Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#21: Inside Out and Back Again (Thanhha Lai)

I love visiting Half-Price Books whenever there is a store nearby. I head directly for the clearance stash to see what unknown treasures await me there for less than $3. This time, I visited a store in Oklahoma City and stumbled upon Inside Out and Back Again. The description grabbed my attention and the price sealed the deal that I would give this short novel a shot. I’m so glad I did!

Inside Out and Back Again tells the story of Hà, a 10-year-old girl living in war-torn Saigon in February, 1975 — the height of the Veitnam War. She lives with her three brothers and mother in a small house not far from the docks. Her father was a naval officer who went to fight for his land and has not returned. As things become more and more dangerous in South Vietnam, Hà and her family are forced to flee Saigon near the end of April aboard dilapidated boats hoping to reach Thailand. Hà and her family are among the boat people.

Their boat is met by U.S. sailors who take the refugees to Guam. As the family struggles to find stability in their temporary setting, they are forced to decide where they will immigrate. Hà and her family settle on the United States and ultimately land in Alabama.

In the American South, Hà is no longer seen as the intelligent student she has always been. Rather she spends much of her time feeling stupid. School becomes a place of ridicule and bullying. In order to gain acceptance in their new community, the family feels as though they must abandon their Buddhist faith and accept Christianity. What was promised as a land of opportunity and hope presents Hà with unimaginable challenges as she navigates a foreign land with very few friends and less understanding of the world around her.

Beautifully written in poetic form, Inside Out and Back Again is largely based on the experiences of the book’s author. Its gripping accounts of the feelings of a child in a war-ravaged land as well as the frustration of learning a new language are some of the hallmarks of this delightfully written novel. One of my favorite passages comes near the end of the book. Hà has begun after-school tutoring with a retired teacher, Miss Washington. In the poem entitled “Start Over,” Hà recounts a valuable lesson she has learned from her tutor.

MiSSSisss WaSShington says/ if every learner waits/ to speak perfectly,/ no one would learn/ a new language.

Being stubborn/ won’t make you fluent./ Practicing will!/ The more mistakes you make,/ the more you’ll learn not to.

They laugh.

Shame on them!/ Challenge them to say/ something in Vietnamese/ and laugh right back.

Inside Out and Back Again, 253-254

Inside Out and Back Again was published in 2011 by HarperCollins Children’s Books. The following year, Thanhha Lai’s work was listed as a Newberry Honor Book by the American Library Association.

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Jack’s Book Club (April 2019)

Since my own reading life is non-existent at the moment, I am choosing to enjoy feeding Jack’s love of books. I’m hoping that my own reading begins to return to its normal pace in the coming weeks as the spring term finally begins to draw to a close. (In case you can’t tell, I’m ready for summer break!)

In the meantime, let’s look at the three books that are making their way to Jack’s book shelf this month.

img_0137Dandy by Ame Dyckman is a funny story about a little girl who finds a flower in the middle of Daddy’s perfectly manicured lawn. Unfortunately, Daddy realizes that the intruder is no flower, but actually a WEED! Whenever Daddy attempts to remove the weed from the lawn, his daughter is always there to protect her prized possession. With lots of humor, Dyckman expresses the lengths a father will go to in order to see that his child is happy and treasured.




img_0136The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach is a hysterical book for adults disguised as a children’s book. The young caterpillar cannot wait to become a butterfly, but lacks the patience required. Children will be mesmerized by the vivid images and the carefully crafted science lesson about the metamorphosis process. I suspect they will enjoy watching Mom and Dad laugh as they read the book, too! The little caterpillar’s constant questions throughout the process will strike home with anyone who has spent time with a toddler.




img_0135In keeping with the Easter celebration this month, I couldn’t pass up Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson. Rabbit collects carrots and cannot bear to be separated from them. There’s a problem though — there’s no room in the house for Rabbit now because of all the carrots! Rabbit decides to take the problem to his friends….but the problem continues to grow. Too Many Carrots quickly becomes a charming lesson about friendship and sharing.

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Jack’s Book Club (March 2019)

March has been a busy month for me, so I’m just now making my way to the bookstore to make this month’s selections for Jack’s Book Club. I’ve heard that my little buddy has been really sick recently, so I’m excited to get these books in the mail tomorrow morning so he can have some fun with a couple of new books that I absolutely fell in love with.

img_0125Ellie by Mike Wu is the story of a young elephant and her animal friends in a zoo that is about to close. In an effort to save their home, the animals all begin to pitch in to make things better. The only problem is that Ellie is not able to help because she is too short and not strong enough. Just as she becomes convinced that she is simply too small to help, Ellie finds herself with a paintbrush in her trunk…and she begins to contribute to the world through her art! (Can’t imagine WHY I think this is such an important message for children to hear, can you?)

Besides its charming story, the art work in this book is stupendous! Each page is filled with vibrant color and detailed images. I love the characterization of each animal too! Just so there is no surprise, Mike Wu is an animator at Pixar and has worked on movies ranging from The Incredibles to Ratatouille and Up. Clearly, Mr. Wu is a gifted artist.

img_0124This month’s second selection hooked me as soon as I saw the cover with its graphic images and enticing title. After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat tells just that story. Humpty Dumpty has been completely repaired to his former glory — well, almost. Despite being a whole egg again, Humpty is now afraid of heights! He misses the view from high atop the wall. When he finally gets the courage to climb to the heights again, Humpty experiences an unexpected change and the answer is not given to the reader in the text. I love when a young reader has to look carefully at the pictures and deduce what happened to the hero. (If I’m honest, it took me a minute to figure it out in the bookstore today…..but when I got it, I GOT IT! The people sitting nearby might have thought I had lost my mind momentarily.) Make sure you don’t miss the image and statement on the back cover of the book either: “Life begins when you get back up!” Author Dan Santat is a Caldecott Medal winner for his 2015 book The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, so the pictures in this book are also incredible.

img_0126Normally, that’s where I end these posts, but this month I have to give a shout out to another wonderful picture book that I read today. I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll with illustrations by Howard McWilliam was an incredibly funny read. In brief, a young boy has gone to bed and realized that the monster that lives under his bed has gone on a fishing trip for a few days. The boy realizes that he will miss his monster and begins interviewing others to fill in as a replacement. The creatures are initially somewhat scary, but quickly reveal that they are hysterical. Probably better for an older child, I Need My Monster can be a welcome return to reading for the child that likes more mature themes with incredible visual stimulation.

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