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Inside Out and Back Again Discussion Guide

Page history last edited by Mandy Johnson 5 years, 8 months ago

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai



-Look up Tết. When is it celebrated? What are some traditional activities that are part of the celebration?

-Show pictures of Vietnam using projector screen

-Brief history of Vietnam War

-Make library books available about Vietnam


Snacks: Papaya, Vietnamese snacks mentioned in the book:  mung bean cookies, glutinous rice, and fish sauce



Kim-Ha, Mother, Father, Quang, Vu, Khoi, Uncle Son, Miss Scott, Mrs. Washington, Pam and Steven, Pink Boy



“It is 1975. As Saigon is about to fall to communism, Ha and her family are torn between staying in their beloved Vietnam and fleeing for safety to America. If they leave, will their missing father ever find them? This verse novel is a powerful and beautifully written insight into the struggles and hardships facing refugees, not only as they make the difficult decision to leave their homeland but also as they try to forge a new life in a strange land.”


“Inspired by the author's childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration. For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.”


“Hà’s life in Saigon isn’t perfect: Her father’s missing and war makes things more expensive each day, plus she’s the youngest child (and a girl!) in a family of boys. But she loves Vietnam, with its tastes and smells, and loves the promise of growing things like her papaya tree. When her family joins the refugees to travel to America, Hà has to pretend to like other people’s food, learn English with its inexplicable plurals, and fight off other kids on the playground. Inside Out & Back Again is the poignant story of her year full of changes, hardships, and small victories.”


Discussion Questions:

1. Would you give this book a thumbs up, side, or down? Show the group.


2. Who in the book do you most relate to and why?

3. What characters in the book were good? Why?


4. What characters were bad? Why?


5. In what ways are you similar or different from any of the characters in the book?


6. How did the story make you feel? (You can talk about a specific part or in general)


7. Hà’s story is told in a series of poems. What do you think about that? Find examples of different types of poems: For instance, find one that tells a story and another that paints a picture. Some of the poems have a specific date at the end, but others say “every day.” Why do you think that is?


8. What did you know about Vietnamese culture before reading the story? What are some of the things you learned as you read?


9. Sometimes Hà is angry about being a girl. Why does she make sure to tap her big toe on the floor before her brothers wake up on the morning of the new year? When she thinks about that moment a year later, what does she say?


10. Why does Hà love papaya so much? What might the fruit represent for her? How is that the same as or different from what the chick means for Brother Khôi?


11. On the ship, Hà touches the sailor’s hairy arm and Mother slaps her hand away (p. 95). Why does Hà take a hair? How is her behavior on the ship similar to or different from that of the kids at school in Alabama when they notice Hà’s features?


12. Hà describes her American town as “clean, quiet loneliness” (p. 122). How is life in Alabama different from Saigon? Describe each setting and the differences between the two. Are there any similarities?


13. What do you know about the cowboy who sponsors the family? Who do you think he is, and what are some reasons why you think he might have become a sponsor? What about Mrs. Washington: Why might she have volunteered to be a teacher for Hà?


14. Hà says that the cowboy’s wife insists they “keep out of her neighbors’ eyes” (p. 116). Why would she do that? Why would neighbors slam their doors when Hà’s family comes to say hello (p. 164)?


15. Why would sponsors prefer applications that say “Christians” (p. 108)? Do you agree with Hà’s mother that “all beliefs are pretty much the same” (p. 108)? Do you think she did the right thing by saying that the family is Christian?


16. Why is it so important to Hà’s mother that her children learn English? If your family moved to a foreign country right now, would you be eager to learn the language? Why, or why not?


17. Why did Lai write this book in verse (a.k.a. poetry)? What overall effect does it have on the story? Would reading this novel feel different if it were written in prose?

18. Because this novel is written like a journal, are we supposed to believe that these are the actual poems Kim Hà wrote over the year?

19. What do these poems tell us that Hà doesn't come out and say?

20. Have you ever written poems? Did they help you in some way? How do you think writing helped Hà during this year?

21. The end of the story turns out really happily. Do you feel like this is a believable ending? Why or why not?

22. Hà and her brothers are only allowed to take one item in their backpack other than clothes and food. Hà picks her doll that she once loaned to a friend which was then bitten by a mouse. What would you select to take with you? Why?

23. Hà and her brother Khôi experience name-calling and teasing when they go to school in Alabama. Do you see others being called names and teased in your own school? What do you do about it? How would you feel if you were being called names and teased? How would you welcome a new student in your school?

24. When Hà and her family introduce themselves to their neighbors, many of them are unkind and slam the door in their faces. Why do their neighbors do this? How does it make Hà feel? How would it make you feel?

25. Compare Hà’s life in Vietnam and Alabama. How are things different? How are they the same?

26. Hà and her family make many difficult decisions before they leave Vietnam, during their transition, and once they reach Alabama. What are some of the difficult decisions they made? What are some difficult decisions your family has made and how did you decide what to do as a family?

27. Now that you have read the book, if you could give it a new title, what would it be?

28. Did any of the characters change in the story? How so?

29. Would you read another book by this author? Why?

30. Now that we've talked a little about the book, do you still give it the same thumbs up, side, or down? Show us and tell us why.




















http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEkjwu2WEIALai reading from her book at the National Book Award ceremony.


http://www.teachingbooks.net/pronounce.cgi?aid=15573&a=1 how to say her name


http://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=7256&a=1 the author talking about the backstory





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