Do you remember the last time you stayed up late into the night because you couldn't put a book down? Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai was a book a colleague had put into my hands saying "I think you will like this", which is always an interesting challenge. It sat in a pile of books to be read near my night table for a few weeks. I picked up right before bed and ended up reading in one sitting into the late hours of the night. Late hours for a teacher, anyway.
Inside Out and Back Again is a book inspired by the author's experience of fleeing Vietnam after the war and resettling in Alabama. It is written in verse that is delicate and bold at the same time.
Hà is a young girl who loves Vietnam and is reluctant to leave. She is confused and angered by her new life and America. Young Hà describes her process of learning English with such disdain! When describing the rules of plurals and adding "s" to the end of a noun, Hà states "Whoever invented English must have loved snakes," (118). There are several poems that document Hà's linguistic and cultural transitions that may illuminate what some of our own students are wrestling with, particularly while they are experiencing their "silent period".
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a needed text for your culturally responsive library. Students needs to see themselves in the texts they read. Identity texts that reflect the diversity of our students' experiences, help facilitate a multilingual identity that is additive rather than subtractive.
Finally, Harper Collins offers a discussion guide on their website.
Juana and Lucas is a Newberry Award winning book by Juana Medina from Candlewick Press. It is a book that is an important addition for your classroom library.
In Bogota´, Colombia lives a young girl name Juana. She loves her dog Lucas, comic books and space, but she hates learning English. Throughout the beginning of the book we learn about Juana's day to day adventures, with a voice of a child trying to make sense of the world. Her abuelo, a brain surgeon, tries to convince Juana about the usefulness of learning another language. He even goes as far to bribe Juana that if she learns English he will take her to Spaceland in Florida.
What I truly love about this book is that although learning English is a featured plot point, it is not the sole driver of the story. For Juana, learning English does not come at the expense of her Spanish. The language Medina uses, captures the mischievous nature of childhood in both languages. The illustrations are equally playful.
In addition, it does not fall into the "white teacher/immigrant child" trope that is prevalent in children't literature about bilingual children. Immigrant stories are important, when written from the lens of the immigrant. However, this is not necessarily the story of our international students who are learning English. An English language learner's experience in an international school is very different then the experience of an immigrant and/or refugee's. I think this is important as many expatriates are guests in another country; we should not bring our North American (and British and Australian) baggage to a context different then the ones we are from. English language learners are a diverse body of experiences, not one monolithic entity.
The diversity of stories are important in our curriculum's goals of global mindedness. Juana and Lucas approaches storytelling with additive bilingualism.
I am an EAL specialist and educational consultant that is dedicated to building a more transformative educational landscape that honors linguistic diversity and challenges societal paradigms.