Miriam Spitzer Franklin is the author of Emily Out of Focus, a new middle grade novel for kids that focuses on a family's adoption of a girl from China. She also has written Call Me Sunflower and Extraordinary. A former elementary and middle school teacher, she lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Q: How much did your family's own experience with adoption inspire the creation of this novel?
A: Adopting a daughter from China has had a huge impact on my life. I knew very little about international adoption until we began considering it. I could not have written this book without personally traveling to China to bring home our second daughter, and learning firsthand about the questions and emotions an adopted child experiences.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your character Emily, and why did you make her an aspiring photojournalist?
A: My very first draft of this book was about a girl who was excited to become a big sister and learned that things were not exactly what she expected.
The book needed a broader appeal, so I knew I needed to give her a big personality and goals of her own that would drive the story, and a photojournalist seemed perfect because I have so many images in my mind of the country we visited.
When we traveled to adopt our daughter, orphanages were filled with “healthy” baby girls because of the one-child policy. Once you completed the paperwork, the wait time to receive your referral (receiving your child’s photo and a date about six weeks away to travel) was around a year.
I knew things changed soon after, since I had heard that people had to wait a lot longer to receive referrals. But when I phoned our adoption agency, I was surprised to learn that the one-child policy had changed and that adoptions of “healthy” children were only available for people in the country though you could still internationally adopt a child with special needs.
I wanted to date my book close to the time we traveled so it would be most accurate, I hope that readers will see that families are formed all different ways, and that adopted children have connections but my editor said that would make it historical fiction! So we set it back five years when international adoptions of “healthy” girls were still available though the wait was long.
I also did some online research to find out how children look for their birth parents since we didn’t receive any biological information. I found stories about girls who found grandparents, cousins, siblings, and even parents by posting messages the way Katherine does in the book.
Q: Can you say more about what you hope readers will take away from the story?
A: I hope that readers will see that families are formed all different ways, and that adopted children have connections with their biological families even if they don’t know them. I want them to see that no matter how families are formed, that bonds are forever.
I also hope I give readers a lot to think about in terms of friendship, family, and building trust, and how sometimes things might seem so important that you’re willing to risk all these things to reach your personal goals. I hope the book will lead to a lot of good discussions.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb