Jean Davies Okimoto

The White Swan Express

A 2004 Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book

In China, the moon shines on four baby girls, fast asleep in an orphanage. Far away in North America, the sun rises over four homes as the people who live there get ready to start a long, exciting journey. This lovely story of people who travel to China to be united with their daughters describes the adoption process step by step and the anxiety, suspense, and delight of becoming a family. Told with tenderness and humor, and enlivened by joyous illustrations, The White Swan Express will go straight to readers' hearts.

Kirkus Reviews : "Effervescent watercolors . . . a must buy for all libraries and a lovely gift for new families of all stripes."

Booklist, ALA : "This heartwarming story [is] a complement to the study of China as well as a good book to explain adoption."

Bulletin of the Center for Children : "A purposeful, successful picture book. . . emotionally involving enough for any group interested in understanding the different ways families grow."

From Publishers Weekly:
This tender, ebullient picture book tracks a quartet of parents in North America and a quartet of baby girls in China as everyone prepares for the "special day" they meet. Okimoto (the daughter of an adoptee) and Aoki (the mother of an adoptee) effectively contrast the flurry of excited activity on one side of the world ("In Toronto, Howard Suzuki sang in the shower while Jessica dried her hair") with the peacefully slumbering babies on the other ("Li Shen snuggled on her side. Qian Ye slept curled in a ball"). Readers get a peek at the mechanics of international adoption (including the long plane trip and bus ride to the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou) and the emotions of the prospective parents (the government waiting room was "as silent as still water." But their hearts "thumped like drums and fluttered like the wings of a bird"). Set against clean white backdrops, So's (Tasty Baby Belly Buttons) expressive watercolors bloom like spring flowers. The parents emerge as distinct individuals, each exuding a unique energy-an impressive feat given the economy of line with which the artist articulates each impressionistic illustration. With its matter-of-fact mix of parents that include two married couples, a lesbian couple and a single mother, the book's understated message-that families come in all shapes and sizes, and are bound together by love-comes through loudly and clearly. Ages 5-8.

From Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Co-authors Jean Davies Okimoto and Elaine Aoki capture the adventure of becoming a family in The White Swan Express. In North America, three couples and one woman and her cat prepare for a special plane trip. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, four little Chinese girls are sleeping. Each adult anxiously awaits the moment of meeting his or her new daughter. One writes in her journal, another reads What to Expect the First Year, a third burns the toast, a fourth cries with happiness. Once home, the families regularly send holiday and Chinese New Year cards to one another—complete with photos of their growing daughters. Meilo So's luminous watercolors are a perfect accompaniment to this story of love and joy.

From School Library Journal:
K-Gr 3-Lovely Asian-inspired watercolors and an engaging text tell the story of four baby girls from a Chinese orphanage and the families who adopt them. First readers meet the North American families, including a single mother and another consisting of two female partners. They anxiously make the trip halfway around the world to the Chinese city of Guangzhou where they become acquainted at the White Swan Hotel. Juxtaposed against the excited, expectant parents are portraits of darling, slumbering babies. The prospective moms and dads are shown waiting anxiously in a room of the orphanage before they finally meet their children. Then they must negotiate the bureaucracy of foreign adoptions before going home. The four families keep in touch after their homecoming, especially during Chinese New Year. An afterword describes the real-life parallel experience of the coauthor. Though slightly longer, this title compares favorably to both Rose Lewis's I Love You Like Crazy Cakes (Little, Brown, 2000) and Stephen Molnar-Fenton's An Mei's Strange and Wondrous Journey (DK Ink, 1998; o.p.). There is no pronunciation guide for the Chinese words and phrases. Despite this quibble, this charming offering successfully joins the growing collection of literature about adoption.-Rosalyn Pierini, San Luis Obispo City-County Library, CA

From Booklist
K-Gr. 3. This heartwarming story, based on Aoki and her husband's experience adopting a Chinese infant, tracks the journey of seven people from four adoptive families who are traveling from their homes in North America to China to meet their new baby daughters. The story moves back and forth between the families and the four children awaiting adoption in a Chinese orphanage. The adoptive parents are a diverse group--two married couples, one white, the other Asian; a single woman; and a pair of women (it's not clear whether the two women are a lesbian couple). The story describes the legal process involved as well as overwhelming feelings associated with bringing a child into a new family. So's lovely watercolors are a whirl of activity, offering glimpses of the sights and sounds of the faraway land. An afterword fills in a little background about Chinese culture and about the government policy of allowing a family only one child. A complement to the study of China as well a good book to explain adoption. Lauren Peterson

From Kirkus Reviews:
Young readers will love this story of how four Chinese babies come to be welcomed into new families in North America. Especially powerful is the depiction of those who are traveling to China to get their children. A couple from Miami, a pair of women from Vashon Island near Seattle, a single mom in Minnesota, and couple with a Japanese surname in Toronto, Canada all set out for the city of Guangzhou, in China. Meanwhile, "Still asleep, Wu Li smacked her lips, Li Shen burped, Qian Ye yawned, and Chun Mei Ni snored." The parallel depictions of the soon-to-be parents and the soon-to-be adopted children across the ocean help to create the sense of family right from the beginning. The seven parents become a group in China and exchange stories and expectations as they make their way to the White Swan Hotel, their home away from home, while they arrange to meet and adopt their beautiful daughters. Dr. Aoki uses her own experiences with adoption as the basis for this account, co-authored by Okimoto (Dear Ichiro, not reviewed, etc.), who has written before about Asian-Americans and is herself the daughter of an adoptee. So’s (Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats, below, etc.) effervescent watercolors in a vibrant and colorful palette add much to the presentation of a story that will intrigue and interest both those who are adopted and those who are not. A must buy for all libraries and a lovely gift for new families of all stripes. (extensive afterword) (Picture book. 4-9)