LeUyen Pham’s Outside, Inside addresses the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic for young readers with sensitivity and compassion.
“Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed,” Pham’s narration begins. “Everybody who was outside . . . went inside.” The book’s first spread shows a bustling street filled with people going about their daily life. Two people walk dogs; a man rides a bicycle and a child rides a scooter; children greet each other on the stoop of a building; people carry bags of groceries. We see the same street on the next spread, but now it’s empty—save for a girl’s cat, who will serve as our guide throughout the book. The girl, who anchors the story, looks hesitantly out the window at the absence of neighbors on the street.
After emphasizing that this migration from outside to inside was something that happened all around the world, Pham pays tribute to the medical personnel and essential workers to whom the book is dedicated in two striking spreads. Detailed vignettes in a more restrained and muted color palette depict sobering and honest scenes of sadness, struggle, solitude and grief. Next, we peer into indoor lives, as Pham show us an out-of-work family opening bills at the kitchen table with expressions of dismay and a child grown weary of virtual learning. Throughout, however, she also shows us scenes of kinship, community and camaraderie. Families work, play and bake together; medical staff bring a birthday cake to a woman in a hospital bed. Highlighting another meaning of “inside,” Pham reminds us how “we were all changing a tiny bit inside.”
The book briefly addresses the reason for our indoor migration—“because everyone knew it was the right thing to do.” Pham doesn’t sugarcoat the impact that the pandemic has had on our lives, but COVID-19 also isn’t explicitly mentioned until a detailed and moving closing author’s note. Most children will have heard enough about the virus that laying it out explicitly in the text is unnecessary. Eagle-eyed readers, however, will notice the phrase “COVID 19” on a doctor’s whiteboard.
Pham (There's No Such Thing as Little) narrates Outside, Inside in the past tense, perhaps as a reminder that even this pandemic, too, shall pass. A brightly colored double gatefold imagines the day in the future when we’ll all be outdoors and near one another again. In the meantime, this deeply felt book will make waiting for that day a little bit easier to bear.