Inside Out & Back Again

th-1My daughter and I left Barnes & Noble today with four brand new books.  When we got home I began to read Inside Out & Back Again — a book my daughter had discovered on our Amazon search yesterday.  While she had been attracted to the book’s cover…I was attracted to the author’s style of writing.  Thanhha Lai tells her story in free verse poetry.

This book is about ten year old girl who escapes to America from Saigon during Vietnam War and the struggles she has being a fourth grader in a new country.  While the book is not a biography it is inspired by true events.

The book is listed as a F&P level W or DRA level 60.  I was shocked that the book was leveled so high since I read all 260 pages in one sitting (an amazing accomplishment for me)!  What I love about this book is that the chapters easily stand alone and can be used for minilessons or strategy lessons.  My book (or should I say my daughter’s book) currently has 13 flags popping from it.

Here are my ideas on how to use some of the chapters of this book with 4th and 5th graders next year:

  • 1975: Year of the Cat (p.1) – Character Analysis – The reader learns so much about the main character in this first chapter.  Ha does something super naughty that no one but her knows about which is fun to explore why she may have done it!
  • Current News (p.18) – Inferencing – Living in a War is hard and students must use inferencing about this fact to understand the short chapter.
  • Feel Smart (p.19) & Feel Dumb (p. 156) – Compare & Contrast – In the chapter Feel Smart Ha shares that she cheats her mom out of her market order in Saigon so that she can buy sweets with the extra money.  In Feel Dumb she retells how dumb she feels when her 4th grade teacher in America asks her to recite her ABCs and all her classmates clap when she is able to do this.
  • Choice (p.55) – Text-to-Self Connections – In this chapter Ha has to choose the one thing she wants to take with her from Saigon.  Students can think about when they have made a difficult choice OR about what one thing they would choose.  My daughter and I had an interesting discussion about this!
  • Passing Time (p. 129) – Multiple Meaning Words – I love this chapter!  Ha attempts to understand sentence “Jane sees spot run.” by looking up all the words in the dictionary…this doesn’t work!
  • Sadder Laughter (p.139) – Compare & Contrast – This chapter describes her feelings on the first day of school in Alabama
  • New Word Day (p. 166) – Vocabulary – This describes the SMART way her neighbor taught her English.  This can also be compare the poor way her teacher at school taught her.
  • More is Not Better (p. 168) – Empathy, Character Change, Main Idea – As she learns more English she discovers that her classmates are making fun of her and doesn’t like knowing this 😦
  • Spelling Rules (p.177) – Spelling – Ha’s take on how hard English is to learn: “Whoever invented English should have learned how to spell.”
  • Someone Knows (p.180) – Bullying – She finally tells someone that she is eating in the bathroom during lunch and life gets better when she shares this with her tutor.
  • Most Relieved Day (p. 183) – Responding to Reading by Writing – The best chapter by far…I won’t ruin it.
  • War and Peace (p. 194) – Critique – How we need to be hesitant on believing everything we hear and see…
  • Start Over (p. 253) – Theme – Learning is messy and we should feel free to make mistakes

Using one (or two chapters) like this for a stand alone strategy lesson exposes students to a book by giving them a taste of the author’s style, the characters, and practice on how to think while reading the book.

My FAVORITE part of doing stand alone chapter lessons is afterwards I always give a short summary of the rest of the book before offering up my ONE copy of the text to anyone who is interested in reading more.  This often creates a dash of hands and a waiting line for the book.  As one person finishes the book they then hand the book over to someone new and the talk about the text grows!


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