds to the faith.  Despite his set backs, his good heart and perseverance allows him to achieve the greatness he was destined for at his birth.  

Fire on the Mountain
, by Jane Kurtz
Fire on the Mountain is the story of Alemayu, who is orphaned after his parents died.  He journeys to find his sister, who is working as a servant in a rich man's estate, where he is also able to find some work.  One day, the rich man brags how he is braver than others and can withstand the coldness of the air on the mountain.  Alemayu speaks up and says, matter-of-factly, that he too could withstand such coldness.  Offended that someone would seemingly challenge him, the rich man makes a deal with Alemayu.  If he can withstand one night with only a light shawl on the mountain, he would give him money and four cows, so he would no longer have to work as a servant.  But if he loses, he and his sister would have to leave the estate, never again permitted to work there.  Alemayu accepts the challenge and passes the evening shivering on the mountain, listening to the hyenas in the distance.  When Alemayu returns the following morning, cold but alive, the rich man asks how he did it.  Alemayu responds that he survived by staring at a  fire of a shepherd on a distant mountain, and pretending that the fire was also warming him.  Based on this, the rich man claims that Alemayu lost the bet, on the theory that staring at a distant fire was the same as making a fire.  The rich man intends to prepare a great feast to celebrate his having won the bet.  He tells Alemayu that he and his sister can stay this one night, but they will have to leave the next morning and never come back.  The other servants are appalled at how devious and unfair the rich man acted.  But they spend all day preparing injera and Ethiopian stews for the feast, which fills the estate with the incredible smells of the food for the occassion.  After the rich man arrives, he sits down and waits, but no food is served.  He demands music, and the musician moves her fingers, but no sound emerges.  When he demands to know what is going on, they explain that smelling the food is the same as eating it; pretending to play an instrument is the same as enjoying its sounds.  The next day, the rich man gives Alemayu his cows and money he owes him.

Tsion's Life is not so much a story, as a detailed account of a day in the life of a young girl in Ethiopia.  It provides examples of customs, ordinary daily activities, and cultural examples of Ethiopian life, while teaching some Amharic words in the process.  For example, it tells you how to say palace in Amharic (bet mengest), and then tells of various Ethiopian palaces, like the Lalibela, where eleven churches are carved out of a stone mountain and connected by tunnels. Or it tells how to say mother in Amharic ("enat") and then proceeds to talk about Tsion's mother and what she does for a living in Ethiopia.  It's a good book to use to teach kids about the similarities and differences between Ethiopian and American cultures and experiences.

One other book I thought of, which isn't an international adoption book, but is adoption related, is Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born. It's written by Jamie Lee Curtis, and is a cute story about a young girl asking her parents to tell them about the night she was born, how they received a call that her birth mother was in labor, how they frantically boarded the flight, how perfect she was when they saw her, etc.  I think its a pretty popular book for families who find each other through domestic adoption.

All the best,

And love from me,


Friday, November 9, 2012

Another problematic cover

Dear Annie,

It's so cheering that there are lots of books out there that we have yet to introduce to each other.  I'm so glad Moomintrolls are new to you.  You guys are in for a treat.  I'm curious what part of the Moomintroll oeuvre your friend Mark is particularly fond of.  I only recently learned about the comic books; in our household the chapter books were everything.

And I want to hear the family verdict on Wind on the Moon after you finish it.  It will continue to veer into new plot elements.

Lately I've been reading lots of books which are due out mostly between February and May of next year.  They include a first novel by the wonderful Shirley Hughes (creator of Alfie and Dogger and many more), a riveting account of a plot to steal Lincoln's body in the 1870s, and wonderful parallel-worlds story.  I plan to write about all of them as we approach their publication dates.  But your headline about not judging books etc made me want to vent a bit about one particular cover.

A Corner of White by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty comes to the U.S. in April under the auspices of Arthur A. Levine, the editor who obtained rights to both The Golden Compass and Harry Potter.  He knows how to spot a good book.  This one has little whispers of The Golden Compass: it entails communication between two parallel worlds; the characters in our world live in Cambridge, England.  The worlds once had easy access to each other, but the medieval plagues led the Kingdom of Cello to sever the connection.  We focus on three teenagers (two girls and a boy) in Cambridge who are are studying, among others, Isaac Newton and Lord Byron.  Newton's theories of light become important to Elliot Baranski, the teenager who is the center of the story in Cello: colors occasionally form themselves into storms that can alter moods and sometimes injure and kill.  Elliot's father has disappeared from his village -- maybe voluntarily, maybe carried off by a Purple.  In Cambridge, Madeline, whom Elliot refers to as the-girl-in-the-World, has run away from her father.  Madeline and Elliot discover a crack between their two worlds: it's just big enough to wedge a piece of paper into it, and they start a correspondence.  Madeline thinks Elliot is a guy who's inventing a magical world, not someone who's in one.

