Clara Luna’s name means “clear moon” in Spanish. But lately, her head has felt anything but clear. One day a letter comes from Mexico, written in Spanish: Dear Clara, We invite you to our house for the summer. We will wait for you on the day of the full moon, in June, at the Oaxaca airport. Love, your grandparents.
Fourteen-year-old Clara has never met her father’s parents. She knows he snuck over the border from Mexico as a teenager, but beyond that, she knows almost nothing about his childhood. When she agrees to go, she’s stunned by her grandparents’ life: they live in simple shacks in the mountains of southern Mexico, where most people speak not only Spanish, but an indigenous language, Mixteco.
The village of Yucuyoo holds other surprises, too– like the spirit waterfall, which is heard but never seen. And Pedro, an intriguing young goat herder who wants to help Clara find the waterfall. Hearing her grandmother’s adventurous tales of growing up as a healer awakens Clara to the magic in Yucuyoo, and in her own soul. What The Moon Saw is an enchanting story of discovering your true self in the most unexpected place.
I first read What the Moon Saw two summers ago and absolutely loved it. It’s such a sweet story. It doesn’t have the harshness or grittiness like some of the books we’ve reviewed for Vamos a Leer. It won’t break your heart the way Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe does. Yet, it’s a beautifully written and moving read. I couldn’t put it down.
One of my favorite lines comes early on in the book during a conversation between Clara and Abuela: “The most beautiful things in life are unexpected, Clara. They tear at the fabric of the everyday world. The world of patting tortillas and fetching water and washing dishes. They show you the deeper world, where you talk with the spirits of trees. Where you see the silvery threads connecting a leaf to a star to an earthworm” (p. 42). The longer Clara is in Yucuyoo with her grandparents, the more she comes to realize the truth in her grandmother’s words. Away from the suburbs of Walnut Hill, Clara’s understanding of the world changes drastically. She begins to see how those threads connect us to the world and the people we love. This change of perspective is also the impetus for Clara to reflect on who she is, what she values, and the kind of person she wants to be. Like many teenagers, Clara struggles with her identity and the desire to fit in. Early on in the novel, Clara is a girl who fits in among her friends at school, yet she’s restless. While she doesn’t realize it, she’s searching for something more—“Now do you understand, Clara? Why your spirit was restless? I thought for a moment. “Because I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what it was. Something hidden. The thing that makes me feel alive” (p. 174). In Yucuyoo she finds what she’s looking for and allows herself to become the person she wants to be, not the person that her best friends from back home think she should be. While not filled with the angst of many books that tackle similar themes, Clara’s transformation is still quite powerful and has the potential to provide the space for classroom discussions around identity, values, and acceptance.
Set in the village of Yucuyoo, in Oaxaca, Mexico What the Moon Saw is an excellent book to use to teach literacy through Social Studies. Through Resau’s novel, students will learn about what rural indigenous life in Oaxaca, Mexico is like. Just as regions of the United States vary greatly, so do the countries of Latin America. Often our students get overly simplified pictures of what life is like in other countries, this book provides the opportunity to teach about the diversity of Mexico through discussions of indigenous groups and languages in Mexico. Resau references both Spanish and Mixteco words, demonstrating that not everyone in Mexico speaks just Spanish. As Clara’s father’s story unfolds, connections to the contemporary issues surrounding immigration are easy to draw out. The novel encourages students to move beyond polarizing statements about immigration and to think about it on a more personal level. Clara’s father’s experience could easily be the catalyst to discuss questions such as—What must one give up or sacrifice to immigrate? Why do people feel pressured to immigrate? What about the family left behind, what happens to them? How does immigration affect families who are separated?
It’s the perfect book for younger teenage readers. It grapples with the same issues of identity that many of our students are struggling through. It provides the space to discuss important contemporary issues, while also providing content knowledge about Mexico.
I’m not alone in thinking it’s a book that should be on our classroom and library shelves. What the Moon Saw has been given a number of awards and recognitions: Colorado Book Award Winner (2007); Arizona Young Adult Book Award Winner, Arizona Library Association (2007); Américas Award Honorable Mention (2007); Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth (2006); Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Youth (2006); School Library Journal Pick of the Week (Aug. 28, 2006)
Click here to be taken to our Educator’s Guide for the book.