All the Broken Pieces

All the Broken Pieces: A Novel in Verse
by Ann E. Burg

Publishing Information: Scholastic Press: New York, 2009
ISBN: 9780545080927 / 9781554511587 / 978054248396 (Audio)
: 212 p.

Ages: 12 & Up

Two years after being airlifted out of Vietnam in 1975, Matt Pin is haunted by the terrible secret he left behind and, now, in a loving adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events forces him to confront his past.

Book Talk:
You can’t escape your past, it always follows you.  You can only turn around and summon the courage to face it.

Matt Pim was Vietnamese and American.  In Vietnam, before he was born, his blue-eyed father hugged the woman who called him husband, stroked her pregnant stomach, and told her, “I’ll be back.”  But he never returned.

Ten years later, Matt’s mother pushed him into a swarm of children around the American helicopters, telling him he had to leave her and his little brother to go to America, where he’d be safe, even if he was alone.  When he begged to stay, she told him,

“You are strong,” she said.
“You go.
When you are grown,
if you still remember,
you can come back.”

In the middle of the night, when he’s jolted awake by his dreams of screams and flashes, his now mother sits on his bed and sings to him, as he thinks,

“There are no mines here,
no flames, no screams,
sound of helicopters
or shouting guns.
I am safe here,
but how can I
be at home?”

Matt and his now dad play catch, and his dad tells Matt he should try out for the team.  But when he does, Matt can hear the whispers from the other players—

“Hey, frog face,
you learn to play ball
in a rice paddy?....
if you make the team,
I’ll quit…..
My brother died
because of you.”

The next day, Matt makes the team, and there’s a picture taped to his locker.  A rice paddy with a rat drawn on it, and underneath “Matt-the-Rat.”  Coach is angry, but nothing changes.

Sometimes we hang onto the past so hard that we can’t see how to move ahead into the future.  Vets who remember Matt’s Vietnam all too well, the mother and little brother Matt can’t forget.  Boys who remember fathers and older brothers who never came home, who see only their own pain, and ignore the pain of others.

Men and boys broken because of a war that never should have happened—if they can see each other, talk to each other, perhaps they can finally begin to heal.

From: This booktalk was written by Joni Richards Bodart, university professor, librarian, consultant, and internationally known booktalking expert.

See video booktalks at these links:

Subject Headings and Themes:

Children and War
Family Life
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Vietnamese Americans

Booklist Editors' Choice, Books for Youth (Older Readers), 2009
Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth, 2009
Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards Cybils Finalist , 2009
Young Adult LIbrary Services Association Best Books for Young Adults, 2010

Book Links, October 21, 2010 (Starred Review)
, February 15, 2009 (Starred Review)

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May 1, 2009
Horn Book, May 1, 2009
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2009 (Starred Review)
Library Media Connection, May 1, 2009
Publishers Weekly
, April 13, 2009

School Library Journal, May 1, 2009
Teacher Librarian, February 1, 2009

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Can Matt manage to make peace with his past so he can embrace his future? Or are the two so intertwined that they are one and the same?

  2. Discuss how you feel about this quote from the book, "Words are messy, but sometimes, words are all you've got to show what matters most."

  3. In this story, almost all of the characters have been “disfigured” or changed in some way by the war. How are these changes alike? Different?

  4. When she put Matt on the helicopter transport do you think Matt’s mother made the best choice for him? For the family? For his brother?

  5. Matt encounters prejudice from other children in his school who blame him for the loss their families experienced because of the war. How might you handle this situation from Matt’s point-of-view? From the other children’s point-of-view? What can/should/might adults do to help young adults or children overcome these types of prejudice and resentment?

  6. Is a child better off in poverty in his/her homeland, or with a life of plenty elsewhere? What are the cultural ramifications of cross-culture adoptions?  

