The cover of "Carla the Conqueror," new in a series of children's books by Anna Maria DiDio. (Courtesy Anna Maria DiDio)

Imagine being assigned to read aloud in front of a class. Now imagine having to read aloud to your fellow students in your second language. 

This is one of the challenges explored in “Carla the Conqueror,” the just-released third children’s book by Philly-area author Anna Maria DiDio. She began writing the “Love Inspires Families Everywhere” series after seeing her own daughter experience these and other challenges faced by an international adoptee.

“Since English is not her first language, she has a tremendous anxiety and nervousness about reading aloud,” DiDio told Billy Penn about Carla, an adoptee from Colombia. 

“So the book is about overcoming anxiety, building confidence to read aloud,” she said. “It’s tough for kids to just take that step and read in front of their classmates and find the courage to do that.”

DiDio went through all the highs and lows of adoption when she and her husband and their biological daughter welcomed Priscilla from Mexico. 

For two years, they dealt with the international adoption requirements and Mexican government agencies. One night Anna Maria received a phone call from their adoption agency telling her to be in Mexico in 48 hours. That’s when they first met Priscilla. There were two more trips to Mexico before the DiDio family were able to take her to their home in suburban Philadelphia.

“There were always delays and for much of the time we really didn’t know the status of our application, so communication was a little light. It was not knowing, I think, was the hardest part,” said DiDio.

Seven years old when the adoption process began, Priscilla has now graduated from college and works at a nonprofit agency in the city. 

In 2018, DiDio retired from her job in human resources, and began writing about her family’s journey with adoption, one that began 20 years before. 

When her book was finished, she became interested in the trauma of adoption known as the “primal wound,” where the physical separation of child and birth mother manifests later in life with the adoptee’s feeling of anxiety, depression and a sense of loss.

That’s when she started writing about Carla, starting with “Many People to Love: Celebrating Adoption Family Love.”

The next was “How I Wonder Where You Are,” about Carla coping and acknowledging the grief of missing her biological mother and culture. In the newly released “Carla the Conqueror,” Carla develops her confidence. 

The books are accessible for elementary school-aged kids, but older children, teens, parents, and even teachers can get something out of them, DiDio noted.

“Adopted children, in addition to dealing with the emotions of being separated from their biological mother,  are also dealing with the loss of the only environment they’ve known, including care-givers, foods, or cultural and language issues,” she said.

“Giving love, and wanting to be the most wonderful parent doesn’t erase pain [for the child],” said DiDio. 

In addition to her books, DiDio consulted pro bono with families seeking to adopt children internationally and domestically. The first part of any adoption, she tells people, begins with loss, which leads to trauma. 

“Parents and adopted children need to have those difficult conversations about separation and loss,” she said, and be prepared to answer questions like “Who do I look like and where do I come from? Where is my biological mother, and do I have family elsewhere?’” 

International adoptions have declined dramatically since the turn of the millennium, and DiDio is now focusing on domestic adoptions. She may write a fourth children’s book dealing with that. 

“I’m thinking [about another book] because adoption in the U.S. has transitioned to mostly domestic adoption,” DiDio said. “So I want to write about a blended family that has some of those challenges families and children will face.”