Inside Out and Back Again

Common Sense Media says

Inspiring, educational immigrant story told in free verse.




Newbery Medal and Honors

What parents need to know

Educational value

Though it is never preachy or instructional, the short verse poems give much information about life in Vietnam, including the foods, clothing, traditions, the encroaching war, some politics, family structure, and more. Readers will also learn about life as an immigrant as Ha struggles with a new language, eats new foods, meets new kids, deals with attitudes toward Vietnamese immigrants  -- and tries to blend Vietnamese customs with new American ones. 

Positive messages

This is an immigrant story -- with the Vietnam War as the backdrop -- but it is also a story of a family's resiliency and hope in a new land.

Positive role models

While Ha can be feisty and impatient, she is honest, caring, thoughtful, devoted to her family, and very brave. Ha's mother is raising four kids as a single parent and she does so with vision, kindness, and strength, even though she has private moments of weakness. Ha's older brothers tease her yet each of them also protect her and contribute to taking care of the family.  


A boy at school teases Ha. He pokes her in the face and chest and pulls her arm hair. He follows her after school and threatens to beat her up.

Not applicable

A bully calls Ha names and derides her with ethnic jokes, calling her "Pancake Face."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book is written in a series of short free-verse poems, which are easy to read, fast-paced, descriptive, and poignant. Though it is never preachy or instructional, the short verse poems give much information about life in Vietnam, including the foods, clothing, traditions, the encroaching war, some politics, family structure, and more. Readers will also learn about life as an immigrant as Ha struggles with a new language, eats new foods, meets new kids, deals with attitudes toward Vietnamese immigrants -- and tries to blend Vietnamese customs with new American ones. While the main character is a 10-year-old girl, this story is suitable for boys and readers in a wide age range. Parents should know that this story is filled with beauty and hope even though its backdrop is the Vietnam War.

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Kids say

What's the story?

The story is told through short free-verse poems, and takes place over the course of one year: In 1975, 10-year-old Ha and her family must leave Vietnam as the Communists take over her home city of Saigon. After secretly departing by ship and staying in two temporary refugee camps, Ha's family finally lands in Alabama with a sponsor family. There, they must learn a new language, go to school, find work, make friends, deal with bullies and suspicion -- and figure out how to become Americans. They must also say a symbolic and definitive goodbye to Ha's father, who was missing in action for 10 years. Readers follow Ha's feisty and honest journey as she navigates her family's emigration from Vietnam, heeds her mother's kind wisdom, deals with her older brothers (and benefits by their protection), meets bullies and kind strangers, and begins to believe in herself again.

Is it any good?


INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN is a memorable story, told beautifully in free verse poetry. The poetry makes Ha's story easy to read and allows readers to fully experience a wide range of situations and emotions without being overwhelmed. Tweens will like the fast pace and Ha's childlike but authentic voice, and parents will appreciate the quality of the characters and opportunity to discuss values, culture, and choices. This story is filled with wisdom (Ha's mother warns her to "be surprised," "be agreeable," and "learn to compromise,") as well as humor (when Ha's mother says to her, "You love to argue, right?" she replies, "No, I don't.")  While the Vietnam War is the backdrop to this story, the narration is free from judgment and politics.  The story is good for boys and girls in a wide age range, and it also lends itself well to a read-aloud experience. Overall, this is an inspiring story that can be read multiple times, each time providing readers with a deeper appreciation for the writing itself, the characters, and the poignant but subtle life lessons. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the author's decision to write a story that mirrors her own life. In a letter to readers, she says "sit close to someone you love and implore that person to tell and tell and tell their story." Why do you think prompted this advice? What kind of power do immigrant stories -- and other family stories -- hold?

  • Why do you think the author chose to write this story in verse poetry?  Was it easier or harder for you read in this form? How would the book have been different if it had been written in narrative form?

Book details

Author:Thanhha Lai
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:February 22, 2011
Number of pages:272
Read aloud:8
Read alone:11
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

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Kid, 11 years old May 20, 2012

A memorable, touching, amazing story.

I loved inside out and back again. It appears to be a simple read, being written in free-verse poetry with not very many words on a page, and appears that it's a fine book for kids that are maybe 7 years old. That's true in a way- younger children probably could read this book. But I rated it for older children because there are many little hidden messages and meanings in the short poem lines- sometimes, you read the words over and over again to understand them, and pull the hidden meaning from them. This book is very inspirational. Ha', coming from a country named Saigon that has been destroyed during a war, moved to the USA and is immediatly teased and thrown around. The poor girl can't really understand or speak English at first, so she can't fight back or understand the insults the kids are throwing at her. However, she does stand up for herself in the end. This story is also a little sad, but also exciting and interesting the whole time. Once you start reading it, you won't want to put it down. I reccommend this book to readers that are older, maybe 10 or so and up, or younger, mature children that are good readers.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models
Too much violence
Teen, 13 years old Written byamewaalk October 15, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again

I honestly didn't think the book was as good as people said it would be. It was free verse poetry so it was a quick read for me. I don't read very much poetry and I tend to like more adventurous and emotional books so maybe it's just me. It's good enough to actually finish the book, so I'd say give it a try. The characters are great role models and Inside Out & Back again is very educational :)
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence


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