Monday, May 30, 2011

Mix N' Match Monday: Vietnam

I love reading books about other places and cultures, but for the most part I consider myself an armchair explorer.  I read about the adventures and experiences of others while sitting at home on my own comfortable couch.  But books like the ones I am sharing today make me want to pack my bags and take a trip to experience some of the sights and sounds so beautifully described.  These books talk about war however and I am more than willing to skip that part.

Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhha Lai
HarperCollins, 2011
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Ha has spent all of her ten years in Saigon (Vietnam).  She knows the markets, she does well in school, and she loves the papaya tree that she planted behind her family's house.  But the war is creeping ever closer and her mother struggles to provide enough food. As it becomes apparent that Saigon will fall to the Communist North, Ha and her family make a painful choice to flee the country in hopes of finding refuge.  When they land in America things seem to be working out, but as Ha struggles to adapt to a new language, a new religion, new climate, and new food, she wonders if it wouldn't have been better to stay in Vietnam. And what about the father she has never met who went missing nine years earlier?

Usually I am not a big fan of novels written in free verse.  I like my poetry to be poetry and my stories to be prose.  But I have had the privilege of reading this book and several others that have convinced me that done right, free verse can be particularly powerful.  This story is based on the author's experiences as a child and maybe that's why they are so realistic.  I promise you will not be able to read this book without feeling compassion for Ha and her family.  You will cheer for their successes and feel discomfort at the poor treatment they receive from many.  The book provides a thought-provoking look at a topic (immigration) that remains controversial still.  Highly recommended.  For another look at life in Saigon before and during the invasion try the following book.

Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy
by Andrea Warren
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004.
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.

This is the true story of a young Ameriasian boy finds a new family in the United States.  Being the son of a Vietnamese woman and an American man puts Long in a difficult position.  Because of the war, many do not see Americans with an unbiased eye.  When Long loses his mother and his grandmother can no longer support him, he goes to live in an orphanage run by a nonprofit organization from the United States.  As the Communists get ever closer it, Holt International (the group running the orphanage) decides they must get the children out without delay (most of the children have been placed for adoption).  The book follows the remarkable operation known as Babylift which helped get over two thousand children out of Saigon before the Communists arrived.  The rest of the story follows Long's (Matt) experiences in adjusting to a new family and a new life.

This book beautifully compliments Inside Out & Back Again, giving the reader a glimpse of the Vietnam War from the perspective of a child.  It also reveals that some good things were done by Americans as well as all the bad things we always here about happening during that war.  The writing is clear and crisp and perfect for reading out-loud.  This book gives the reader, especially a child reader, a chance to see some of the things that children experience around the world, and hopefully better appreciate the good things about living in the United States.

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