Joy Jordan-Lake’s A Crazy-Much Love explores the irrepressible love of parents for their adopted child
Joy Jordan-Lake isn’t new to publishing — she’s authored multiple books for adults — but A Crazy-Much Love is her first book for children. It’s a tribute to the abundant love parents carry for their children, in this case, a couple who engage in a transracial adoption: “We dreamed about you and pictured you waiting for us,” Jordan-Lake writes, “just like we were waiting for you.”
Illustrator Sonia Sánchez matches the author’s exuberant descriptions (“our crazy-much love for you would grow and grow more and spill out the windows and bust down the doors”) with energetic lines and vivid colors. It’s a story about family, the milestones of childhood (first laugh, steps, words), and the unconditional love these parents have for their much-awaited daughter.
Jordan-Lake spoke with Chapter 16 to talk about this book, why she felt compelled to write it, and how it is based on her family’s own experience with adoption.
Q. Chapter 16: This is your debut children’s book. What were both the joys and challenges of writing your first picture book text??
JJL: It’s great fun, actually. And so entirely different from writing a novel for adults that, even though it’s clearly work, it feels like such a needed change of pace — like getting to switch from the butterfly to the backstroke. Putting a toe in the crowded water is part of what’s hard since every Tom, Dick, and B.J. Novak has written a picture book. The joys include just the sheer play of trying to write lyrically in a way that won’t sound too stuffy or didactic — kids can sniff that out every time — but won’t speak down to them either. As adults, we all know that special magic of a picture book that, when a child begs you to read it for the 4 zillionth time, you’re happy to do it. Or the ones that can still make you teary or crack you up, 16 readings in. It’s that sort of magic you’re after — and the real challenge is trying to capture that. Like so much in life, it’s a whole lot harder than it looks, honestly. Which is part of the joy — and part of keeping a writer humble!
Q. To what extent have your own life and experiences as a mother informed this book?
JJL: I started writing picture books by telling my three kids that, since I was an author, I’d write a picture book for each of them. I enjoyed the process so much, I actually wrote several more — none of which are published yet. I originally wrote A Crazy-Much Love for my youngest child, the only adopted one of the three. In her elementary school class, they were discussing genetics and family history, and I wanted to help her push back at all the “Do you have your mom’s eyes?” and “Are you much like your grandfather?” kind of thing and, instead, have her own joyful story to tell. That first version of the book was called It Was You, and we “illustrated” it with photographs of Jasmine that fit the text. She proudly took it to school, and we read it to her class. So, in the case of this particular book, it was deeply informed by my frustration that there weren’t more picture books out there for adopted kids to directly address that reality in a celebratory way. Also, though, I tried to write it in a way that any child would enjoy it — and feel a family’s, crazy-much love.
Q. What was it like for you to first see Sonia Sánchez’s vibrant artwork for this book?
JJL: I’m nuts about Sonia’s gorgeous artwork. That’s another delightful part of the picture book process — that you have a partner in bringing the words to life. In writing novels, it’s just you hoping to bring those characters and settings to life for a reader. But with a picture book, an illustrator has her own perspective and ideas that don’t just echo your words but add to them and even take them over the top.
Sonia lives in Spain, and we’ve not met in person, though I’d love that someday. I may just have to show up at the door of her little house on the Mediterranean and bring a bottle of wine. Meanwhile, I get to applaud her work across an ocean.
Q. You have previously taught writing and literature at the postsecondary level. Do you ever miss teaching?
JJL: I do miss teaching at the college level, yes. A lot. I miss the vibrancy and noble life goals and giftedness of the students — some of whom are friends, years later. But (and it’s a big but) as the book contracts have come more regularly, I began feeling that I wasn’t giving enough of my heart and soul to my students. I always felt like I could be a decent writer, parent, and professor — choosing two of the three. Trying to balance all three of the above always looked like it would work on paper, and it would work for a while — with lots of grading of papers at wrestling tournaments. But life always became too harried, and either the teaching or the writing would suffer. And always the sleep cycle.
