When I first opened this award winning book, I groaned. Oh no, I thought, this book is entirely poems! But upon looking closer, I realized it was in prose, but just made to look like poems.
Written in short vignettes, some one page long, some a few pages, the stories are delicious. The prose is so pretty, it might as well be poems. No wonder it is a 2012 Newbery Honor book.
It puts me in mind of something I learned in a recent webinar about dialogue. The presenter, Kerri Majors, mentioned that dialogue should be attractive. And she mentioned that you should consider how you use your white space. Well, here is a great example of elegant use of white space.
The story is about a girl named Ha who flees with her family from Saigon during the Vietnam War to Alabama. She leaves behind everything she knows and enters a strange new country. The author does an excellent job describing her culture shock, some of the writing being based on her own experience.
Living in a different country changes you in ways that you can never imagine. You soon realize that people are the same everywhere; there are good and bad people in every culture, and one whole culture is not the enemy (as many do believe). You also begin to appreciate others who have to live away from their own culture and become more sympathetic to them. And, if you are lucky enough to return to your own country, then you see it in a whole new light.
However, if you cannot live in another culture, then a book from a reliable source such as this one is the next best thing. The book talks about the difficulties in learning a new language in a humorous manner; for example, Ha, puzzling out all the -s rules, observes that the inventor of the English language must have loved snakes. The issue of the forming of stereotypes is also tackled. Although Ha faces many stereotypes of others, such as children pulling her arm hair to see if she is real, she also has her own, like assuming that their sponsor is a cowboy who owns a horse.
“Inside Out and Back Again”, written by Thanhha Lai, is for ages 8-12. At the end of the book, the author talks about why she wrote the book and asks the important question: “How much do we know about those around us?” Then she asks us to, after finishing the book, “sit close to a person you love and implore the person to tell and tell and tell their story”.