Book talk: Inside Out and Back Again

Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out & Back Again. New York: Harper, 2013. Print.

I found Inside Out and Back Again, and our group book discussion, so very exciting! I was bursting at the seams to share all of the ideas I had about it, all of my impressions upon reading it… so much so that the most challenging part of this assignment was actually quieting myself to listen to what my colleagues had to say about it and waiting for my turn to speak!

The book itself is a lovely gem, full of depth and beauty and power, I think. The verse is written simply and lyrically. Upon  picking it up, it didn’t take me too long to realize what a teaching opportunity it presented, not just for English classrooms but (especially) for history and social studies as well. Some of the themes are particularly timely– racism and immigration, for example. Others are timeless, and address essential questions around colonialism, identity, migration, civil war (specifically the Vietnam War), coming of age, family, and the strength of love.

It was fascinating to get my classmates’ perspectives on the book, and I found our conversation around the author’s use of verse particularly interesting. We each had our opinions about books in verse, why it works or doesn’t, and our impressions of Inside Out and Back Again. We also had interesting ideas about which types of audiences this book might appeal to; middle grades, yes– but what about high school? or younger grades?

I have really come to appreciate exploring these last ideas in particular. It’s a slow but definite transformation in the way I approach literature– coming from a secondary English and Social Studies teacher, and now thinking in terms of a school librarian. And I have really come to appreciate my classmates’ refreshing and creative takes on literature. Their perspectives have taught me so much about the importance of enthusiasm and clear thinking around presenting literature to youth.

 

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