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Red Thread Sisters

Red Thread Sisters
Written by Carol Antoinette Peacock
Published by Viking Juvenile, 2012
ISBN # 978-0670013869

Grades 4 and up

Book Review

According to an ancient Chinese legend, a red thread ties together those who are destined to meet and help one another throughout life. For eleven-year old Wen, this means a red thread binds her to her new American family, whose adoption of her is supposed to bring her endless happiness. Instead, she wrestles with adjusting to just about everything: living in a new country, having more food and clothes than she ever dreamed, going to school and speaking English, feeling she belongs in her new family, and most of all, leaving behind the one person she truly considered family: her best friend Shu Ling. Believing a red thread connects her to Shu Ling as well, Wen vows to find an adoptive family for her friend. But in order to do so, she must overcome her fears of being sent back to the orphanage for doing the wrong thing and race against a clock that will make Shu Ling ineligible for adoption once she turns fourteen. Carol Antoinette Peacock’s novel is a tender and moving story of the heartbreak and hope surrounding adoption. While her first-person account of intercountry adoption may be eye-opening to some readers, she–along with many of the characters in the novel–are easy to empathize with and instantly likable. With every page turn, readers will find themselves not only rooting for Wen and Shu Ling, but also reflecting on the fascinating ways our lives intersect and impact others around us.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

  • Carol Antoinette Peacock Author Study. Carol Antoinette Peacock has written several books for children across the ages. Gather multiple copies of her books and conduct an author study. Ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the fiction titles. Examine Peacock’s storytelling techniques in the books, as well as the topics and perspectives she writes about in her nonfiction books. Gather information about Peacock from her website listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources.
  • Stories of Intercountry Adoptions. Adoption itself is a complex process that goes beyond the legal protocol and paperwork, let alone adoption across countries and cultures. Share with your students a wide variety of texts and genres that chronicle the stories of children who have been adopted from other countries to live in America. Consider the following questions: Why might someone want to adopt a child from another country? What personal and cultural considerations must be addressed before, during, and after the adoption occurs? Watch the 2011 documentary Somewhere Between and the 2007 documentary Found in China, which spotlights the experiences of several children who were adopted from China. Read some of the articles listed below in Further Explorations to learn about the challenges and surprises involved in intercountry adoptions. Have students compare and contrast the various stories, and compile a list of further questions they want to investigate further about the experience of children and families involved in these adoptions.
  • Adoption Laws and Practices. Wen worries that Shu Ling is ineligible for adoption once she turns fourteen years old. What other laws and practices structure the adoption process? Do they make sense? Why might such laws and practices be in place? If they don’t seem fair, what can be done to change them? Are there any organizations that are currently working to do so? Using the books, news articles, and websites listed below, as well as others you might discover, gather information about adoption laws and practices in the U.S. as well as in other countries. Help students analyze the information, process what they think about it, and continue to research ways they might be able to help advocate for more just laws and practices if they are so moved.
  • What Makes a Family? Throughout the novel, Wen adamantly refers to Shu Ling as her sister. In the same breath, she hesitates to call Emily her mei mei (little sister) or her new mother Mom. Engage your students in a discussion about what defines a family. What kinds of family structures exist? Are some more “legitimate” than others? Who says? Is there something more that’s needed than just biological or legal relationships? You may want to share Robie Harris’s picturebook Who’s in My Family? (see, as well as some of the other novels listed in the Further Explorations section, to spur further discussion about this theme.
  • Investigating Orphanages. Many fictional stories are set in orphanages; yet not every orphanage is depicted in the same way. Invite your students to inquire into the purpose and evolution of orphanages throughout literature and over time. How do these fictional depictions compare to real, contemporary orphanages? What improvements have been gained in the way orphanages are managed? What needs and challenges still exist? Encourage students to research feasible ways they can help to address some of those issues. For example, some of the websites listed below in Further Explorations describe how even a donation of $25 can provide books, medical supplies, or toys to children in orphanages.
  • Using Flashbacks. We learn much about Wen’s history with her biological family and during her years at the orphanage through periodic flashbacks. Have students reread these flashbacks with a writer’s eye. How are the flashbacks introduced and woven into the present-tense storyline? How do the flashbacks segue back to the main story? What do these flashbacks reveal about the characters in the book? After discussing and taking notes on students’ analyses, invite students to try using flashbacks in any of their narrative writing, whether personal narrative or fiction.
  • Revising to Show Voice and Character Personality. We can take a lesson about describing people from Wen about the power of showing, not telling, as she revises the ad for Shu Ling on the adoption websites. Reread that section of the book, starting with Shu Ling’s initial adoption profile and ending with the feedback that Wen gets about Shu Ling’s revised profile. Then, have students compare and contrast the two profile descriptions to determine what revision strategies Wen used to use her own voice and show Shu Ling’s personality through writing. Invite students to revise descriptions in any of their current writing and to practice writing profiles about other people (real or imagined) to hone their skills.

Critical Literacy

Grades 4 and up

  • Representations of Physical Disabilities. Shu Ling’s separation from Wen, the other children at the orphanage, and the greater society is often attributed to her disabled foot. Sometimes it is for her benefit, such as when Auntie Mu Hong announces that Shu Ling will bathe separately from the other children. Other times, it is not so clear that such separation is in her best interest, such as when Director Feng says that “children with disabilities . . . had no future, and he couldn’t waste money or education on them.” Have students review and list the different ways that Shu Ling is described by other characters in the novel. If there are students with disabilities in your classroom, what do they think about these descriptions? What assumptions about people with physical disabilities fuel each description? Do your students agree or disagree with these descriptions? What drives their own understandings about people with physical disabilities? After discussing these issues, invite students to brainstorm ways they can learn more about fostering more understanding about the issues. Don’t forget to follow their lead and encourage them to do more than talk, but perhaps pursue of the avenues for advocacy that they identify.

Grades 9 and up

  • Adoption by Americans. The McGuires are certainly a loving, supportive, and well intentioned family who genuinely want to provide a home in America, with all of the opportunities that involves, to Wen. However, one must be careful not to assume that such situations or that belonging to an American family is always “better.” Why might this perception exist in the first place? Is it true in every case? As in the activity above about intercountry adoptions, consider what it means to be adopted by a family whose way of life and cultural values may be different. What about being adopted by someone whose race or ethnicity is different? Give equal weight to both the benefits and challenges, making sure to help students ground their answers in truly thoughtful answers and not assumptions and stereotypes.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Carol Antoinette Peacock’s website

Red Thread Sisters
Book Trailer

Intercountry Adoption website – Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

China Center of Adoption Affairs

Somewhere Between documentary

Article about Found in China documentary

News Articles about Issues Concerning Intercountry Adoption

Articles and Websites about Family Structures and Definitions

Help for Orphans International

Half the Sky – provides child-centered education and development to children in Chinese orphanages

Love without Boundaries – a nonprofit foundation that provides assistance to Chinese orphanages


Creech, S. (1994). Walk two moons. New York: HarperTrophy.

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, not Buddy. New York: Yearling.

D’Antonio, N. (1997). Our baby from China: An adoption story. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.

Giff, P. R. (2002). Pictures of Hollis Woods. New York: Dell Yearling.

Harris, R. (2012). Who’s in my family? Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

MacLachlan, P. (1993). Baby. New York: Random House.

MacLachlan, P. (1991). Journey. New York: Yearling.

Peacock, C. A. (2000). Mommy far, mommy near: An adoption story. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.

Patron, S. (2008). The higher power of Lucky. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.