Dinner Table Talks create the opportunity for families to have important conversations centered around books. These discussions will build our capacity for talking about race and define our roles in fighting against both every day and systemic racism.
Based on the author's own childhood, Inside Out & Back Again tells the story of a pivotal year in the lives of a South Vietnamese family. Once a wealthy family with two parents, 1975 brings a reversal of fortune for Hà, her brothers and mother. In the first few months, her father and country are lost to war. Hà and the rest of her family soon find themselves crowding onto a ship with other families and their few meager possessions to escape the pervasive violence and hunger plaguing Vietnam.
With no country, Hà and her family live in a refugee camp, hoping to find a new land to call home. Their hopes are answered in the form of a "cowboy" who sponsors their family as they relocate to America--Alabama to be exact. Hà and her family struggle to make their way in their new country where they must learn a new language and culture. Their lives have been turned inside out, but will they ever be turned "back again?"
Thanhha Lai reads from Inside Out & Back Again at the 2011 National Book Award Finalists Reading
A Little Bit of History...
National Geographic Kids offers a concise and informative entry about Vietnam and its people. This video also sheds a little light on what happened in Vietnam during the war and how Vietnamese refugees came to settle in America.
Terms like immigrant, migrant and refugee can be confusing. This video from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees helps define who is a refugee.
Inside Out & Back Again both begins and ends with the holiday of Tết Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year). Why do you think the author chose this holiday as both the beginning and ending of Hà's story?
"Every New Year, Mother visits the I Ching Teller of Fate. This year, he predicts this year will twist our lives inside out.”
Do you think he was right in his prediction?
Brother Vũ "dreams of touching the same ground where Bruce Lee walked." Why do you think he viewed Bruce Lee as a hero? What film or music stars you admire? Do they look like you? Why is representation important?
In Part II of Inside Out & Back Again we read “Amethyst Ring”. Here we learn about the amethyst ring Father brings back from his time in America training in the navy and gives to Mother. Do you agree that Mother should sell the ring to be able to buy needed supplies or do you agree with the children that she should keep the ring to remember Father by?
Why do you think Hà and her family board the ship that is potentially filled with danger and limited resources? Would you take the same chance, and if so, why?
What do you think happens to Hà's father? What do you think it feels like to have a loved one disappear and not know what has happened to them?
Why do you think Hà's family chooses to go to America, instead of settling in another country?
Hà describes her American town as “clean, quiet loneliness." How is Hà's life in Alabama different from the way she lived in Saigon? Are there any similarities?
Why is it so important to Hà’s mother that the entire family learn English together? If your family moved to a foreign country, would you be eager to learn the language? Why, or why not?
What do you think of the moment when the Pink Boy makes fun of Hà? What do you think of people who make fun of the way someone talks, their appearance, etc.?
What do you think the new year (1976) will hold for Hà and her family?
Activity: Blackout Poetry
To Start: You can use a page from a newspaper, a copied story or informational text, or a page from a book that is in need of being discarded.
1. Scan the page to find words and phrases that jump out at you. Use a pencil to lightly circle them. Tip: Use a pencil so you can erase or add!
2. Read through the list of words you have circled to decide if there are words you want to eliminate, or if you need to find more words. Remember: We read from top to bottom and left to right, so the words need to be in that order.
3. Read your poem aloud to make sure it makes sense. Tip: You can also write your poem out on a separate sheet of paper.
4. If you are happy with your poem you can begin to blackout the page. There are several creative ways to do this. You can easily blacken the words with a maker, connect them with color, or even paint. You can even add illustrations to the page, after circling the words, sketch a design that fits with the theme of the poem!
If this activity has your creative juices flowing, consider submitting your black out poetry for possible inclusion in Richland Library's literary magazine, Kids in Print.
Contributors must live in the Midlands and be 6-18 years-old for consideration.