Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Author(s): Shana Burg
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: 06/12/2012
Hard cover Price: $16.99
Reading Level: 10-17
Other Choices: Tales From Africa, Akata Witch, A Monster Calls
Synopsis: Moving story of grieving American teen in African village.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that Laugh With the Moon is the story of a 13-year-old Boston girl who is grieving the recent, sudden death of her mother and adjusting to village life in Malawi, Africa, where her doctor father has come to work in a clinic. It's a story of friendship and coping with grief, with some intense moments for younger readers: A young boy dies of malaria due to lack proper medicine. Some dangerous animals are present in the nearby bush, but most are seen at a distance.
- Families can talk about how different Clare's African village school experience is compared with what she's used to. If you had to attend Mzanga Full Primary, what do you think would be the hardest aspect to get used to?
- What other stories have you read or seen on film about a kid who lost a parent? Can you imagine what that might feel like?
- Clare often turns to her drawings and paintings to comfort herself when she feels sad. What do you do when you need to comfort yourself?
What's the story?
In LAUGH WITH THE MOON, 13-year-old Clare is taken to Malawi, Africa, by her doctor father in hopes that the new setting may help both of them recover from the loss of Clare's mother, who died recently of a heart attack. While her father begins work at the local clinic, Clare must attend the village school. Though at first she feels out of place as the only non-African student, she immediately finds a kindred spirit in Memory, a smart and fun girl who has experienced loss that Clare can relate to. As Clare settles into village living, she becomes accustomed to eating cooked pumpkin for breakfast, sleeping under a malaria net, and seeing giant monkeys walking the dirt roads alongside people. When a teacher leaves unexpectedly, the principal of her school asks her if she'll help teach English to the first graders. Clare is nervous and scared but decides to take on the challenge, learning much about herself in the process. With Memory's support, she's able to both accept her grief and move on from it, finally understanding that "grief isn't a tunnel you walk through and you're done."
Is it any good?
The characters in Laugh with the Moon are immensely likable, from Clare and her new classmates to her father and their housekeeper Mrs. Bwanali. Clare's experiences in the new setting are interesting and well described, and the new relationships she forges with the other children will be familiar to most middle school students, no matter what country they're from. However, perhaps because it is a story more about daily life than action-packed sequences, the pacing sometimes feels uneven or disjointed. Still, Clare's growing bravery and willingness to take chances will keep readers interested, as will the perilous situation she and her friends eveuntually find themselves in.
The Good Stuff
Messages: Clare learns that although tragedy and loss are inevitable parts of life, it's also necessary to "laugh with the moon," as her friend Memory tells her. Clare's experiences with another culture remind her of the privilege she's grown up with, and by reaching out to help those less fortunate, she finds solace and comfort for herself.
Educational Value: Readers will gain an understanding of what it is like to live In a remote village in Malawi, Africa, with its limited water supply, lack of school supplies, different foods, and close-knit community. Clare must learn to speak Chichewa, the Malawi language, while she is there, and a short glossary is included in the back of the book. In an Author's Note, author Burg recounts her personal experiences researching schools in Malawi and explains what inspired her to write the book. A recipe for mbatata (sweet potato) biscuits is also included.
Role Models: Claire is a loving, responsible daughter, though initially angry at her father for taking her from her Boston home to Africa. She immediately identifies with her new classmates despite their vastly different life experiences, and she befriends them by being helpful and creative. Her new friend Memory has suffered even more loss than Clare but is incredibly supportive and generous. All the children are depicted as intelligent, hardworking students who nevertheless understand that they must sometimes sacrifice their studies to work and help support their families.
What to watch out for
Violence Not an issue
Sex: Not an issue
Language: Not an issue
Consumerism: Not an issue
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Not an issue