Book Review: Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child


In high school and college I was an avid scrapbooker, so when I heard the term “lifebook” for the first time I thought it was just a fancy term for adoptive parent’s scrapbooks. When I inquired more information from friends in my adoptive parents group I quickly learned that it is not a common term used in our group. It was this moment that I decided I should learn what lifebooks are-not only for our children, but also for my community. Further research lead me to Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child by Beth O’ Malley, M. Ed.

Beth spent the first several pages of the book emphasizing the importance of the lifebook before defining it as “a visual reminder of the adoptive family’s validation of the child’s existence, from the second s/he was conceived.” (page 9) A lifebook contains only facts and is best done with the child (more on that later for those of us adopting infants). She also spends quite a bit of time talking about her experiences as an adoptee from foster care, an adoptive parent, and a social worker within the foster care system. She provides adaptations on the lifebook model based on the age and location of your child, in addition to helpful resources for social workers to start a lifebook for the children on their caseload.

Through the book, there were wonderful statements to support the need for a lifebook in an adopted child’s life. They give breath to a child’s life while in foster care or an orphanage and connect them to their birth heritage. It is a concrete tool for the child to return to when needing a connection to their story. If you are adopting an older child, Beth really emphasizes using the lifebook as part of your attachment ritual, helping to normalize adoption language, and creating an understanding to your child’s story. She speaks into magical thinking and speaks about the truth in lifebooks helping to reduce the fantasy involved in a child’s perception of their life experiences.

For those of us adopting infants (especially children who have very little background available), she encourages journaling and maintaining alertness to the ‘warm fuzzies’ we experience in the process. Warm fuzzies are “pieces of personal, family-oriented information that are not typically part of the official record.” I translate this to be any information I receive about my child that doesn’t have a direct impact on the legal process of adoption. It could be an e mail update that we receive or a bit of fabric that looks like the couch s/he was sitting on this latest update picture.

The book also includes a page by page breakdown of what should be in a lifebook in addition to 3 examples of lifebooks. There is also a bibliography of books and websites included that provide free lifebook resources in addition to general adoption information.

As a whole I found Lifebooks: Creating A Treasure for the Adopted Child to be a useful resource. There are moments in the book that are repetitive and take many diversions before answering a simple question, which I found frustrating. Overall, though, I found it incredibly helpful in my planning stages of our family’s lifebook process. I now have a really great idea of where and how to start putting the book together and plan to continue using the book as I move forward documenting our children’s stories. And for the adoptive parent, I believe that makes this book worth the trip to the library or the $15 cost.

You can check out more information about lifebooks and Beth O’ Malley at MLJ Adoptions also offers the course Preparing Your Child’s Lifebook. The next time you can attend will be at the Crossroads of America Adoption Conference on Oct. 1st, 4:30 PM -6:30 PM. Check out our

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.