Interview with Shana Burg, author of Laugh with the Moon

Today we have the pleasure of interviewing Shana Burg, author of Laugh with the Moon.  Laugh with the Moon, is a fish-out-of-water story about thirteen-year old Clare, who after the death of her mother, has to travel to the African Jungle with her father for sixty-four days.  The story tells about the life-changing experience Clare has and how she adapts to a new culture, as well as how she helps heal herself and others after more heartbreak.  Kirkus Reviews called Laugh with The Moon, “A vivid work of art .”

First off, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book.

Thank you! I’m so glad to hear it! And thanks for inviting me to the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. I’m attaching some pictures I took in Malawi in case you want to use them.

And here’s a link to the trailer:  http://shanaburg.com/book-trailer-laugh-with-the-moon

 

Your own history is quite fascinating. I’m sure you’ve been asked this question many times, but for the sake of our readers, how much of your own experience in Malawi has been depicted in this book?

 

When I went to Malawi, I kept a journal. I referred back to that journal a lot while I wrote Laugh with the Moon. I never ate mphalabungu (caterpillars) or taught my own class of students in a Malawian school like the main character Clare does, but I did visit many schools in the bush and spent time in classrooms interviewing children, teachers, and parents. The characters in Laugh with the Moon are composites of friends I made during my visit and kept in touch with for many years after.

 

 

Death seemed to be an ever-present reality in the area. How important to you, was it to show this condition in the book?

 

Showing that death is everywhere was very important to me. Clare has just lost her mother, and when she’s still at home in Massachusetts, among other things, she worries that she sticks out like a sore thumb among her peers. Then she gets to Malawi and there are kids everywhere whose parents, brothers, and sisters have died. This is the reality of life in one of the poorest countries on earth. And to me, it is shocking.

 

The life expectancy of a person in Malawi is now 55 years old, while here in the U.S. we can expect to live until our 80s or 90s and beyond. I made three good friends in Malawi, and each one died before they turned 40 years old.

 

This all sounds depressing, right? So in the face of extreme poverty, it’s amazing to see people who are innovative, resilient, and even joyful, though of course, not all the time.

 

Your website has a link to an educator’s guide, which was very interesting. I know “message” is a taboo word, but besides wanting to entertain your reader, which you have done, what do you hope your readers get out of this book?

 

I wanted to show that just because people are poor and might need aid from other countries, that doesn’t mean they need our pity. The Malawians friends I made were stronger in many ways than me, and they had lots to teach me about love and life.

 Besides your travels there, how much research was involved for Laugh with the Moon and how did you come up with the name?

 

I spent a year studying the Malawian primary education system back when I was in graduate school for public policy in 1996-97. More than a decade later, when I decided to write this book, I knew I needed to update my research and find out how things had changed since I’d visited.

 

I had two AMAZING research assistants, Felicity Charity Mponda and Lovemore Nkhata, both of whom were living in Malawi cities and answered literally hundreds and hundreds of questions online. Also, Dr. Kevin Bergman of World Altering Medicine who works in Malawi helped me with the medical aspects of the book. And of course, I read books, blog posts, articles, and anything else I could find.

 

 

How receptive was your editor to the book?

 

My editor is Michelle Poploff of Delacorte Press, Random House. She absolutely rocks! I had a two-book deal. When I finished writing my first book A Thousand Never Evers, I wasn’t sure what to write next. She said, “What are you most passionate about?” Instantly, I knew I needed to write about the experiences I’d had in Malawi. She enthusiastically agreed.

What books and authors inspired you?

 

Alexandra Fuller is an adult author who writes memoirs about growing up in Africa. I love her books. Also, well into writing Laugh with the Moon, I read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, which is set in Malawi and inspired me to make the final push to finish the revisions. And then to help me understand how girls process the loss of a mother I read an excellent book, Motherless Daughters, by Hope Edelman.

 

What is your writing routine like?

 

If only I had one! I work full-time in schools teaching kids about community service, so I squeeze my writing in on nights, vacations, and weekends. Also, I have summers off, so that’s my most productive time.

