A Review of
Home Is In Between
By Mitali Perkins and
Lavanya Naidu (illustrator)
ERB Contributing Editor
Specializing in Books for Young Readers
Over this year, authors have cranked out titles about the quarantine, the virus itself, and essential workers. Most of these books aren’t great. Several are useful for a one-time read-aloud for in-person learners; how to wear a mask at school, for example. Very few are worth space on a kid’s bookshelf. The exception? LeUyen Pham’s Outside, Inside. Goodness. Over the course of illustrating more than 100 books for kids, Pham has become a master at creating characters who exude movement, personality, and emotion.
And oh, her breadth in Outside, Inside! She’s captured the worry, creativity, compassion, poignancy, sourdough bread, and boredom from those early months of strict lockdowns.
We’d be forgiven for feeling that we’re living in a never-ending purgatory; we’re one year into pandemic life. But Outside, Inside reminds us why we’re still wearing masks, still distancing, still looking out for one another — it’s all out of kindness and compassion. All these adaptations in how we live are temporary and done out of love for one another.
Adults shouldn’t miss the author’s notes at the end (which will require, then, a second look through the book, plus tissues). Kids shouldn’t miss this healing power of this time capsule. She’s given us a gift: she’s reframed this exhausting, terrible time in history to remind us of the growth happening Outside and Inside.
Mitali Perkins seems to take to heart a directive issued by Madeleine L’Engle: if a subject is too difficult for grown-ups, write it for children. Consider the warm, bittersweet, sad Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019). Home Is In Between is more autobiographical. Like her main character, Shanti, Perkins too came to America as a young girl. Like Shanti, she navigated new holidays, new manners, a new school.
As Shanti’s family celebrates the best of their village’s culture, we also see Shanti explore typical American extracurriculars like ballet class, snowball fights, piano lessons. There’s grief and discomfort in this process (a video chat with family in their village should feel achingly familiar to anyone who has only visited with family over Zoom in the last year). Readers are pushed to empathy as Shanti encounters strangers’ glares in a grocery store line and a friend’s insensitive come-back. It’s easy to see how Shanti might feel as if she doesn’t belong in either place; this is driven home by illustrator Lavanya Naidu’s brilliant use of page turns, white space, and color.
But there’s so much joy in Shanti’s life, too. Music, dancing, funny stories, food, and new friends fill bright, luminous scenes. Readers watch Shanti evolve, learning fluency in both Indian and American spaces. Perkins writes in an afterword that this evolution is a gift. It becomes the young immigrants’ “super power.” Cracking codes in other cultures cues up compassion and empathy in Home Is In Between, and it’s wonderful.