Author Spotlight

How innovative learning in Malawi inspired an author

One minute I was in graduate school studying public policy in Massachusetts, and the next minute I was tooling through the bush in Central Africa visiting primary schools where chickens roamed through classrooms, and school roofs blew off in the rain.

Laugh with the Moon (Random House, 2012) grew out of the incredibly eye-opening experience I had, in a country where the average life expectancy is now 54 years old. The trip changed my life, and I wanted to share my experience with young people in the United States.


Laugh with the Moon follows the journey of Clare Silver, a 13-year-old American girl whose father brings her to Malawi, Africa, because he thinks it will help her heal following the death of her mother. Clare soon finds herself surrounded by children all too familiar by loss, and slowly, they teach her how to grieve and how to cope.

Enrolled in a rural primary school, Clare is aghast at the conditions. Fifty three books for all the students in the school to share! No posters on the walls! Hardly any pencils or paper! Clare’s shock becomes all the more pressing when she’s asked to teach the class of standard one students–all 176 of them!

Soon, though, Clare’s friends show her how they not only manage, but also to thrive. Memory and Innocent teach her how to make alphabet letters from termite hill mud, and how children can learn to write by using sticks in the dirt. No chalk? Not a problem. Go into the bush and search for a cassava root to use instead.

Once Clare begins work in the standard one classroom, her own creativity overwhelms her initial sense of helplessness, as she makes posters from empty grain sacks, and even uses the tin roof that blew off the classroom block as a stage for her students’ play.

However, when Clare’s new friends take her on an outing to see the country, the trip goes horribly wrong. It is because of this adventure gone awry, that Clare ends up inside the local hospital where her father works. She sees for herself the empty white walls, the young patients sharing beds, and the supply closet that is empty of medicine patients desperately need.

Clare, Memory, Saidi and Agnes decide to fix up the hospital for the children inside. They mix paints from flowers they find in the bush, and create murals on bed sheets which the nurse hangs on the walls inside.

In Laugh with the Moon, African characters innovate left and right, and Clare learns to emulate their survival skills. And this ingenuity is drawn from what I witnessed firsthand during my visit to Malawi.


Our guest blogger today is Shana Burg. Shana 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. You can visit Shana at, follow her on Twitter @ShanaBurgWrites or on Facebook at

Click World Altering Medicine and Laugh with the Moon for a look at a rural Malawi hospital with Dr. Kevin Bergman, co-founder of World Altering Medicine. And check out this book trailer of Laugh with the Moon. 

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

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