by Kendra Morris-Jacobson

In his interview for 2022’s award-winning Believe in Wonder short documentary film, author-illustrator Brian Parker, the film’s subject, reflected on the need for more diverse children’s literature that features people of color as “the heroes of their own heroes’ journey.” As foster-adoptive parents who understand firsthand the extra challenges for children of color in child welfare systems, Brian and his wife and fellow creator Josie Parker have sought to fill this need for years. Along the way, they became the inspiration behind an innovative library service model in Oregon, Culture Connection Collection (CCC), which united the local child welfare community around supporting children of color in foster care and adoption through access to and engagement with literature.

Through a federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant graciously administered by the State Library of Oregon, the Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center (ORPARC) library embarked on an unprecedented project to lift up young people of color who are in care. ORPARC gathered a talented team of cultural consultants consisting of foster-adoptive parents, in addition to those with personal foster adoption experience, youth, and young people. Most participants were of color themselves, but some also were parenting transracially. In addition, primary consultants—like the Parkers—were also accomplished children’s book authors or illustrators. Harnessing this rich convergence of creativity, lived experience, and knowledge, the team helped craft a library collection centered on books about people of color, by people of color, featuring themes and topics salient to child welfare and well-being.

From a children‘s literature standpoint, we know representation matters. As Laura Grace Weldon writes in WIRED’s “How Childhood Books Make Us Who We Are,” “Kids are drawn to stories that resonate with challenges they’re facing… Speaking one’s truth, overcoming adversity, enduring tragedy, relying on wit or cleverness, making a sacrifice, finding a kindred spirit, gaining new powers or knowledge—this is the stuff that translates into purposeful meaning for the young reader.” Children coming into care often face an unfathomable spectrum of adversities, tragedies, and sacrifices. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that in addition to experiencing grief, loss, trauma, and disrupted family attachments, children of color additionally suffer the detrimental impacts of generational trauma, racial trauma, housing and economic barriers, health inequity, disconnection from culture and, for some, loss of language. Children of color are also disproportionately represented in virtually every state’s child welfare system, particularly those who are African American, Native American/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic.

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Kendra Morris-Jacobson (she/her) oversees the Oregon Programs for Northwest Resource Associates and still fits in time for training and direct work with families, youth, and workers. She sits on the Executive Committee of the Washington, DC-based Voice for Adoption (VFA) and on the Foster Homes of Healing Coalition (FHOH), consults regularly for Oregon DHS and other national and international entities, and was honored as Senator Ron Wyden’s 2016 Angel in Adoption. A former preschool teacher, therapist, editor, researcher, and adoption recruiter, she has been gifted the stories of hundreds of children and families whom she feels by far are our greatest teachers. Kendra obtained her BA in English literature at Gettysburg College and her MA in counseling psychology at Lewis & Clark College.