Inside Out and Back Again
Thanha Lai
2011
National Book Award Winner*
Newbery Honor*

I’m fully expecting to update this in a few months when more awards are announced…. (I’ve had to update Chime  to reflect its recent Boston Globe-Hornbook Honor status–announced in June). Inside Out and Back Again is beautiful.  *Yep… I’m editing as we hear awards announced!!

I’ve read a few novels in verse this year and have been pleasantly surprised at how effortless they are to read; don’t let the verse format put you off. One of the authors of this format has described it as “intentional line breaks” more than “poetry”  (wish I could give credit for that–but I can’t remember!).


Inside Out and Back Again is the largely autobiographical story of a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl who flees South Vietnam just as Saigon is falling. Her adjustment, or lack thereof, to Alabama is heartbreaking and such a window into the refugee experience. So many things we take for granted that seem completely alien to those from another country. So many things they used to take for granted that are no longer available–I was struck by how much the availability of ethnic food has changed in the past few decades. Ha couldn’t get a fresh papaya in America in the 1970’s. But now–you can find them all over.

I think kids will respond to this book if we can convince them to look past the format. Ha is easy to identify with, even though she is originally from Vietnam. This is the kind of book we want our children reading:
how do we Christians come across to those of other faiths?

  • Do we only care about “dunking” them? 
  • What about the real state of their hearts? 
  • How do we as Americans treat the “other”? 
  • Do we nurture them and show them how to make the best of their American experience, or do we shun them and stick to our own understandings of their culture? 
  • How well do we treat each person as made in the image of God?

Recommended for middle elementary and up

Read a guest blog post by Thanhha Lai on TeachingBooks.net; see more TeachingBooks.net resources on Thanhha Lai; you can also hear her pronounce her name

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