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Home and Family: April 2017 Middle School

March 17th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Middle School | April

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai. Harper/HarperCollins, 2015

At 12, Mia planned to spend every day of summer at the beach with friends. Instead, she’s a reluctant traveler to Vietnam with her grandma. Mia loves Ba but is unhappy about going and makes sure her father, traveling with them, and her mother, still at home, know it. Mia’s grandfather, Ong, was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese during the war and has been missing since Mia’s father was two. Ba and her seven children fled the country two days before the fall of Saigon. Now a detective has found the man who guarded Ong, and Ba holds out hope that her husband might still be alive. At least that’s what Mia thinks. Mia narrates in a voice full of snarky irreverence. She meets her match in her feisty, frog-loving, science-minded cousin named Út, although neither girl reveals that she understands the other’s native language. Despite her resentment, Mia finds more and more it is the place and people around her who matter in the moment rather than the friends she left behind. Thanhhà Lai’s storytelling moves from a rural village to the bustling city and back, following characters that are complex and vividly drawn. Even Ong, met only through Ba’s stories, feels alive, making it even more painful as Mia realizes Ba has come to say goodbye. A novel full of humor offers a deep exploration of the ways family, culture, and language impact who we are and how we perceive and experience the world.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How does the respect for elders compare in American culture and Vietnam culture?
  2. Why do Út and Mai become friends?
  3. How does the trip to Vietnam change Mai?

Caminar by Skila Brown. Candlewick Press, 2014

“She did not / sit down, did not / take more than two steps. Just / pointed her finger right to me, / “You / will / run.” A novel written in verse and set in 1981 during the Guatemalan civil war juxtaposes the beauty of the Guatemalan landscape and goodness of many of the country’s people with the brutality of war. Carlos obeys his mother when she tells him to run into the forest and hide when their village is attacked, promising to find him. But she never comes. On his own, Carlos heads up the mountain toward his grandmother’s village and meets four rebel soldiers who are lost in the forest Carlos knows so well. They tell Carlos that government soldiers attacked his village and massacred all the people. Devastated, Carlos begins to walk (caminar ) with the rebels, to help them find their way. He’s also determined to warn the people in the village where his grandmother lives about the soldiers. Once they arrive, he must make a choice: join the rebels, or stay in his grandmother’s village. There is strong sense of Carlos and his people as a minority Native culture within Guatemala in a beautifully written book that deals with violent realities in a way that feels honest yet appropriate for young readers.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. The author chose to write this story in verse. How does the poetry format add to or detract from the story?
  2. What examples of symbolism can you find in the poems’ text and layouts?
  3. How does Carlos change throughout the book? How does Carlos decide who to trust? What decisions does he make? What decisions are made for him?

Find a complete discussion guides for Listen, Slowly and Caminar and more resources at TeachingBooks.net!

Refugees and migrants: “The two terms have distinct and different meanings, and confusing them leads to problems for both populations.” Learn more from The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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