When Rhonda Wagner’s daughter and son-in-law decided to foster, she was worried about how foster care would impact her young grandchild. She’s not alone! Many ask the same question, “will my child be hurt if we decide to foster?”
Rhonda’s concerns led her to seek out books that talked about foster care from the perspective of a young child, a child like her granddaughter Avery. When she couldn’t find what she was looking for she decided to write It’s Okay to Wonder – the first in a series of children’s books to help the biological children in families who are considering foster care or are already fostering. She wanted to provide a tool for kids to deal with their feelings about foster care and process thoughts and questions about becoming a sibling to a child or children who may leave.
Throughout The Joy of Avery book series, we watch Avery process her concerns about welcoming a new child to her family in It’s Okay to Wonder and then experience being a foster sibling from the “first call” to her first bittersweet goodbye in Braver than Me. Now in the third book, Say Yes Again, Avery develops deeper compassion and empathy for the children that join her family as she learns to “walk in another person’s shoes” and sees that not everyone has felt the same safety and stability that she has. She now knows that goodbye may be sad, but still she encourages her parents to “say yes again.”
Avery’s journey throughout the series is loosely based on Rhonda’s own granddaughter Avery’s experience as a sibling in a foster family. Now 10 years old, Rhonda describes Avery as “so stinkin’ fun” and says that 10 is just the best age! She loves basketball and shopping and still enjoys frying shrimp with her grandparents. In the years that her family has been fostering, Avery has grown up so much – developing deep compassion and empathy for others. Her family has grown with the adoption of Rhodes and Bo, now her forever brothers. Her family extends to the biological family of her brothers – they continue to maintain and honor those family bonds.
That’s part of what makes this third book so special to Rhonda. Avery is growing so much in real life and you see it reflected in the book too – it focuses on Avery’s growth. Avery is thinking beyond herself. She recognizes that it is okay to hurt a little so that someone else can thrive. She can be sad for herself when she says goodbye to a foster sibling she loves, and be happy for them that they get to be with family. In the book, a baby named David goes to live with his aunt and uncle instead of staying with Avery’s family. At first she doesn’t understand but she admits, “I know family should be together.”
Avery is not the only one who has experienced growth and change in the last seven years. Rhonda admits that her own heart and motivations have changed as she has leaned into her role as a foster grandparent.
“I think back to when I was first writing, I was scared. I feared the unknown, fear of my family doing foster care. As the grandparent, so much was unknown. I think for most people, they start with the unknown. I smile when I think of how much we’ve learned through foster care. My heart has changed and I know it will continue to change.”
Her heart for family, especially biological parents, has changed. Her motivations have changed. And with that her approach to writing has become much more sensitive – considering who all the readers may be. She thinks carefully about this as she has started writing the last book in the series which will highlight the joy and the pain of adoption through the eyes of Avery, the sibling. The book will be loosely based on the story of Rhodes and Bo’s adoption and it is incredibly important to honor their story, and their privacy.
“I love my role as the grandma. It’s not the main role, but it’s an important role.” Rhonda reflects on the children that her family has welcomed. Avery has been a big sister seven times not counting short-term respite stays when she’s also been a younger sister. She has experienced three different placement outcomes: reunification, kinship placement, and adoption. “I still pray for every child,” Rhonda says. She keeps track and prays for them and their families, for their best interest. Avery still speaks of them too, remembering kids with fondness. “We hope for them. We were just there when they needed us.”
Rhonda encourages other family members of foster families to be a part of the story in any way they can. Babysit if you’re nearby, send gifts to welcome them. Just be present in their life. Every kid can benefit from more people to love them. “Most importantly, pray.”
A glossary at the back of the book helps families understand the basic terms and experiences of foster care – kinship, respite, reunification. Rhonda includes conversation starters to help prompt family dialogue about thoughts and feelings that kids may not know how to express.
Get your copy of Say Yes Again and the rest of The Joy of Avery Series on Amazon. View book trailers and learn more at rhondawagnerbook.com