By Shana Burg, for The Children’s Book Review
Published: July 28, 2012
Shana Burg is the author of A Thousand Never Evers (Random House, 2008) and Laugh with the Moon (Random House, 2012). Both novels are for tween, teen, and adult readers. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Gripping. Delivers an emotional wallop.” Kirkus Reviews calls Laugh with the Moon “A vivid work of art.”
Laugh with the Moon tells the story of a 13-year-old girl from Massachusetts whose father brings her to live in the bush in Malawi, Africa after the death of her mother.
Laugh with the Moon (Random House, 2012) grew out of one of the greatest adventures of my life. One week I was a graduate student studying public policy at the Harvard’s Kennedy School in Massachusetts. The next, I found myself in a Land Rover tooling through the bush in Central Africa with my driver, translator, and new friend Norman Mbalazo.
I went to Malawi under the guidance of a professor to investigate whether the girls in Malawi’s primary schools had the same access to learning materials like teachers, books, and pencils as the boys did. “I’m not qualified to do that!” I told my professor. But she convinced me that what was really needed was “a fresh pair of eyes.” Her eyes were tired. She had been visiting Malawi for many, many years.
So there I was, in the African jungle, with Norman and my fresh pair of eyes, slowly being transformed by the people I met in this tiny, landlocked country that is one of the poorest on earth. What I saw in the rural schools fascinated me. Yes, sometimes there were 200 students packed into a single classroom sitting on the floor. Yes, often there were roosters walking around inside the schools. And yes, many of the students learned outside in the middle of the rainy season, which meant that whenever the rains came, class was over for the day.
But with my fresh pair of eyes, I also saw the amazing ways that students and teachers were dealing with the cards they’d been dealt. Teachers taught students the alphabet by having them make letters out of termite hill mud, and draw with sticks in the dirt.
In some schools, older students helped teach younger students as the adult teachers roamed from room to room. If a teacher did not have chalk, she might use cassava root. If students did not want to get dirty on the floor, they wove mats from palm leaves.
I hope my book Laugh with the Moon will transport readers to the bush along with Clare Silver, the 13-year-old protagonist. Clare’s father has taken her to Malawi where he had once worked, because he thinks it will be a good place for Clare to grieve the recent death of her mother and move toward healing. He is right. It is through the friendships Clare makes with local children as she attends—and teaches at—Mzanga Full Primary School that her spirit learns to soar once again.