Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

Inside Out & Back Again

Lai, Thanhhà (Author)
HarperCollins 2013 264 pages
First published: 2011
ISBN: 9780061962790 (paperback)
9780061962783 (hardcover)
9780062069726 (e-book)
Original language: English
Book type: Novel
Book genre: Historical

Text Elements:

character, point of view, setting

Awards

National Book Award – 2011
Newbery Honor Book – 2012

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

This smart and tender free verse novel tells the story of 10-year-old Hà living with her family in Saigon during the Vietnamese war. Her father is a POW when her mother decides to flee to America with her family. The poems bring life to both the small pleasures in Saigon, such as the papayas in the backyard (“Two green thumbs/that will grow into/orange-yellow delights/smelling of summer”) and the darker realities: “Mostly I wish/Father would appear in our doorway/and make Mother’s lips/curl upward/lifting them from/a permanent frown.”

The sparse poems are divided in four sections: Saigon, At Sea, Alabama and From Now On. The first-person perspective provides an intimate flavour of the immigrant experience, from the agonizing decision to leave, to the long boat ride and finding a sponsor, and finally, integrating into a new culture. Eventually the family must accept that their father will never return.

Among the hardships, there are moments of humour: “Mother buys everything/to make egg rolls/for a coming holiday/when Americans eat a turkey/the size of a baby.” A series of poems discuss Hà’s struggles with English grammar and interactions with her American classmates. Hà’s strong and emotionally rich narrative paints a vivid portrait of war, immigration and the resilience of the human spirit.

  •  

    With your class, share what you know about refugees and their experiences, Vietnam and the Vietnam War. Keep this in mind as you read.

  •  

    How could you help a new student like Hà integrate into your class, school and community?

  •  

    Hà’s mother says “People share when they know they have escaped hunger/Shouldn’t people share when there is hunger?” (p. 93) Discuss this in a small group and come up with your own positive statement about sharing. Make a poster to present your message.

  •  

    Use Hà’s list of birthday wishes (pp. 30-31) as a model and create your own wish list.

  •  The story is told in free verse from the point of view of a child. Explore how the point of view and genre contribute to the reader’s ability to identify with the narrator and make meaning.
  •  

    Identify and discuss elements of author’s craft. Consider the types of poetry used, the use of dates to organize the narrative, the organization and structure of the story, etc. Make notes in a reader-writer’s notebook or on a class anchor chart.

  •  Following reading and discussion, use the text, along with others, as a model for writing a personal narrative in verse. Share the final texts with an audience of peers and adults.
  •  

    Prior to reading, complete a graphic organizer as a class with adjectives, nouns and verbs on the subject of Vietnam and add to it as you read. Use this vocabulary to write three sentences about Vietnam.

  •  

    Hà notices differences between English and Vietnamese. Make a Venn diagram to note differences and similarities between English and French. Display your diagrams and invite Elementary 4 and 5 students to view them and make comments/ask questions.

  •  

    Pretend Hà has written to an advice columnist asking how to stop the bullying at her new school. Write her a reply which promotes only non-violence.

  •  

    Initiate a “Happy News” time every Friday, similar to the one at Hà’s school.

  •  

    Prior to reading, research Vietnam in 1975. Use your notes during a class discussion to brainstorm keywords about its politics. Predict why someone might decide to leave that country.

  •  

    Keep track of Hà’s perspective on English grammar rules. With a partner, create more grammar rules on small posters and display them on a school wall.

  •  

    You are an online journalist. In pairs, prepare a podcast of an interview between you and a member of Hà’s family.

  •  

    Pretend Hà has written to an advice columnist asking how to stop the bullying at her new school. Write her a reply which promotes only non-violence.

  •  

    This free verse novel is loosely based on the author’s life. Write her a letter to ask her questions and/or thank her for sharing her experience as a young refugee.

  • To construct his/her identity
  • To cooperate with others
  • To use creativity
  • To use information
  • To use information and communications technologies
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Social Sciences