Parent & Daughter Book Club – Inside Out and Back Again

3 min read

Our April book selection for girls in 2nd and 3rd grades is…

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Next week we’ll send everyone who has signed up for Book Club a Meeting Guide with Discussion Questions.

Not signed up yet?

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About the Book & Author

Inside Out and Back Again, the story of a family of Vietnamese refugees, is based on the childhood experiences of the author, and powerfully written in beautiful, spare verse.

Ten year-old Hà lives in Saigon with her mother and brothers. Though many of their neighbors have fled because of the Vietnam War, Hà and her family want to stay. After all, this is home. And, they want to be there when her father, who disappeared nine years before, finally returns.

When they have no choice but to flee for their safety, they end up in Alabama, where Hà and her family face still more challenges. They must learn the language, the culture, and, most importantly, make a home in a place that couldn’t feel more foreign. Hà, who felt smart and capable at home, feels stupid at her new school. The other kids bully and laugh at her. Only the love and constancy of her family gives her a sense of hope.

Together the family endures until, slowly, slowly, positive experiences – learning to speak English, making friends – begin to weigh against the bad ones. Each positive experience helps Hà and her family process their grief, and build a life in their new home.

Like Hà, Thanhha Lai was born in Saigon and immigrated to Alabama in 1975. She currently lives in New York City. You can learn more about her at her website.

Inside Out and Back Again is Ms Lai’s first novel, and has earned many awards, including the National Book Award and the Newbery Honor. Her second novel, Listen, Slowly, published in 2015, was a NYT bestseller, a Publisher’s Weekly “Best Book of the Year,” and one of NPR’s Best Books of 2015.

Buy, borrow, or download a copy of this book and read it before your next book club meeting.

The Girls Leadership Connection

When Hà first arrives in Alabama, she feels isolated and confused, particularly about the way some of the other kids treat her. At times, she’s tempted to let her anger and hatred overwhelm her.

Hà gets through these challenges by focusing on the people who love her, and, especially, by sharing her feelings with them. Sometimes it’s hard, especially when she wants has to speak English. But, as her new friend Miss Washington tells her, “if every learner waits/ to speak perfectly,/ no one would learn/ a new language.”

When you go through something difficult, with whom do you share your feelings? How do you express yourself?

One way to express ourselves is through some form of creativity. Art gives us an outlet to articulate and work out complex feelings. When we share our creative work with others, we can change them, inspire them, and plant new ideas.

What would happen if you took time every day to be creative? I challenge you to do so. Even fifteen minutes. Don’t do it for your daughter (though it will do her good to see you doing this). Do it for you. After a few days, how does that feel? Have you struck that vein of vitality that only creativity can access? Have you learned how being creative can help you be more you?

Learn More

Research tell us that creativity is important for all of us, at any age. One article from CNN states, “Creating helps make people happier, less anxious, more resilient and better equipped to problem-solve in the face of hardship.”

You don’t have to be good at art to reap the rewards. You don’t even have to share it. Play around with different forms of creativity – playing music, drawing, writing, sand painting, dancing, clowning! I recently met the most joyful person who makes intricate flowers out of paper restaurant napkins, then gives them away. I’ve read the work of a poet who creates poems from newspaper articles by strategically blacking out most of the words. There aren’t any rules to what you can do, or how to do it. As you experiment, notice what makes you smile, what ignites your joy. Do more of that.

You can help your child explore her self-expression through creativity, too. Visit a craft store or the craft aisle at the grocery store, pick up a sketchbook and some colored pencils, a special notebook, or a disposable camera. The next time there’s a school holiday, consider collecting materials for a large project. Thrift stores are good places to check for used instruments, puzzles, and odds and ends like buttons, tiles, fabric, and photos. At one secondhand shop, I happened upon a beautiful bowl full of black and white photos. They were just calling out to be used in someone’s art! Inspiration is everywhere.

For a great book about creativity (written for adults), check out Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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