Thanhhà Lại on Inside Out and Back Again and When Clouds Touch Us

Inside Out and Back Again was a National Book Award Medalist and a Newbery Honor title. Over the past twelve years it's been taught in classrooms across the country. Thanhhà Lại's latest book, When Clouds Touch Us, is a sequel to Inside Out and Back Again, picking up two years later, and has already been named a Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor Book. Read on for why Thanhhà wrote a sequel and discussion guides for Inside Out and Back Again and When Clouds Touch Us.

Dear Reader:

Why a sequel?
It’s to say thank you to the many students and teachers I’ve visited in person and virtually in the twelve years since Inside Out & Back Again was published. You’re the best part of being a writer. The three questions I’m asked most often are:

  1. Why write in poems? The style is called prose poems, a fancy name for sentences that line-break like poems. This is to convey what it’s like to think in Vietnamese, a naturally poetic language. Remember, when Inside Out & Back Again begins, Hà’s still in Vietnam and thinking in Vietnamese. I want you to feel how words float through her mind, yet because of literary magic, you’re able to understand them in English. I’ve kept the prose-poem voice for the sequel because Vietnamese still swirls inside Hà’s mind two years later. But notice how her language has become wordier as she acquires English. To me, English is so wordy.
  2. Are the doll and chick real? Yes, I had a doll in Vietnam that was mouse-bitten after I loaned it to a friend. One of my brothers did raise chicks. But no, we did not bring them on the ship. I’m still amazed at how the doll and chick have touched readers. I wrote the scene and forgot about it until I met many
    of you. So for you, the doll and chick make a cameo in the sequel.
  3.  What happens to Hà? Read When Clouds Touch Us and find out. I will say that the long road of reclamation proves even more daunting than fleeing war in panic for her and her family.

Why a sequel now?
I wish I were writing true historical fiction, but we all know that refugees are arriving in host countries every day, often in shock. For them, I want to say I feel for them and I wish them the best. It’s not just confronting a new language, climate, food, clothes, schools, trees, flowers. It’s that your core also shifts, leading to clashes between parents and children, between classmates, between siblings.

It’s hard. No one volunteers to start over, same as no one volunteers to experience an earthquake. It happens to you. Now you have the harsh task of reacting and rebuilding.

But a quiet aftermath eventually will settle. I can vouch that after almost fifty years as refugees, my family and I have remolded our lives. We’ve done what my mother fled Vietnam for: her nine children graduated from college. We’re now old enough to be retiring as engineers, a doctor, an accountant, a CIO (I finally
kinda know what my sister does).

My mother would say it was all worth it. So would my siblings. And despite my endless documentation of the jarring years, I’d have to agree.

Thanhhà Lại

Check out the discussion guides for questions and extension activities!

About the Author

Thanhhà Lại is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Inside Out & Back Again, her debut novel in verse, which won both a National Book Award and a Newbery Honor, and the acclaimed Listen, Slowly and Butterfly Yellow, both of which were named to numerous best book of the year lists. She was born in Viêt Nam and now lives in New York with her family. To learn more about Thanhhà and her charity, Viet Kids Inc., visit