LAUGH WITH THE MOON- Shana Burg interview

 

It’s always exciting to welcome a new book baby to the world, especially one birthed by a friend and critique partner. Such is the case with Shana Burg’s latest familial addition, LAUGH WITH THE MOON (Delacorte 2012.) Though I was only privvy to Shana’s earliest drafts of the book, before work schedules ate up her critique time, I somehow feel a sense of relation to this story. In those early days, Shana shared her emotional journey that began two decades ago. When she committed to writing this book, she was passionate about paying homage to the Malawi people with grace. And, by golly, she did it!

Thirteen year-old Clare is grieving over the loss of her mother and coming to grips with her own definition of family. Within a year, her well-intentioned father uproots her and they jet across the globe for a months-long medical assignment in Malawi, Africa. Away from her friends and everything familiar, Clare must somehow give herself permission to open her heart to her father, to new friends, to a culture foreign to her. And to learn that, in Clare’s words, “…people aren’t like stitches on a hem. They don’t always follow a pattern. They don’t always weave in and out, holding the pieces of their lives together in the way you might expect.”
This is a fish out of water story with a vulnerable character on a path toward transformation. The sense of place, rich with sensory and descriptive detail, added with the distinctive voices of Malawian characters, makes this a transcendent read sprinkled with profound heart.Shana has had a busy couple of months. Her book launch for LAUGH WITH THE MOON was followed by a whirlwind promotional blog tour. How lucky I am that Shana agreed to answer a few questions for me. Pop over to Shana Burg’s website for a full list of her previous interviews related to MOON. We agreed on a different angle for my interview. I hope you’ll enjoy!

 

 

1.)
Please share your inspiration for LAUGH WITH THE MOON. 
I went to Malawi, Africa in graduate school as part of a
project to explore whether girls and boys in this Central African country were
getting equal access to learning materials, such as teachers, pens, and paper.
In one of the biggest adventures of my life, I spent a few weeks tooling
through the bush in a Land Rover. I visited schools and met students, parents,
headmasters, and other administrators. Laugh
with the Moon
is my way of sharing this experience with kids around the
world.
2.)
Writing historical and/or multicultural fiction, especially with foreign settings, presents unique
research challenges. In addition to your personal hands-on experience, how did
you tackle the necessary research to ensure cultural accuracy,
sensory details, traditions, etc? What kinds of sources did you
access?
I worked with two Malawian research assistants, Felicity
Charity Mponda and Lovemore Nkhata. They had both grown up in rural Malawi but
were living in Malawian cities with internet access as adults. Felicity and
Lovemore told me about their childhoods and answered hundreds of my questions.
I couldn’t have written the book without their help. I also spoke many times
with Dr. Kevin Bergman, a family physician and co-founder of World Altering
Medicine, who travels between the U.S. and Malawi. And I read books, blogs,
news articles, and academic reports.
3.)
From your experience as an educator, and parent, how important do you think it
is to introduce young readers to diverse cultures? 
I think it’s critical. Kids may grow up isolated, in one
part of the world or another, exposed only to one racial/ethnic/economic group,
but eventually they will come into contact with people from backgrounds
different from their own. At least I hope they will. By reading about diverse
cultures, young people learn that there are multiple worldviews out there. They
also learn that people with and without material resources have tremendous
value to contribute to society.
Forming letters from clay

 4.)
In LAUGH WITH THE MOON, thirteen-year old Clare is grieving after the death of
her mother while adjusting to life in Malawi. In your first book, A THOUSAND
NEVER EVERS, there’s an equally strong emotional tug as the main characters
face racial injustices. At the heart of both of your books are very strong
emotional and historically significant themes. How do you think young readers benefit from
reading about difficult challenges?

As Donna Jo Napoli told an audience at last year’s Austin
SCBWI conference, literature that portrays protagonists confronting difficult
challenges can benefit young readers in several different ways. The treacherous
journeys of our characters can offer companionship as well as hope to young
readers who are struggling in their own lives. And for those protected children
who haven’t faced too much difficulty yet, our books can lay the groundwork and
prepare them for future hardships they may face
Athena Burg

 

5.) Is
there anything else you’d like to add or any question you wish someone would
ask you?
Yes. I wish someone (you!) would ask about my new puppy,
Athena. She’s eight weeks old today and the cutest thing I ever saw in my life.
Yesterday she had her first bath. Phew! Today I gave her a doggie bed, and
she’s trying to chew it to pieces. Thanks for (sort of) asking!
Book trailer for Shana Burg’s LAUGH WITH THE MOON (Delacorte, 2012)
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