There are plots and sub-plots.  Friendships evolve, kids deal a lot with loss and the uncontrollable aspects of their lives.  It's intelligent fantasy -- and by no stretch of the imagination would I put it in the chick lit category.  I would like to think that Arthur A. Levine was out sick the day they designed the cover of the American edition:

How am I going to be able to sell this to a 12 year-old boy who's looking for a good fantasy book?  A few guys might go for it, but the vast majority will glance at the cover and go on to the next offering.  This screams chick-lit: dreamy-eyed girl, flowing hair, breezy day.  I carried this galley with me to Maine and back again before I picked it up to read -- there's nothing in this cover that hints at the originality of the content.

Tonight, while trolling for a good quality image of this cover, I discovered what the book looks like in Australia, where it came out last month:
Hmm.  Can't say this makes my heart beat faster, even though it's more literally true to the story: lots of discussion of the light spectrum and rainbows.  And the crack between worlds is right there.  Will this encourage a 12- (or 16-) year-old to pick it up?

We'll have to see what they do with the paperback cover...



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Don't judge a book by its cover

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Believe it or not, I had never heard of the Moomintrolls before reading your post earlier this week.  I read it at work (Election Day professional development!), made some comment aloud, and was pounced on by my friend and colleague, and our guest blogger, Mark.  Mark fervently loves the Moomintrolls, and has promised to bring in some of Tove Jansson's books for me to borrow.  I'm looking forward to it.

Back home, we're deep into another wild, gripping chapter book which you sent Eleanor quite a little while ago, but which we hadn't picked up until this week: Eric Linklater's The Wind on the Moon.

The reason we hadn't yet read it is mildly embarrassing, given that I'm a big reader and an English teacher to boot.  It was because of the cover.

It's not like it's a bad-looking cover.  It looks...sweet.  Looking at this cover, you might imagine that the long novel it encases is a young coming-of-age story, perhaps about a girl who yearns poetically for something.  The title does nothing to combat this impression.  Of course I knew that you had sent us the book, which meant it was going to be good, but we haven't really been in the mood for sweet long novels.

Turns out that "sweet" is just about the last thing The Wind on the Moon is.  It's a strange wild romp of a book, surprising at every turn, full of adventure and mystery and animals, not shying away from conflict or violence.

The story focuses on two sisters, Dinah (that's her on the cover) and Dorinda, who try not to behave badly, but can't quite help themselves.  Their father, the Major, goes away at the very beginning of the book to fight a war in a far-off country, and leaves the girls with these words:

"There is wind on the moon....I don't like the look of it at all.  When there is wind on the moon, you must be very careful how you behave.  Because if it is an ill wind, and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and then you will behave badly for a long time to come."

The "bad behavior" the girls exhibit starts out on the Paddington Bear level: they try to help their father pack his suitcase, and end up rolling up all his clothes so they're wrinkled, and putting dirty boots on top of white shirts.  Then the Major leaves, and Dinah and Dorinda's bad behavior expands.  They decide that being greedy is one of the best ways to be naughty, and immediately start eating extraordinary amounts of food.  Here's where the narrative starts to get surprising:

They got fatter and fatter.  They got so fat, and quickly got fatter still, that every three or four days they burst their frocks and split their vests, and were quite unable to pull their stockings over their fat round legs.  So every few days their mother had to buy new clothes for them.  But if she bought them new dresses on a Tuesday, they were sure to burst the seams by Friday, or Saturday at the latest....By and by they grew so fat they were almost completely round, like balloons.  And one day they found they could hardly walk, so they rolled downstairs and bounced into the dining-room, just as if they were balloons.

Eleanor bounced on the couch next to me in delight.  Neither of us expected this!  We were even more thrilled when, a few pages later, Dinah and Dorinda drink a magic potion and turn into kangaroos in order to take revenge on some nasty village children.

That's right, kangaroos.

They remain kangaroos for about 100 pages, with a plot involving a private zoo inhabited by a variety of animals with fabulous names: the ostriches Sir Bobadil and Lady Lil, the grizzly bear Bendigo, the giraffe detective Mr. Parker.  There's a mystery about the theft of ostrich eggs, and a plan to free the beautiful wild Puma and Silver Falcon.  We're about halfway through the book, and I have no idea where it's going next.

I have a feeling this is going to be the birthday present all of Eleanor's friends get for the next year or so.  I'm about to become an evangelist for this book.