 

What are you working on next?

 

I’m working on a dystopian thriller. Stay tuned…

 

What advice could you give to aspiring writers?

 

A few things: First and most importantly, live life and have adventures. Meet people different from yourself. Learn new skills. You can’t just hole up in your room reading and writing all the time, or you won’t have anything to write about. Second of all, keep a journal. This will help you find a voice that is uniquely yours. Third, don’t feel like you need long stretches of undisturbed time in a villa off the coast of Italy to write a novel. You don’t, although it sure would be nice! So long as you are consistently grabbing bits and pieces of time when you can find it, eventually you will produce your masterpiece.

 

Ok, this will be my staple question and how lucky are you to be the first?? Now, who plays Clare in the movie adaptation?

 

I love it. Seriously, I’m going to cast an unknown. This year, my son switched to a new school. There is this girl in the school who, I swear, is exactly Clare as I picture her in my mind. I haven’t told this girl because I don’t want to freak her out, but I’m sure once I get the movie deal and I let her know she’s the star, she won’t be too disturbed. I just need the movie deal to come through in the next couple of months, before this girl goes off to high school and gets too old for the part. So readers out there, if you happen to know anyone in Hollywood, please tell them to get a move on already!

 

Thank you again, Shana and good luck with Laugh with the Moon!

You can catch more interviews with Shana Burg at:

7/17: Mr. Schu Reads

7/17: Sharp Read

7/20: Journey of a Bookseller

7/22: Nerdy Book Club

7/24: From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

7/25: Read, Write, Reflect

7/26: The Musings of a Book Addict

7/30: The Pirate Tree

7/31: The Pirate Tree

One lucky person will win a copy of this book, by posting a comment about this interview below. The winner will be selected randomly or by who I think uses the best example of Times New Roman font.

14 Responses to Interview with Shana Burg, author of Laugh with the Moon

  1. I so appreciate the comments. Would love to hear what your students think of Clare’s journey! Jonathan and Mixed Up Files, thanks for having me!

    Shana

    JROSEN Reply:

    @Shana,

    It was a lot of fun and our pleasure.

    Thanks again, Shana!

  2. Just read this book this summer as it is a one of our school district’s ‘Battle of the Books” elementary school 40 books. I loved it! So many books have unlikeable characters who keep making the same dumb choices. I enjoyed Clare’s development and the way she longed for and found a friend.
    I had read how she researched and was very impressed with that. We get to chose one book to do a book talk on for our lit club, and this would be a great one – if it already isn’t chosen!!

    JROSEN Reply:

    @Sharon K,

    I agree. Clare showed a lot of development and growth here. It would be a perfect choice for your book talk. Use your influence to make it happen! :)

  3. This book looks really good! I definitely want to read it! I especially appreciated Shana’s comment ” in the face of extreme poverty, it’s amazing to see people who are innovative, resilient, and even joyful, though of course, not all the time.”

    JROSEN Reply:

    @Betsy Byers,

    I thought that was a great comment as well and the book really strikes that home.

  4. Another great interview! In my classroom this year I want to challenge my students to “Read around the world”–thanks for constantly adding new titles to my list.

    JROSEN Reply:

    @Stacey,

    That’s a great idea. Your students will have a lot of fun with that. Well, other than assigning them all that reading of course.

  5. D.Lee Sebree

    A thoughtful interview and excellent advice. Sorry I have no movie connections! : ) I look forward to the book, whether I win it or buy it.

    JROSEN Reply:

    @D.Lee Sebree,

    Well, consider yourself officially in the running!

  6. I really like books that show a different culture and this one sounds great! Armchair travel is a great way to experience a new country especially one we don’t typically know much about here in the U.S.

    JROSEN Reply:

    @PragmaticMom,

    Totally agree. For some, these books will be our only gateway to other places and it is always fun to read about different cultures.

  7. I love the advice to aspiring writers! Thanks for such a thoughtful interview.

    JROSEN Reply:

    @tricia,

    It’s always interesting to hear different perspectives about writing. Shana’s advice was defintely helpful.