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*Laugh with the Moon* by Shana Burg - middle grades book review
Also by Shana Burg:

A Thousand Never Evers
Laugh with the Moon
by Shana Burg
Ages 9-14 256 pages Delacorte June 2012 Hardcover    

A remarkable multicultural book in which friendship and common goals override differences, Laugh with the Moon is the story of an 8th-grade American girl who moves with her father to rural Malawi, Africa, soon after her mother dies.

When she first arrives, Clare is miserable. The weather is horrible, she misses her best friend and is generally depressed. She takes it all out on her father, a doctor in a nearby hospital.

Clare’s attitude begins to change when she attends the local public primary school as one of the oldest pupils. The official language at school is English, so Clare is able to effectively communicate while at the same time learning the local language. The faculty is welcoming, and her fellow students accept her as another classmate.

Her best friend is a local girl named Memory and her younger brother, a boy named Innocent. Clare’s friends, both boys and girls, have varying interests and personalities, including the stereotypical mean girl. Throughout the book, Clare clings to the memories of her mother. She often thinks of her mother as a near presence, offering sound advice and comfort.

When the first standard (grade) teacher leaves, the principal asks Clare to teach English to 176 students. This new responsibility gives her a sense of pride and establishes her as a leader within the school. Clare plans a school play to show the community how the young children are learning English.

Taking a break from their responsibilities and school work, Clare and her new friends take a short trip to a local lake to swim. During the trip, Innocent becomes dangerously ill. The children have no choice but to steal some mopeds in order to get him to the hospital.

Afterward, Clare also becomes sick, and she is admitted to a local private hospital. During this sad time, Clare’s relationship with her father becomes stronger, her priorities align with her local friends and the reality of the harsh living and health care conditions hit home. When she becomes well, Clare puts her heart and soul into her new community, gathering her peers toward common goals.

Burg skillfully incorporates beautiful language and metaphors within the story. The voices of the characters are authentic, English combined with African dialect. Sometimes the phrasing is awkward but understandable as the characters are clearly trying to incorporate English words into their native sentence structure. Readers will walk away from this book with the knowledge that people really are very much the same throughout the world, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or culture.

Thoroughly researched, Laugh with the Moon, is a wonderful story of friendship and love in an different culture, with characters whose personalities are universal and the solutions to problems are found in cooperation, empathy and care for one another. Highly recommended.
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