It’s Poetry Friday! This week’s host is Jama Kim Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. She is celebrating National Chocolate Cookie Day. Stop by for some treats and all of this week’s Poetry Friday links.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many events have been cancelled. From big-arena concerts (I had tickets to see Ringo Starr in June) to small family gatherings, all of us have traded disappointment and even loss for the health and safety of our families, friends, and communities.
One event I was looking forward to was a long-planned conversation with verse novelist and YA/MG author Thanhhà Lai.
We met at the Collingswood (NJ) Book Festival last fall and hit it off as we talked about writing novels in verse. “Invite me to speak in your area,” Thanhhà said.
My local independent bookstore, The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, was happy to oblige. To celebrate National Poetry Month in April, Thanhhà had a line up of local school visits and — exciting! — she and I would do a “In Conversation” style talk for adults.
When Maryland shut down in mid-March, I thought the whole thing would be cancelled. But the Ivy Bookshop wasn’t giving in that easily. The bookstore, especially Martha Marani, Emma Snyder, and Emily Miller, made the event virtual.
I reread Thanhhà’s award-winning verse novel, Inside Out & Back Again. Then I went on to her recent YA novel, Butterfly Yellow. The characters are so artfully drawn in this book about an 18-year-old refugee from Vietnam who finds herself stuck in Texas with a wannabe cowboy. The novel portrays Hằng ‘s story, including her harrowing escape from Vietnam and her quest to reunite with her younger brother in America, with humor and humanity.
Her second middle grade, Listen Slowly, is about a very American girl who reluctantly visits Vietnam with her immigrant grandmother. It’s a book that has special appeal for first and second generation American readers. (Read my post with Saadia Faruqi about encouraging first and second generation American kids to talk with family members about their immigration experiences.)
On April 29, we recorded our conversation as a live Zoom event. Thanks to the Ivy Bookshop, I can share it with you! I had a great time talking with Thanhhà about verse novels, the poetry inherent to the Vietnamese language, and how she creates such memorable characters.