This post includes English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. It’s part of a series that shares English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club for gifted and talented students, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
Why Inside Out and Back Again?
- An inspiring story told from the point of view of an eleven-year-old immigrant girl who must flee her war-torn country with her family and journey to a place where few people understand or value her
- Exposes children to a narrative told in verse, giving them the opportunity to read a text in a form they may not have previously experienced
- Examines the real-world issues of racism, war and its effects, and language barriers
- Use of literary devices including similes, metaphors, symbolism, mood, and imagery that enable gifted students to develop strong analytical skills
- Explores various social-emotional topics such as perseverance, acceptance, honesty, identity and sacrifice
- Connects to the interdisciplinary topics of history, food and culture, and engineering
About the Book
Imagine that a war forces you to leave the only home you’ve ever known. You must take a difficult journey to a place where no one speaks your language, eats the food you love or understands your culture. This is the experience of 4th grader Há, who immigrates with her family to Alabama after fleeing war-torn Vietnam. Há must adjust to a new life with an unfamiliar new language and bullies who treat her harshly. Through verse, the author Thanhha Lai tells Há’s moving and inspirational story of perseverance despite adversity.
About the Author
Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. She immigrated to Alabama with her mother and brothers at a young age. The memories of her experiences inspired her to write the book Inside Out and Back Again. Before becoming a writer of juvenile and young adult fiction, she was a journalist for the Orange County Register and wrote fictional short stories for various publications. In addition to Inside Out and Back Again, Lai has written Listen, Slowly (2015) and Butterfly Yellow (2019), her YA debut. She currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, and dog Pico. Go to this link to hear Thanhha Lai talk about her name and how to pronounce it correctly.
Have you taught Inside Out and Back Again?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- Thanhha Lai begins Há’s story with the celebration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Tet. Há explains many of the traditions her family follows on this day each year. She describes the foods they eat and the things they are not allowed to do: “No one can sweep, for why sweep away hope? No one can splash water for why splash away joy?”(1). These traditions are part of Há’s cultural identity and keep her family connected to Vietnam.
- Make a list of examples of other traditions Há and her family practice during the story.
- What traditions do you and your family celebrate or practice?
- Why are these traditions important to your identity or cultural heritage?
- In literature, mood refers to the feelings that an author evokes, or brings to mind, in the reader. Authors are deliberate about the phrases and descriptions they use to create these moods. For example, when Há and her family board the ship to leave Vietnam, she describes the experience saying: “Above us bobs pierce the sky. Red and green flares explode like fireworks. All lights are off so the port will not be a target. In the dark a nudge here a nudge there and we end up back on the first ship in the same spot with two mats. Without lights our ship glides out to sea” (65).
- What mood or emotion does the author create in this quote?
- What phrases evoke those feelings in you, the reader?
- After Há and her family arrive at the cowboy’s house they begin unpacking. However they quickly change their minds. “One look at our cowboy’s wife, arms, lips, eyes contorted into knots, and we repack” (115). The author uses imagery to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of how the wife looks at them.
- Sketch a picture of the image you see in your mind after reading the quote above.
- What words did the author use to create this image in your mind?
- How does this description of the cowboy’s wife make you feel what Há and her family might be feeling? Explain your thinking.
- One of the themes of the story is that change forces people to adapt and learn new things while still remaining connected to their true identity.
- What examples from the story support and develop this theme?
- What other books have you read that have a similar theme? Explain how the messages are similar.
- One of the most difficult things for Há about coming to Alabama is not being able to speak English and communicate with her classmates and neighbors. She finds English grammar rules very confusing. “Some verbs switch all over just because. I am She is They are He was They were Would be simpler if English and life were logical” (135). Learning English is beyond frustrating for Há, but it also opens up a world of possibilities for her and her family.
- Give 3-5 other examples of grammar rules that you notice in the English language.
- Share a grammar rule that is particularly confusing or hard for you to understand or remember.
- How would your life be different if you didn’t speak the language that everyone else did at school?
- What would make learning a new language difficult?
- The story of Inside Out and Back Again is written in a poetic style called free verse. Instead of writing the book in a structure of paragraphs and chapters, the author tells Ha’s story through a set of poems.
- How is reading a book in verse like, Inside Out and Back Again different from reading a typical prose novel?
- What was challenging about reading a novel in verse?
- What made it enjoyable?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
The Vietnam War
- An introduction to the Vietnam War and its causes and outcomes
- An exploration of an interactive map of Vietnam
- An overview of the life of Ho Chi Min.
- An examination of how the Vietnam War affected refugees who immigrated to the United States.
- An introduction to the differences between metaphors and similes
- An overview of different types of figurative language
- An exploration of the history of metaphors
- An opportunity to play an online figurative language game
Food for the Soul
- An introduction to Vietnamese food
- An exploration of some of the foods that Há eats in the story
- A chance to learn about the connection between Vietnamese food and culture
- A description of seven traditional dishes that people eat to celebrate the Vietnamese lunar new year, Tet
- An overview of how Vietnamese immigration has influenced food in the United States
- An overview of the job of an engineer
- A review of the history of mechanical engineering
- An investigation of how a car engine works
- An examination of the parts of an automobile
- An opportunity to become an engineer by creating one of these hands on projects
- An explanation of how electromagnetism causes motors to work