Love, Annie

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ice is nice

Dear Annie,

There's a chill in the air here: the first frost is predicted for tonight.  And who better to get us thinking about winter than the Moomintrolls?   I'm startled that they've never made an appearance in Annie and Aunt.  Another day I'll write more about their odd and delightful personalities, their chapter books, comic books, cartoons, and intense following around the world, especially in Russia and Japan.  Tove Jansson, a Swedish author living in Finland, created them in 1945, and kept cranking out books until the '70s.  They focus on a family of, well, Moomintrolls and a variety of their friends.  It all feels slightly Winnie-the-Pooh -ish, in a Finnish sort of way.

Today I'm sticking with Moomin's Winter Follies, a comic book first published in 1955. Moomintroll, the son and main character in the Moomin family, wakes to discover "Glass all over our pond." It doesn't stop him from attempting his morning swim:

(Moominmama is never without her purse; Moominpapa's top hat is his identifying object. )
The attempt at hibernating lasts only a few pages: when they leave the house, they discover snow everywhere and the energetic newcomer Mr. Brisk organizing Winter Games.  Skating, skiing, snowball fights -- the charmingly zaftig Moomins aren't the competitive sports types.  Two female characters develop crushes on the oblivious Mr. Brisk, much to Moomintroll's dismay.  All works out in the end, of course.

Then there's the lovely small
Twelve Kinds of Ice
by Ellen Bryan Obed, with illustrations by Barbara McClintock.  Obed remembers the many kinds of ice she and her siblings observed over the course of Maine winters.  First Ice "came on the sheep pails in the barn -- a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it."  The fourth kind of ice, Field Ice, is frozen puddles in the fields big enough for the first skating of the season. 

The family devotes a 100-by-50 foot space to an outdoor rink, clearing weeds and stubble and putting up framing boards.
When the snow came, we began making garden ice.  The first step was snow packing.  Everyone worked on this -- Dad and Mom, my brothers, my sister and I.  We stamped and packed the snow hard with our boots and shovels.  We packed it with our skis.  We packed it with the toboggan, on which one or two of us sat to be pulled back and forth across the hardening surface.
   Suddenly, Dad would say, "Time to get the hose!"
The rink becomes a neighborhood center, with hockey games and figure skaters.  In February there's  an ice show, attended by fans from near and far.
The show is the climax of the season, and the thaw isn't far behind.  There's Last Ice, and then -- until the late fall -- Dream Ice:
This ice came in our sleep.  We never knew when it would come, but when it did, we could skate anywhere we wanted -- down roads, in and out of yards, and over the tops of trees.  We could do any jump we pleased without practicing.  Double axels over houses and splits over telephone wires.  We did spins on chimney tops and spirals down slanting roofs.  We lifted off our skates into the sky to land on the back edges of clouds.
I hope all this ice has been a little respite from the news.  Here's hoping for a good day tomorrow.



Friday, November 2, 2012

More adoption books

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Your list of books about adoption is a great place to start.  I've done a little poking around through online lists, and have found a few more that look like they might be good.  Caveat: I haven't read any of these, and as Message Books, I'm afraid that some of them in full-text version may be unreadably cheesy.  That being said, here are three that look worth checking out:

I Don't Have Your Eyes, by Carrie A. Kitze.  On each page, the text notes a physical difference between parent and child, followed by a similarity in personality or behavior:

I don't have your eyes...
...but I have your way of looking at things.

I don't have your toes...
...but I have your way of dancing through life.

It's not the story of one white parent and Asian adopted child, as the cover might imply; each illustration depicts a different family, so a variety of races and possible family situations are covered.

Taking interracial adoption into the animal world, there's Keiko Kasza's A Mother for Choco, which follows a little fat-cheeked yellow bird on his journey to find a mother.  He starts out by looking for animals who have physical similarities to him: the giraffe is yellow, but has no wings; the penguin has wings, but no big round cheeks; he is rebuffed by both.  Then he finds Mrs. Bear, who takes him in with the question, "If you had a mommy, what would she do?"  The story ends with Choco joining a family which  clearly contains some other adopted animals: a pig, a hippo, and an alligator Mrs. Bear has already taken in.  Aside from being a little concerned about the welfare of a bird in the company of a bear and an alligator, this one sounds sweet.

Emma's Yucky Brother, by Jean Little, sounds like it might be an interesting choice for Eleanor's friend, whose family is adopting a toddler this spring.  It's an I Can Read book, aimed at early elementary school age kids, and tells the story of Emma welcoming her new adopted brother, Max.  Max is four years old, and though Emma is tremendously excited to have him join the family, his entry is a little rough.  While the reviews I've read of this one sound good, I'm a little wary of it being the kind of book which raises problems that might not come up on their own.  Worth a look, though.

Love, Annie