The idea of family is at the heart of the stories we tell in pop culture; from the creation of new families through romance to the tales told about established families through generations, human connection is everything. However, it’s important to remember that family isn’t just about parents and their biological parents; ‘family’ can mean so much more than that. Families can be blended, can be unusual, and of course, can be created through adoption. This November, in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, we’ve rounded up some of the best (and worst) depictions of adoptive families in pop culture - your favorite movies, TV shows and books, and the characters in them that found their families, rather than being born into them.
Randall Pearson (This Is Us)
This Is Us is an emotional rollercoaster of a series, guaranteed to have you reaching for the tissues every episode as it pulls together the story of one family — three grown siblings in the present day, and their parents’ love story and early years together. Randall was taken in by the family on the day he was born; he was abandoned at a fire station on the same day that the Pearson parents lost one of their triplets in a difficult birth. Randall’s feelings about being very visibly adopted (a black child in a white family), about his birth parents, and about how his adoption shaped not only him, but his brother and sister, are front and center in the show, and handled beautifully throughout. Like we said…tissues.
Superman (DC Comics)
Here’s a hero for any adopted child to look up to. He's the Man of Steel himself! The biggest name in superheroes, Clark Kent, was originally a child of Krypton. However, when he was sent to Earth as a baby, he was adopted by Ma and Pa Kent, a couple of Kansas farmers who desperately wanted a child. Under their loving care, Clark learned how to be human, and how to control his incredible powers so that he could eventually become a great hero. And he’s not the only adopted superhero! Batman was also adopted by his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, after the murder of his parents.
Margot, Edith and Agnes (Despicable Me)
In many ways, Despicable Me plays into some of the cliches of adoption — especially the cruel orphanage where sisters Margot, Edith and Agnes wait for a loving family to come and take them home. However, it’s the professional (if somewhat bumbling) villain, Gru, who actually adopts the girls…and heartwarming chaos ensues. Although the film franchise definitely doesn’t paint a particularly accurate picture of adoption, it’s still a sweet and funny movie to introduce kids to the idea that family can mean all kinds of things, including a single father raising three young girls.
Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables)
One of the most famous adopted children of literature has to be the bright, spunky, Anne Shirley. In L.M. Montgomery’s famous series, Anne is accidentally brought to live on a farm with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, siblings who wanted a young boy to help out around the place. However, Anne soon charms her way into their hearts, and becomes a beloved daughter to the pair — a far cry from the relationship that they expected. This series is a classic because of the character of Anne, but her backstory (and her fear that she would simply be "returned" by the Cuthberts) is a heartrending look at the plight of orphans in this time period.
Barry Allen (The Flash)
In the CW’s hit adaptation of the DC comics, Barry Allen is The Flash: the fastest man alive. He’s also the foster child of Joe West, a neighbor and friend who took him in as a young boy after his mother was killed and his father was (wrongfully) imprisoned for her murder. Although Barry has never been confirmed to have been formally adopted by the West family, he is a key part of their world, and Joe sees him as a son as well as a hero. Barry also has a romance (that pre-dates his mother’s death) with Joe’s daughter, Iris… a complicated scenario that shows how family dynamics can grow and change, and how Barry can deal with having two father figures, and with growing up with his childhood crush. It’s also a useful reminder that while legal adoption is often the goal, it doesn’t have to be, and that fostering still creates families.
Harry Potter (Harry Potter)
Another famous fictional character who was not legally adopted after he lost his first family is, of course, Harry Potter. The boy wizard was taken in by his aunt and uncle after his parents were killed by Voldemort, a situation that nobody was happy with, and that led to him growing up in a cupboard under the stairs while his spoiled cousin got his every desire. That is, until Harry found out he was actually a wizard, of course! While this is far from an ideal or positive model for adoptive families in pop culture, it’s a great example of kinship adoption — the process where children in need of a home are usually placed with other family members first, whether they are then legally adopted later or not.
Finally, let’s take a look at one of the most famous adopted children of classic fairy tales — Cinderella. The story of the kindhearted girl forced to cook and clean for her evil stepmother and bratty stepsisters certainly puts the usual trials of an adjustment period into perspective…but it also has to take the blame for a whole lot of the terrible reputation of the dreaded stepmother.
Who are your favorite adopted characters in pop culture? Tweet @quirkbooks and let us know!