Multicultural Literature

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco


Lai, T. (2011). Inside Out & Back Again. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Polacco, P. (1994). Pink and Say. New York, NY: Philomel Books.


From Saigon to Alabama, Inside Out and Back Again is the story of a year in the life of Hà, a ten-year-old girl who flees Vietnam with her mother and brothers, in hopes of escaping the Vietnam War and building new—and safer—lives for themselves in the United States.

Written as a series of short poems, it is a sparse and honest narrative that follows Hà as she leaves behind the only home she’s ever known to travel by boat to America. She may have left war behind, but plenty of difficulty awaits, and Hà and her family struggle to find their footing in the United States. At the end of the year, though—and as the book ends—they’re finally getting their bearings, all holding onto hope that life will keep getting better.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco is a story about two child soldiers of the Civil War who become friends. They are both fighting against the ‘sickness of slavery’ when Pink finds Say dying on the battlefield. Pink brings him to the slave house where his mother nurses Say back to health.

The boys then prepare to go back to fight for the Union when they are discovered by Confederate ‘marauders’. Pink’s mother is killed and the boys are later caught in a field heading back to battle. Pink is executed and Say is imprisoned. He eventually is released to live a long life, and the story of Pink and Say is passed down through generations

This story, about how a young black soldier rescues a white soldier, opens young readers’ eyes to the injustices of slavery and the senselessness of war. Highly charged emotionally, this masterful retelling of a true story is seen through the white soldier’s eyes.


Family is a pretty big deal for any ten-year-old, but for Hà in Inside Out and Back Again, family is all she has left after the fall of her home in Vietnam. And when we say all, we really mean it. With little more than the clothes on her back, and her doll promptly winding up in the ocean after they depart, Hà basically only has her mother and brothers when she arrives in the United States. That her father’s been missing since she was just a baby only heightens her awareness of the preciousness of family—his absence is felt by each of them. Understandably, then, Hà holds tight to her family, depending upon them to help her make her way in this strange new place, and cherishing the safety and familiarity they provide.

We never find ourselves in the heat of battle in Inside Out and Back Again, and it’s a good thing, too, since our main character is a ten-year-old girl. So unlike other war stories you might have read, this one explores the impact war has on the life of a child. Hà writes about the immediate effects of war on her life, taking us through the period of escape and the experience of becoming a refugee in the American south. Though not a soldier herself, with her father and her homeland lost to war, Hà’s life is radically changed by the violence in Vietnam.

Race is a major theme because this story tells the similarities and differences between Pink and Say from Say’s point of view. His youthful naivety and innocence makes their interactions charming and lighthearted, in stark contrast to the events of the times and to Pink’s experiences. Say had never seen a boy like Pink up close, who he calls the color of mahogany.

Family is a strong theme as Say is invited into Pink’s home and treated like family. They tell each other family stories. This story comes from the oral tradition of passing stories down through families. Pink and Say become like brothers during their time together, and Say says Pink and Moe Moe Bay are his family now.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the things that stand out to Hà about living during a war? Does she seem scared? Why or why not?
  2. What kinds of things seem to be affected the most during war? The least?
  3. How does Hà’s relationship with her brothers change over time? Who is she closest with? Why?
  4. How does her father play a part in this story? Does anything change when they decide he has died?

Lesson Objective: After reading Inside Out & Back Again, students will be able to create a mind map about the Vietnam War.

Lesson Activity: Watch this video about the Vietnam War:

  1. Video: first just watch for the gist
  2. Video: second watch: notice/note
  3. FYI: – in depth: create a mind map – real life: create a mind map – graphs/stats/#s: copy down the info – arts/entertainment: read
  4. Make-a-Map: create and submit a map to your teacher


Discussion Questions: 

  1. What was the perspective of both sides, North and South during the Civil War?
  2. What was it like to be a slave during the War?
  3. What was life like for a soldier during the War?
  4. What was it like to be an older child during the War?

Lesson Objective: After reading Pink and Say, students will be able to create an illustrate  Civil War ABC book using information collected during unit of study.

Lesson Activity: The first 5 class periods are dedicated to reading Pink and Say and other books about the Civil War. The next 5 would be used to create the Civil War ABC books.

Step 1: Before reading the story, I have my students gather at our reading carpet with a clipboard and a piece of lined paper. I explain to the students that we are going to read a story that took place during the Civil War. I then ask my students to tell me what they think they already know about the Civil War. I begin to create a KWL Chart while the students share their ideas. The ‘K’ stands for what the students “Think they Know,” The ‘W’ stands for “What we want to know,” and the ‘L’ stands for “What we learned and is confirmed true.” As a class, we will continue to fill out the chart as we progress through our studies of the Civil War.

Step 2: Explain to the students that as you read the story you want them to create a list of words and phrases that would help them remember and describe what they are learning about the Civil War. Have the students write “Words about the Civil War” on the top of their paper before reading. I encourage the students to write down any words that come to their mind, not just words found in the story.

Step 3: As I read the story, I stop every couple of pages to discuss what is occurring. I then invite students share some of the words they have written down and how they would describe or explain the Civil War. I also create a class list to help those who might have difficulty finding words. Common words students might write include pain, children, Abraham Lincoln, Union, danger, root cellar, marauders, master, Confederate Army, friendships, slave.

Step 4: After the students are finished reading we discuss what we have learned about the Civil War. For several days after reading the book, my students study more about the Civil War by reading their textbooks and other classroom materials. As they learn more about the Civil War, we continue to fill out the KWL Chart and students continue to add words and phrases about the war to their lists. They also take notes in their notebooks.

Step 5: When I feel the students have accumulated enough information, they break-up into groups of 4-5 students. As a group, they will create and illustrate an ABC picture book about the Civil War. (During this time, I have students look through other ABC books to give them ideas about how to set-up their books.) Students are instructed to brainstorm a word or an idea about the Civil War that coincides with each letter of the alphabet. After that is finished the students write a couple of sentences describing how the word or idea is connected to the Civil War. I find it works best if each student takes a couple of letters of the alphabet to work on and as a group they edit and revise each others work before they create the final copy of the book. During this process, I have my students participate in mini-lessons to bring them through the writing process.



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