Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

I am always on the lookout for historical fiction that expands the student’s  view of the world.  It is no wonder why Thanhha Lai won both the Newbery Award and a National Book Award for this beautifully written story about immigration told in verse through the eyes of a young girl.

Summary from Goodreads:

8537327Inside Out and Back Again is a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award! Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing received four starred reviews, including one from Kirkus which proclaimed it “enlightening, poignant, and unexpectedly funny.” An author’s note explains how and why Thanhha Lai translated her personal experiences into Hà’s story.

My favorite mentor text excerpt

I can’t wait to share this with students and have them write their own wishes:

“Birthday Wishes”

Wishes I keep to myself:

Wish I could do what boys do
and let the sun darken my skin,
and scars grid my knees.

Wish I could let my hair grow,
but Mother says the shorter the better
to beat Saigon’s heat and lice.

Wish I could lose my chubby cheeks.

Wish I could stay calm
no matter what
my brothers say.

Wish Mother would stop
chiding me to stay calm,
which makes it worse.

Wish I had a sister
to jump rope with
and sew doll clothes
and hug for warmth
in the middle of the night.

Wish Father would come home
so I can stop daydreaming
that he will appear
in my classroom
in a white navy uniform
and extend his hand toward me
for all my classmates to see.

Mostly I wish
Father would appear in our doorway
and make Mother’s lips
curl upward,
lifting them from
a permanent frown
of worries.

If you are looking to open your student’s eyes to the treatment of those who move here from another country, Inside Out & Back Again is worth sharing.


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