Related Websites:
Author's Website; Susan Mclelland -
“Angelina Jolie’s Story.” What’s Going On. United Nations. -
Kannan, Sesh. “Beyond the Fire: Teen Experiences of War.” ITVS Interactive -
BBC World Service. BBC World Service. ( Search: child soldiers ; children of conflict ; Sierra Leone
Helroy, Emily. “Global Feminist Profile: Mariatu Kamara.” Gender Across Borders: a Global Feminist Blog. 15 June 2009. -
The Mariatu Foundation. Web.
Ben-Ari, Nirit, and Ernest Harsch. “Sexual Violence, an Invisible War Crime: Sierra Leone Truth Commission Condemns Abuse, Discrimination.”  Africa Renewal -
Sierra Leone.  World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency -
United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone -

Books about the Vietnam War experience:

Amaryllis by Craig Crist-Evans, 2003 (2005 RITBA Nominee)
Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam
by Cynthia Kadohata, 2007
Dove song
by Kristine L. Franklin, 1999
Fallen angels
by Walter Dean Myers, 1988
Letters from Wolfie
by Patti Sherlock, 2004 (2006 RITBA Nominee)
The Life History of a Star
by Kelly Easton, 2001
The Little Weaver of Thai-Yen Village
written in Vietnamese by Tran-Khanh-Tuyet; illustrated by Nancy Hom; translated into English by Christopher N.H. Jenkins & Tran-Khanh-Tuyet, 1987

My Name is San Ho by Jayne Pettit, 1992
Song of the Buffalo Boy
by Sherry Garland, 1992

What It's All About by Normal Klein, 1975
Zazoo by Richard Mosher

America After Vietnam: Legacies of a Hated Warby Edward F. Dolan, 1989
Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy
by Andrea Warren, 2004

Ten Vietnames by Susan Sheehan, 1967
10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War
by Philip Caputo, 2005
"The War Cradle": The Untold Story of "Operation Babylift"
by Shirley Peck-Barnes, 2000

Available at:
'Operation Baby Lift' - the stories of three of the 281 Vietnamese babies airlifted from Saigon orphanages in the closing days of the Vietnam War.
An 'Operation Babylift' Baby Grows Up - Shane Bolt is at Yallingup beach, Western Australia, and reflects on the good fortune of his life, family and culture.
From Saigon to Perth - A Vietnam War Orphan - Surfie Shane is at Yallingup beach in Western Australia where he lives. Shane was one of the babies adopted through the ‘Operation Babylift’ airlift from Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975.
Intercountry Adoption and Cultural Identity - Shane Bolt was one of 281 children airlifted out of Saigon in April 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War and brought to Australia. He was adopted by a Western Australian family. Shane’s Australian mother, Frea, remembers how the family fought anti-Asian sentiment in Perth.
Daughter from Danang - Heidi seems the proverbial "all-American girl" from small-townPulaski, Tennessee. But she was born Mai Thi Hiep in Danang, Vietnam, the daughter of an American serviceman and a Vietnamese woman. At the war's end, her mother, hearing rumors that racially mixed children would be persecuted, placed the 7-year-old girl on an "Operation Babylift" plane to the United States. Twenty-two years later mother and daughter are miraculously reunited in Danang. But what seems like the cue for a happy ending is anything but as Heidi and her Vietnamese relatives are caught in a heart-wrenching clash of cultures.

Other Books by the Author:
Kate’s Surprise, 2007
Riding to Washington, 2006
E is for Empire: A New York Alphabet, 2006
Winter Walk, 2003
Autumn Walk, 2003

About the Author:
Ann Burg was born in New York and spent her happy early childhood years in Brooklyn, where she wrote poetry and read lots of books. When she was eight years old, Ann and her family moved to New Jersey where she continued to read, write and dream.An English teacher for more than 10 years, Ann pursued her interest in writing as a hobby and had several articles published in newspapers throughout New York and New Jersey. With the support of her husband and their cherished daughter and son, Ann decided to leave teaching and pursue her writing career full time. She lives with her family in Albany, New York.    From Sleeping Bear Press