Class Artifact: Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again (Professor Smith)

Hello, children’s literature students! Here’s a peek of some of your groupwork from Monday’s class on Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again.


Clare Manifold, Niki Kovacs, David Head, and Logan Miner considered the role language plays in multicultural children’s literature and how Lai represents language learning in Inside Out and Back Again:

The poem our group chose is “Spelling Rules.” This particular poem highlights Ha’s struggle to learn a new and complicated language. As readers, we all had empathy for Ha as she tried to learn a difficult language. In particular, we could all relate to having to learn how to spell and how trying that can be. The last stanza, “whoever invented English should have learned to spell,” provided some comedic relief, and we felt it emphasizes a common thought all children have when learning how to spell. Another point we all made was how most English-speaking societies expect others to learn English as a second language and in some sense assimilate into our culture.

Nicole Wilm, John Sedensky, Melisa Fink, Levi Alpert, and Laura Costello discussed the role of stereotyping in Lai’s verse-novel by exploring the poem titled “The Cowboy”:

This poem is an important part of a conversation about multicultural children’s literature because it shows how cultures stereotype each other. Ha was giving Americans the stereotype of being cowboys. This falls under the category of contact with other cultures. It was also interesting how people of the same culture [Ha’s family] had different ideas of what people from other cultures would look like. Ha saw all American men to be associated with cowboys, but her family thought otherwise. She was also very content with the fact that an American happened to look exactly as how she predicted, giving her a feeling of relief that she was right. We went a little further than the poem itself and connected the American “cowboy” to her father. She could be hoping this man could be a father figure to her. This man could be a hero and give her and her family some sort of stability.

Lauren Kahn, Gaby Levesque, Samantha Faragalli, and Fayola Fleurentin thought about the intersection of history and multicultural children’s literature by thinking about the poem “Current News”:

This was a short poem but it definitely had a very strong meaning…  Within the poem, [the characters] talk about Communism and the events going on in Vietnam; this is what they are learning in school during this time.  The Communists have reached Saigon. In class, they discuss that Fridays will only be for happy news, yet Ha writes, “no one has anything to say.” There was absolutely no happy news. In our opinion, a little kid is going to have hard time understanding these concepts, but [the poem] also gives them the opportunity to learn about what is going on in the world… [The poem also suggests] that childhood may not always be the happiest time in your life, when many people think it is supposed to be. It just proves that happiness may not be that easy to achieve, even as a child.  This child was aware of all the negatives going on in life and is very honest with what is going on in the world around her.