Making Kids Like Me in China, by Amy Klatzkin

Many people have asked if my eight-year-old daughter, Ying Ying Fry, wrote Kids Like Me in China all by herself.  Are they kidding?  She hadn’t the foggiest notion how to put a book together.  But she did know she wanted to make one, and she had a lot to say.

Actually, what she really wanted to make was a film like Deann Borshay Liem’s First Person Plural, an autobiographical documentary about the filmmaker’s experience of adoption from Korea and effort to bring her American and Korean families together there.  Deann is a friend of ours, and Ying has watched her film dozens of times.  Deann taught her two important truths: that an adopted person has two real families, even if she doesn’t know the family that gave birth to her; and that you can gain some control over your life story by telling it yourself.

I couldn’t help her make that film, so I suggested that she do a book with photos instead.  And so we began planning in the summer of 2000, getting permission from her orphanage to do the book and bring the publisher Brian Boyd with us in December 2000 to photograph.

During our two weeks in Changsha, Ying Ying kept a journal, and we took lots of video and more than 1,300 photographs.  My job was to provide structure and flow to the narrative, and the first step was to break the task into manageable chunks.  We divided the best of the photographs into sections (little babies, big babies, “the stuff that’s hard to talk about,” disabled kids, school kids, and kids we met outside the orphanage).  With the photos as a guide, we talked through one section at a time and added in bits from Ying’s journal and our videos.

The book was our quilt. Ying chose what pieces to put in it, and I trimmed them and sewed them together, one piece at a time.  She read each section through carefully and made lots of changes.  In the first drafts I allowed her to put in anything she wanted, but as we revised I suggested that she focus on the children she met, what their lives were like, and how that made her feel about her own life.  Her most important personal discoveries of the trip remain private.

Ying Ying is not fond of speaking in public.  She doesn’t understand why people want her to talk about her book.  What she has to say is inside it.  She plans to use her royalties to benefit the orphanage children, since Kids Like Me is their story too. Her first project, with the Foundation for Chinese Orphanages, is to get eye tests and glasses for all the older kids at Changsha SW1.

Reprinted with permission from the newsletter of FCC/New England.

To purchase Ying Ying’s Book “Kids Like Me In China”, click here.