This week I read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. The book is based on her own life story of coming to America from Vietnam. The verse was simple, yet moving. In a verse novel, each chapter/verse/poem should stand alone yet hold the whole together. Lai does this. The novel made me think about 1975 when refugees were coming in to my own city. I don’t remember how I reacted. I hope I was kind. Not everyone in Lai’s book is kind. Our students can learn from Lai that not everyone looks the same or speaks the same, but everyone should be kind.
Wet and Crying
My biggest papaya
is light yellow,
still flecked with green.
Brother Vu wants
to cut it down,
saying it’s better than
letting the Communists have it.
Mother says yellow papaya
dipped in chili salt.
You children should eat
while you can.
Brother Vu chops;
the head falls;
a silver blade slices.
Black seeds spill
like clusters of eyes,
wet and crying.
–Thanhha Lai from Inside Out & Back Again
Last year during Teachers Write camp (which, by the way, begins Monday), Gae Polisner had Caroline Starr Rose, author of May B, as a guest on her Friday Feedback blog post. I was turned on to writing in verse. I have a WIP (Work in Progress) that hasn’t gone anywhere in years, and by turning to verse, I was able to revive it. I am attracted to this genre because it’s a way to combine my love of poetry and writing for children. Here’s a sample verse from my WIP Dear God:
Winter can be so boring,
short days, long nights.
But today, snow fell
I watched the snow from the window,
piling onto the bare tree branches,
Benjie and I bundled up,
headed over to the hill by the park.
Neighborhood kids were there with sleds
and makeshift sleds of cardboard.
I helped Benjie climb onto the sled and pushed him off,
down the hill, twenty times at least.
When we finally headed home,
my nose and fingertips were frozen solid.
Mom made us hot chocolate and vegetable soup.
Simone could not play in the snow.
When we passed by, she waved at us from her window seat.
She wore a knit cap and a scarf around her neck,
looking like a snowman herself, pale and hairless.
She wasn’t sad, though.
Her smile was big and sparkled like the snow.