Book Review: “Inside Out and Back Again”

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”.


Looking for Stories about Inspirational Women

While I was researching topics for WOW Nonfic, I came across some inspirational women whom I thought would make great picture book topics. I wasn’t able to write about them during the challenge, but I’ve kept the ideas in my file for future stories.

I continue to search for other inspirational women to write about. One book that I just finished reading that gave me a few ideas is called “Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives”. The book explores the lives of some fascinating women, early writers. Whether she was a North Korean doctor, the woman who standardized the format and measurements of recipes, or a child novelist, each had something intriguing to say. And often they gave us a fascinating peek into a culture we otherwise would never have known about.

The author, Marthe Jocelyn, spent three years working on the book. After finishing the book, she wrote down a list about subjects she is still curious about. And then she encourages us to scribble our own lists and start writing ourselves.

I also found a good example of a picture book called “Queen of the Falls” (ages 6-9) by Chris van Allsburg. Although the subject’s dream of fame and fortune never materialized, the story is still an inspirational one. Annie Edson Taylor found herself having to close her charm school and worrying about money. So she decided to strike it rich by doing something no one had done before: go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The book talks about her journey to this goal, then the actual event, and finally the surprising aftermath. Alas, she encountered difficulties in securing the riches she was looking for. Yet, in the end, she still says she is content, and the reader can learn something from her philosophical conclusion. Annie Edson Taylor is the first person who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She also is the only woman who did it by herself.

Next on my reading list is “Polar Wives”.

And I would also like to read “Almost Astronauts”.

Have you got any other suggestions for me to read?

Reading the Female Superhero Challenge Stories

Well, the female superhero challenge has ended. It looks like there are 26 entries, although one or two are by Becky Fyfe, organizer of the challenge, which makes them ineligible.

I thought that the story was to be a kid oriented one, but it turns out that it’s not true.

I decided I would try and read them all. So far I have gone through almost 1/2 of them. I am really enjoying the stories. Such creativity! Fantastic imagery! And what imaginative superpowers. Everything from GPS to cooking to freezing.

I am learning a lot from the stories, even though many of them are for adults. For example, I admit that one of my weaknesses is not writing the backstory for my main characters before I start my story. I don’t know if it is as important for children stories as it is for adult stories. But I have been told that it should still be done. So in reading the background that other writers have written, I can see how to approach my own characters.

I encourage you to read through them yourself, at least some of them. They really are wonderful.

This Week’s Challenge: Non Fiction Picture Book Week

This week’s challenge for me is non fiction picture book week. Write a non fiction picture book every day for seven days.

When I signed up for it, I thought that it would be no problem. After all, I managed to write seven fiction stories for picture book week, right?

Then reality set in. First of all, I am finding that non fiction picture books are much more time consuming to write than fiction ones are. A lot of research is involved. Then there’s the timing. Oops, this is the first week of summer vacation, which means I have a lot less time to myself. Factor in the unexpected overseas trip of my husband, and that means I have even less time. And on top of that, I have these ongoing health problems.

My original goal had been whittled down from seven to three or four after I realized how much time I needed to put into research. So far I have written two. And although I will try for a third book this weekend, I will be content with the two I wrote already. After all, that’s two more manuscripts I have to work with.

The first book that I wrote was based on an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for a long time, so I am glad that I finally got it down on paper. It’s called “The Worm Dance”, and it’s a faction book, based on a true story. You might be thinking, oh no, not another book about worms, but this one is different, I promise. It’s based on a magical experience that my daughter and I had involving worms. Yes, you read that right: magic and worms. Magic is everywhere and it can involve even the most mundane things.

Even if I don’t get one more story written, at least I will have an outline for several more to write in the future. And I eliminated one story that I had been thinking about for a while, a book about animals and their horns. It turns out that a similar book was written in 2011. But I would not have known that had I never started the challenge.

What’s your latest challenge been?