Written by: Thanhha Lai
For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about Inside Out and Back Again and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!
Things are changing in Hà's world, as the Vietnam War comes closer and closer to her home in Saigon. Her friends and neighbors are leaving, her oldest brother is speaking out against the North, and the likelihood of being reunited with her father — who has been missing in action for nine years — is growing dimmer. When Saigon falls in 1975, Hà and her family are forced to flee on a navy ship and, after spending months in refugee camps, end up moving to Alabama. There, Hà struggles to deal with everything from learning the language and customs to handling the bullies who make fun of her at school. Will she ever feel at home in this strange new land? And will she ever see her father again? (Scholastic)
Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.
What I Know
In the "What I Know" section, let him/her think about what things s/he already knows about the subject matter, answering questions like, "What do you know about Vietnam? Do you know anything about the Vietnam War? If so, what?"
Also, encourage your child to read the story's summary and flip through the pages. Ask him/her what they notice about the text and how it is different from other books that s/he has read. Has your child read any other historical fiction stories? If so, what were they about? Did s/he like them?
What I Want to Know
Include questions that your child might have about the plot, characters and setting.
Maintain a Vocabulary Journal
Encourage your child to stop when s/he gets to an unfamiliar word. See if s/he can discover its meaning by using context clues like prefixes and suffixes as well as the words surrounding it. Be sure to keep a “Vocabulary Journal” nearby when reading so that your child can write down new words, that s/he has either already defined or wishes to look up in the dictionary.
- In your own words, can you tell me what happened in this story? Who were the main characters? What did you learn about the Vietnam War, Saigon, and the United States during that time?
- Why do you think this story was entitled Inside Out and Back Again? Do you think this was an appropriate title? If you could give it another title, what would it be? Why would you call it that?
- How would you describe the character of Brother Quang? Can you think of certain parts of the story that make you describe him that way?
- How would you feel if you were forced to leave your home behind and travel to a different country? Do you think Hà handles it well? Why/why not?
- What are some of the challenges that Hà and her family face when they move Alabama? How is it different there than it was back home in Saigon?
- "No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama." Why does she say that? If you were in her position, would you feel the same way?
- Did you like that the story was written in poems? Why/why not? Why do you think the author chose to write the story in that way?
Extending the Story
There is a section in the back of the book called "Telling Your Story" that is full of activities that will help your child extend the story. Whether it is writing your own family story, creating a scrapbook, or writing a poem about a time in your child's life when s/he went through something difficult, encourage your child to think about the story and what the author was trying to get across.