Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011 National Book Award for Young People and Newbery Honor Award) is a novel in poetry about a young girl’s relocation to American from Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is about the challenge of starting over and the pain of discrimination in a strange new country and culture. It is a beautiful story for the curious child.

Many of the chapters could stand somewhat alone as they explore different aspects of the journey away from the familiar (in Kim Ha’s case, the busyness of the Saigon markets and their loving home) and into the foreign (a community in Alabama in post-Civil Rights era 1907s). Some of her challenges are specific to her situation as a refuge from Vietnam (such as the language barrier and obvious cultural differences), but others are the difficulties of growing up. I loved to see this unique perspective of the 1970s.

Ha’s story is painful for the aware reader. We know that America will not be as delightful as she dreams in the beginning, that her father will be hard to find, and that traditions are difficult to uphold so far from the familiar marketplace. As an adult, though, I found myself learning a lot about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I’ve always heard of the Vietnam war from the American soldiers’ side. I think it is important to also learn about from the perspective of the native Vietnamese, and this account from the perspective of a refuge was definitely a needed voice in the literature about the era.

I was grateful to discover, in the author’s note at the end, that many of the events are based on her own experience as a young refuge in a prejudiced America. I am not happy she had to suffer similar frustrations as the character in her novel, but I am grateful to know that the voice was a sincere and realistic one.



Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas is an appropriate book for reading just before our country’s Independence Day. It focuses on a Japanese American family during the early part of World War II, when thousands of people of Japanese descent were relocated to special “camps”. It is about the discrimination against Japanese, but even more, the main character must come to terms with what it means to be American and if she is happy with her place and the opportunities before her.Continue Reading

The Great Depression for Kids

The easily accessible text and the fun related activities make The Great Depression for Kids by Carol Mullenbach (Chicago Review Press, July 2015) a fantastic choice for the young student in upper elementary school or older that is interested in learning more about the era in our history. The text covers life before the Great Depression, the causes of the Great Depression, and then life during the Great Depression, both in cities and rural areas. It ends as it talks about how the nation recovered at the start of Word War II. Each chapter in The Great Depression for Kids covered a lot of information, but I felt it easily accessible to the younger reader.

This volume includes 21 activities related to the things happening in the text. For example, there is an explanation on how to “play the stock market” when the text talks about the stock market crash. Paper airplane making is the activity as kids learn about the new developments during the era. An erosion experiment is the activity during the chapter about the dust bowl. In all, the activities seem like simple but engaging ones for upper elementary students to enjoy doing!

As a personal note, I found myself wishing I’d asked my grandparents more about the era before they passed away. The book contained lots of details about life during the era, but I know my grandparent’s stories were unique. It’s interesting how this definitive historical era is now so distant from children’s lives today, even though it was only three generations ago.

Note: I read a digital copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.