When a man finds an abandoned baby in a New York City subway station, he and his partner unexpectedly end up adopting the child, in a new picture book based on the true story—and perfect for Christmas.
“Some babies are born into their families. Some are adopted. This is the story of how one baby found his family in the New York City subway,” begins Our Subway Baby by Peter Mercurio (Dial). Told from Mercurio’s first-person perspective, it shows his then-partner (now husband) Danny, finding an abandoned baby in a corner of the subway station. The police are called and Mercurio arrives; the media covers the event and the baby is placed in foster care. Eventually, the judge in charge of deciding what to do with the child wants to meet Danny, and suggests that the two men adopt him. Both men are White; the baby is a light-skinned person of color.
The men have hesitations. “Our apartment was tiny. Our piggy banks were empty. I didn’t know if we had what it took to be your parents,” Mercurio relates. They finally decide, though, that “We were meant to be a family.” The judge says they can bring the child home in only three days, just in time for Christmas! Neighbors and relatives, at least two of whom seem to be people of color, help them prepare. The men take the child to their apartment—via the subway, arms around each other and the baby cradled between them.
Mercurio’s text is straightforward but occasionally lyrical as he speaks of their hopes and dreams as a family. The word count places this book at the upper end of the picture-book age range, but the vocabulary and sentence structure feel well suited for that audience. (Adults may just need to explain that the term “Straphanger,” seen in a newspaper headline about the baby’s rescue, refers to a subway rider.) An Author’s Note at the end tells us that in 2012, the child (now named Kevin) had the idea of asking the same judge to perform his dads’ wedding, which she did.
This is a heartwarming story about building a family, made more impactful by its truthfulness. (Here’s the grown-up version that Mercurio wrote for the New York Times in 2013.) Leo Espinosa’s illustrations deftly capture the characters’ emotions and the details of the city around them. Mercurio also takes the time not only to share his personal story, but also to offer some insight into what it means to foster or adopt a child, noting, for example, “We learned that you were placed in a foster home. Some babies stay in foster care for a short time. Some for a long time. Some live in many different foster homes and grow up without a permanent home or family.”
I also love that this is a story about LGBTQ family building that doesn’t focus on “problematizing” LGBTQ identities. Danny does make one comment to the judge that “I know adopting a baby isn’t always easy for two dads,” but the judge quickly says, “It can be.” A note at the end about why adoption isn’t always easy for two dads might have helped adult readers explain this to kids who have questions, but on balance, I’m glad that the focus is on the positive.
My only (small) critique is that I would have liked a clearer introduction about who Danny is to the narrator. It’s obvious as the story goes on that the men are living together and love one another; several images show them with their arms around each other. Yet saying “Danny, my partner” (or “husband,” or however they referred to each other at the time) might have clarified things from the start.
This joyous book about a unique path to parenthood, full of love and warmth, should find a place on many bookshelves.