So for now, I’m glad for chances to teach on retreats or at workshops where I can feel all-in, but for a shorter period of time, yet still really get to enjoy watching and being a part of other people’s creative processes.
Q. You grew up in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. What is one thing that, as a writer, you still carry with you from home?
JJL: I love that you asked about my hometown. Like a lot of writers, I was a painfully shy kid. So, it was a great gift to grow up in a small town, where I could ride my bike to the tiny public library or sit for hours in a tree beside the stream and read a Nancy Drew mystery. All my friends as a child were also avid readers, so even when our parents ordered us outside, we were acting out our favorite stories and characters and adventures. Interestingly, from among my closest childhood friends, we went our separate ways by middle school — some to private schools in Chattanooga, some to public, and some moving away — yet the majority of us went on for graduate degrees in English lit and still try to balance reading and teaching and writing. I still carry that sense of community, the beauty of making time for connecting with the natural world, and for getting lost in a book.
Q. Are you planning to write any more children’s books?
JJL: I’d love to! My older two kids insist they’re just a little miffed that their books haven’t been acquired yet, so that’s on the to-do list, of course. And ever since one of my dear friends adopted a fabulous son with a prosthetic leg, I’ve been aware how few picture books feature a limb-different child as the hero. So, that’s a story rattling around in my head, too.
Q. I have to ask: Did one of your own children actually try, just like in the book, to sneak your pet dog onto the school bus?
JJL: I think they tried everything but that. We’ve always had dogs, and my youngest child and I especially try to take our current dog, Teddy the Rescue Pup, everywhere — mostly because he’s cuddly and adorable, but also because he gets insecure when left in the care of neighbors and marks on, in that charming male dog way, anything not in motion.
By: Julie Danielson Chapter 16 11.07.19
To download interview - click on PDF below.
Joy Jordan-Lake's daughter and three of the other girls who became a part of their "village."
If you’re part of an adoption story, help us come up with a Top Ten best things about being adopted or having an adopted child or sibling?
Pictured above (photo #5) is my younger daughter on the far left with her sister-friends, all adopted from the same orphanage in China.
We nine families, living all over the United States, have become an extended family to one another. These are the girls behind the book A CRAZY-MUCH LOVE.
Pics of the girls adopted in the same group from China in a group of nine families, with ten girls in the group.
In the 16 years since we've stayed close and get together in person at least once a year in various parts of the country since most of us live hundreds of miles apart. The girls have stayed close despite the distances, which has been a beautiful thing to watch.
This pic of the three young adults is of my three "children"--how did they get so old? Jasmine and the girls in our adoption group were the inspiration for A CRAZY-MUCH LOVE, and Teddy the Rescue Pup, who adores Jas, is the inspiration behind the dog in the story. 💗
A Crazy-Much Love: A heart-warming story of parental love read by the girls who inspired the story.
Fifteen years ago nine separate families each flew to China to adopt a baby. A bond was formed among them that transcends culture and distance. Today, those nine girls—their parents and siblings—are extended family to one another. A Crazy-Much Love by author Joy Jordan Lake, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez, is a celebration of their love. Here, the girls read from their shared stories. Buy the Book
"Behind the scenes"
A Crazy—Much Love
Making Room in My Filled-Up Calendar for More Adoptive Parents Was the Best Thing I Did for My Family
This overwhelmed mom thought her capacity to care for more people was full. Then an unexpected support system showed up—and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
By: Joy Jordan-Lake
It indeed takes a village to raise a child—or at least, that’s the richest, most beautiful way to do it. But I had to learn this all over again with my third child, when everything in my life seemed to argue for circling the wagons and defaulting to what my family threatens they will have etched someday on my tombstone: I can do this all by myself.
With two biological children and two busy careers, my husband and I were in the midst of a harried midwinter move from Waco, Texas, to Nashville, Tennessee—and we would soon find ourselves stuck with two houses after buyers pulled out of the sale last minute in Texas. But far more important than real estate woes just then was our flying to China to bring home our third child, a precious adopted daughter. Back in the U.S., my father was suffering from early Alzheimer’s Disease and my mother needed help not only with care but with knowing what to do, where to move, how to proceed. My husband’s mother was in L.A., and we needed to get out to see her and help more often than we had.
