Intermediate & Middle School Activity
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai 2012 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Title for Older Children, is a sem- autobiographical story. For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only known Saigon – the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home and her father is gone, somewhere in the army. Ha, her brave mother and brothers, are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward the U.S. In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family. This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
LISTEN TO EXCERPTS OF THIS STORY AND HEAR HA’S LONGING FOR THE PLEASURE OF HOME AND STRUGGLE WITH BEING IN A NEW AND FOREIGN COUNTRY
THEN READ THIS TO LEARN ABOUT THE WRITING OF INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN:
THANHHA LAI’S SECOND BOOK TELLS THE STORY OF A GIRL WHO ONLY KNOWS HER VIETNAMESE HERITAGE FROM AFAR UNTIL SHE GOES TO VIETNAM WITH HER GRANDMOTHER. LISTEN TO THANHHA TALK ABOUT THIS STORY…
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO TAKE A LOOK AT THANHHA LAI’S WEBSITE
Now Let’s Get to Next Steps!
Guiding questions for your reading, writing, thinking and acting:
- Thanhha says,” …I have a bilingual mind, it changes who you are depending on which language you’re speaking.” It has even been said that “you are your language.” What does this mean? What language are you? What languages do you think in? Are there slangs you use, lingos that your some adults might not understand? How do you think your language forms how you think? If you are bilingual or mulitlingual how does this enrich your thinking? Reflect on these questions and answer them for yourself in writing. You are welcome to share your insights in our comment section (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo
- Thanhha Lai wrote Inside Out and Back Again as prose poetry because the form fit the cadence of Ha’s thinking in Vietnamese. At the same time Ha’s mother told her and her brothers, “Until you children master English, you must think, do, wish for nothing else. Not your father, not your old home, not your old friends, not our future.” This was so hard! Perhaps not all parents phrase it quite this harshly, but it is the reality that immigrants and refugees must work hard to learn English in order to find a life for themselves in the United States. Maybe this is your and your family’s experience? Hopefully, you are keeping their first languges alive too! If this is your experience, what could those around you do that would be most helpful and supportive? In Listen, Slowly, Mai barely speaks Vietnamese when she travels to Vietnam with her grandmother. The experience changes her. If, like Mai, your first language is English, look around. What about your parents or granparents, some of your school mates, neighbors, or other acquaintences whose first language is other than English. What do you know about their experience? What do you imagine it is like being them? How might you communicate interest in their experience, respect, and perhaps support, if it is needed? Give it a try! You are invited to share your experience and insights in our comment section below (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo.