CHERYL HERBERT considered it preventive medicine.
Asking her four children to write books about being adopted would encourage them to express their feelings and give her clues to "anything stewing on the inside." Besides, she didn't really mean that her grade-schoolers should write books.
"But they were serious. They were really ready to go," says Mrs. Herbert during an interview in her Anne Arundel County home.
And write books they did.
What started as a few penciled thoughts on notebook paper has become three children's books published recently by the Child Welfare League of America in Washington: "Being Adopted" by Stephanie Herbert, 9; "I Miss My Foster Parents" by Stefon Herbert, 8; and "The Visit" by S. Latisha Herbert, 7. Big brother Shaun, 14, helped illustrate the books, which feature all four children's original drawings.
In typical children's book format, with one thought and illustration per page, the small books talk about change, separation, fear, sadness, love and hope. They talk about birth families, foster families and adoptive families and about brothers and sisters left behind.
"The visit is when my brother and I see our sisters and brothers that live in a different foster home. . . . When it is time to leave we feel sad because we will not see each other for a long time. We hug and say goodbye," writes Latisha in her book.
She and Stefon are birth siblings adopted by Cheryl and Oscar Herbert three years ago through a Baltimore agency, Family & Children's Services of Central Maryland. The couple adopted Shaun when he was 2 1/2 and Stephanie when she was 6 months old through Anne Arundel County agencies.
"This is my favorite page," says Stephanie, proudly holding her book open to a page that reads: "I love my adopted mother and father and I am thankful for their love." Illustrating her words is a heart with a man and a woman inside it.
"This is the most important page," the lively, bright-eyed girl says, "because I have two adoptive parents who love me."
On earlier pages, Stephanie writes:
"When I was born my mother probably said I was cute."
"But I didn't come out of the hospital with my mother. She said it would be okay if someone adopted me." The accompanying illustration shows a woman reaching for the door knob, her back to an infant in a crib.
'It didn't feel too good to be away from my birth mother. I cried a lot because I missed her."
Getting the books published still surprises Mrs. Herbert, who works for the federal government in Annapolis. Seeing her children's work and enthusiasm for the project, "I felt I really had to do something," she says.
So she helped her youngsters organize their ideas and finish their drawings. She sent the work to one publisher, who promptly rejected it. Next, she contacted the welfare league hoping the group would lead her to a publisher. Within three days, she had a letter back, saying "call us."
"Someone must have really, truly believed," she says.
The books have broken new ground for the welfare league.
"This is the first time we've published books by children," says Mary Layton, the league's communications director. She adds that the books are intended not only for children but also for adults who work with foster and adoptive families.
Along the way, the Herbert youngsters have become mini-celebrities. The books took Stephanie, Stefon and Latisha, as well as their mother and father, to New York for the "Today" show recently to talk about the books and their family life. In April they'll be going to Washington to autograph books at the Child Welfare League's annual meeting.
"People think you find a nice home for these kids and everything is OK," says Oscar Herbert, indicating that isn't always so, although the couple says its experiences as adoptive parents do not seem much -- if any -- different from those of birth parents.
When the couple first decided to adopt, they, like most people, thought they wanted an infant. But their social worker took them to see Shaun, who was living in a foster home. "He was so cute with little curls on his head," Mr. Herbert remembers, and within a few months he was theirs.
"Then we had to go back for a baby. I wanted a baby," says Mr. Herbert, a driver for Federal Express in Baltimore. His wife, by this time, thought maybe she'd just as soon miss the diapers and sleepless nights. Nevertheless, they adopted Stephanie.
Then, when it became evident that Shaun and Stephanie wouldn't be playmates because of the difference in their ages, the Herberts decided to adopt two more.
"I said we'll get a boy and a girl -- someone for Shaun and someone for Stephanie -- and nobody will have any complaints." Three years ago, that's what happened when they found Stefon and Latisha.
"This is how the family came to gether," says Mr. Herbert. "And they are all very nice kids."
"Being Adopted," "I Miss My Foster Parents" and "The Visit" are available in bookstores and by mail from the Child Welfare League of America in care of CSSC, Box 7816, 300 Raritan Center Parkway, Edison, N.J. 08818. Phone (908) 225-1900. Each books costs $12.95; the set of three costs $33.