In the midst of the move two weeks after returning from China, the two older children and I fell ill with mono. I had a deadline looming for a book that would become Working Families. In addition, I took a part-time teaching job in our new town and my husband worked long hours, both of us struggling to pay the two mortgages. Life had spun beyond busy into the realms of a blur.
Let’s just say that the last thing I was looking for was more extended family to keep track of and care for. When the eight other families who adopted at the same time from the same orphanage in rural China began planning annual and then more frequent reunions and formed a Facebook group and texting thread and began referring to our group as an extended family, I was exhausted—and, quite honestly, resistant. I liked them all immensely, and I understood that our daughters, in the orphanage together for the first 11 months of their lives, shared an unusual bond we needed to honor. But my care-for capacity was already overloaded. My calendar was already over-full.
In the friendliest, most loving, and understanding way, they would simply not let us go.
I am teary as I write that. Because despite our living hundreds of miles from each other, they became a village for our family.
Raising kids, and raising them well, is tough enough, as we all know. But helping adopted kids navigate the extra questions they have to face adds a whole extra layer of wisdom required. As our families gathered, we discovered the strength and connection our girls seemed to find in each other’s company—and that we found with each other. We adults held broadly different jobs, from realtors to writers to bankers and teachers and accountants. Our girls, who as toddlers looked so much alike from behind with their nine heads of long, glossy black hair and our dressing them to match, grew into vibrant teenagers with vastly different styles and interests and talents. Yet even the differences seemed to make the village-bond stronger.
We, adults, found we could be vulnerable with each other. We could share parenting ideas and challenges. We could ask each other the hard questions of how you answer your daughter when she wants to talk about adoption—or for that matter, matters of faith or culture, what college might be a good fit, or what future career.
I write books for a living these days, a profession that is typically fairly lonely—lots of long nights meeting deadlines and silent stretches of days and months staring at a laptop screen. As a mom, I’ve always felt like moving from that silence and intense concentration to the boisterous high-energy demands of picking up kids from preschool or teens from track practice was like burning rubber at the starting line every day, going from zero to 60 in nanoseconds. I knew what community felt like—and all of it loud—in my household with people from Italian and Scottish and Chinese extraction. But to my utter surprise, our adoption group has brought community even into my writing life.
Inspired by my adopted daughter and by our group of girls from the same orphanage, all adored and all thriving, I recently published my first children’s picture book, A Crazy-Much Love. Coming from all over the country, seven of the 10 girls showed up with their families for the book launch party. From Texas, from Chicago, from Cincinnati, they gathered to fill our house and laugh together and marvel over old pictures of the 10 girls as toddlers together in blue butterfly dresses one of the grandmothers had made, the girls as gangly children learning to swim at the summer camp one family hosted annually in Kentucky, the girls as young teenagers with matching Old Navy scarves and hanging artfully from a brass hotel baggage cart as if they were rolling through a Broadway musical dance scene.
What had started out a book I’d written alone inspired by my younger daughter had grown, just as it should have, into our book as a village of families. Our journey. Our over-the-top love for our kids, adopted and biological. And also, go figure, our gratitude for each other. For being able to be authentic and messy and baffled and grieving and grateful with each other over the past 15 years. Being able to celebrate together. The gift of adoption. The gift of together. The gift of family.
Maybe I’m clumsier at parenting than most, but quite honestly, I find it the most gut-wrenchingly hard as well as the most spectacularly beautiful thing I’ve ever done. So now as the veteran working mother of three kids, two of whom have launched to college and grad school with only one left at home, I offer this advice to younger moms: I know you’re busy. I bet you’re exhausted, your calendar and your care-for capacity way past full.
But don’t let the crazy-much of your schedule make you shut out the village that is all around you, that is ready to help you raise your child. That can become a storehouse of wisdom for you. That can become a cherished even-more-extended, not-letting-you-go kind of family.
Here’s to you, fellow Working Mom. And here’s to the villages that won’t let us go.
Oct 1, 2019: Working Mother by Joy Jordan-Lake