For educators and students interested in international literature, McKay School alumna Sally Pead recommends The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a French Novel by Muriel Barbery, and Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a Vietnam native who moved to America as a young girl. Pead is a stay-at-home mom with seven years of experience teaching first grade. Below are her reviews.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, trans. Alison Anderson
2007 French Booksellers Prize; 2007 Brive-la-Gaillarde Reader's Prize; Prix du Rotary International
Diaphanous. Incunable. Pithiatic. These are just a few of the elegant words Muriel Barbery employs in her thoughtful book about three unique characters and the web of hope that brings them together. Renée is a concierge in a luxurious apartment building in France. She is exactly what the wealthy tenants expect from their concierge: overweight, ugly, and grouchy. She is also an autodidact with a love for art, Russian literature, and Japanese culture. Paloma is an intelligent 12-year-old girl who has no desire to become a part of the tedious, wealthy society in which she lives, and is determined not to reach what she believes to be her destiny in that world. Last to arrive is Ozu, a Japanese tenant, who soon sees Renée and Paloma for who they truly are.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is beautifully written with poignant philosophical discussions of art, beauty, and character. It is a refreshing book for the mind and heart.
Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai
2011 National Book Award Winner
Hà loves her life in Saigon. She has her mother, her brothers, and her own papaya tree. But the Vietnam War has reached her home, and her family is not safe. They must sail to America. After finding a sponsor for their journey, they find themselves in a strange place: Alabama. There they begin their new life, complete with new ways to dress, eat, pray, work, and learn.
Recalling her own life as a young immigrant from Vietnam, Thanhha Lai poetically captures the innocence, heartbreak, and happiness of a young girl as she seeks to balance her new world with her old self. Set during the Vietnam War, Inside Out & Back Again takes us to a difficult time in history as we see the changing world through new eyes. It is a book that reminds us to consider the past and, with warm hearts, to look to the future.