Sunday, November 20, 2011

Booktalk: Inside Out & Back Again (2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature winner)

The winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again. I’m going to interrupt my “Virginia Readers’ Choice” titles to booktalk it instead. I really liked it and it would work well for intermediate grades and middle school.

Ha is a young girl from Vietnam whose father is missing and whose family needs to flee their country in order to escape the wartime violence. She’s a normal girl who will miss the country she loves so much: the papaya trees, the food, her friends, the open market, and the beautiful flowers. Vietnam has been her only home for ten years, and now she and her mother and older brothers have to get on a crowded ship to sail to America on short notice, probably never to return.

Imagine leaving behind everything you ever owned. Ha’s brother loves his baby chick and tries to bring it along, even though he wasn’t supposed to.  You can’t keep a baby chick alive on a crowded ship. It’s just one more loss on top of the many others they’ve suffered.

Once they arrive in the U.S., everything is strange and confusing, like the man with the cowboy hat who takes them in but whose wife hates them and makes them stay in the basement. Ha’s family made it to America, but they don’t feel welcome here.

Ha is a smart girl, and she’s especially good at math, but the children at her school are mean to her. One boy in particular hates her and calls her “Pancake Face.” Believe it or not, there are times when Ha wishes she were back in war-torn Vietnam. No one was cruel to her there. But there are things – and people – who keep Ha going in Inside Out & Back Again.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. 262 p. Harper: 2001. Booktalk to intermediate grades and to middle school.

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