Educator’s Guide: What the Moon Saw

Educator’s Guide: What the Moon Saw

What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for April 7, 2014.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using What the Moon Saw (Yearling, 2008) in the classroom.  The standards are not included here, but are included with the lesson plans in the PDF. The complete guide is available for download at no cost: Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: What the Moon Saw.

To hear our thoughts on the novel, read our book review.


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 goatherder 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.


  • A Best Book for Young Adults 2008
  • 2007 Colorado Book Award Winner
  • 2008-2009 Texas Lonestar List Book, Texas Library Association.
  • 2007 Arizona Young Adult Book Award Winner, Arizona Library Association
  • Américas Award Honorable Mention, 2007
  • New York Book for the Teen Age 2007
  • Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth of 2006
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Youth 2006
  • School Library Journal Pick of the Week, Aug. 28, 2006
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection


A little bit about Laura Resau in her own words:

I was born thirty-some years ago in Baltimore City and spent the first ten years of my life there in old brick houses with alleys. When I was eleven, my family moved to a Baltimore suburb that used to be farmers’ fields and woods. When I wasn’t in school, I was exploring the woods and streams and discovering remnants of what used to be there—rusted fences, ancient farm tools, and abandoned barn.

After I earned my B.A. in Anthropology and French, I decided I wanted to go somewhere faraway, so I got certified in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) and sent job applications around the globe. A small university in a town in Oaxaca, Mexico was the first to offer me a job, and I snatched it up.

I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, got married to Ian, and after five years of revising What the Moon Saw, I had it published with Delacorte/Random House, the press that’s published all my books. As I wrote my next novel, Red Glass, I worked with immigrant families and taught ESL (English as a Second Language) and Cultural Anthropology at my local community college in Fort Collins. My book Star in the Forest was inspired in part by my work and friendships with immigrant families in my community.

After Ian and I adopted our son from Guatemala, I decided to devote myself to being a full time writer and mother…and to finding plenty of excuses to travel. During this time, I’ve celebrated the release of The Indigo Notebook, Star in the Forest, The Ruby Notebook, and The Queen of Water. I still travel internationally, usually a few times every year. And of course, I always carry a notebook with me wherever I go!

In 2004, I became friends with María Virginia Farinango, an indigenous Quichua woman who was a student at the community college where I taught. We decided to collaborate on writing the true story of her amazing girlhood, which became the book The Queen of Water (released in 2011). While I was researching her life in the Ecuadorian Andes, I had some incredible experiences and heard fascinating stories that inspired me to write I (2009 release).

(The above compiled from the author’s website at

What Resau said regarding her inspiration for this book:

“Staying with families in Mixtec and Mazatec communities has been incredibly exciting for me. I love participating in their everyday lives and learning about their thoughts on spirituality and healing. I hold a deep admiration for the older women in these communities, whose work never ends. Many are herbalists, midwives, and curers; they hold their families together, possess curiosity and wisdom, and are always ready to throw their heads back in laughter. Many women have heroically overcome the obstacles in their lives’ racism, poverty, domestic violence, forced marriages, lack of formal education. These women’s struggles and triumphs inspired the character of Helena in What the Moon Saw.

Pedro’s character grew out of a certain sadness and sense of abandonment that I’ve noticed in Oaxacan villages. Many young people, especially young men, have moved away – either to Mexico City or to the U.S. – to try to provide a better life for their families. I’ve met many kids whose fathers are working in Chicago as dishwashers, in Washington state picking apples, or in North Carolina in the logging industry, to name just a few places. Some kids haven’t seen their fathers for years. Some have never met their fathers because they left to work shortly before their child was born; these kids know their fathers only through videos and phone calls and photos. Some kids live with their grandparents because both their mother and father are working in the U.S.

Clara’s spiritual journey was sparked by a sense of restlessness I had as a teenager, a feeling that there was something deeper, beneath the surface of life. Her search for identity as part of a multi-ethnic family in the ‘burbs is something several people close to me have experienced– my adopted Korean brother, my half-German husband, my half-Thai cousin, and my half-Puerto Rican neighbor (who I had a huge crush on in middle school).

Clara’s father’s struggle became clearer to me as I listened to the feelings of my friends and ESL students here in Colorado who are working in the U.S. to support their families in Latin America. It’s a huge challenge for them to build a life here while maintaining strong connections to the families and communities they left behind” (source).

For more on Laura Resau check out the links below:

  • The author’s website with all kinds of great resources. She has an entire section on her inspiration for the book, Click here to go directly to her page on What the Moon Saw.
  • The Author’s Blog—Ocean in a Saucer
  • See the book trailer here


The following lesson plans are comprised of two sections:

  • A short section of suggested activities that can be used before, during or after the reading of the novel which are organized thematically by different subject areas
  • Guided reading questions organized by parts of the book and extended response writing prompts.   These questions have been written to support the types of reading and critical thinking skills required in standardized reading comprehension tests. The following key words and skills are highlighted: analyze, infer, evaluate, describe, support, explain, summarize, compare, contrast and predict.

There are a number of other great discussion guides with questions perfect for extended response or essay assessments that will complement the guide included here quite well. These have been linked to below:

Guided Reading Questions:

Prologue | Pages 1-2

  1. Predict: What do you think the relationship between the woman and the girl is? What connects them? (p. 1-2)

Chapter 1 | Pages 3-18

  1. What does Clara Luna mean? (p. 3)
  2. What grade is Clara in? (p. 3)
  3. Why do you think the replica of the neighborhood with the miniature version of herself bothered Clara? (p. 5)
  4. Where is Clara’s father from? How did her family end up in suburban Maryland? (p. 5)
  5. What do both the woman and Clara see? What do you think this represents? (p. 7)
  6. Why do you think getting in stream makes Clara feel the way she describes on her run back home? Have you ever done anything that made you feel that way? (p. 8)
  7. What do Clara’s parents fear when they realize she’s not sleeping in her room? (p. 9-10)
  8. Who is the letter from? What does it say? (p. 11-12)
  9. Do Clara’s parents want her to go to Oaxaca? Why? Does Clara want to go? Why? (p. 13-16)
  10. What does Clara picture when she thinks of her grandparents’ home? (p. 18)

Chapter 2 | Pages 19-41

  1. How does Clara describe her grandparents when she first sees them? (p. 19)
  2. Who does Clara look more like, Abuela or Abuelo? (20)
  3. How many different buses do they have to take to get to the house? (p. 22-25)
  4. In addition to Spanish, what language do Abuela and Abuelo speak? (p. 32)
  5. What does their home look like? Is Clara surprised? How would you have felt if you were Clara? What would you have thought? (p. 35-37)
  6. Clara is upset when she realizes there will be no movies, no computer, no entertainment for two months. She asks “Who am I without all these things that fill up my life?” (p. 37). What things fill up your life or define who you are or what you do? Who do you think you’d be without those things?
  7. Who is Loro? What does he say to Clara? Who does it remind Clara of? (p. 39)
  8. What is the one thing that Clara’s father has told her about Abuela?(p. 41)

Chapter 3 | Pages 42-52

  1. How old was Abuela when she took her first soul flight? (p. 42)
  2. What does Ta’nu do? (p.43)
  3. What happened to the young girl? Why did her parents bring her to Ta’nu? (p. 44)
  4. What is holding the girl’s spirit prisoner? (p. 45)
  5. What does Abuela have to do in order to save both Ta’nu and the young girl? (p. 48-50)
  6. What watches over Abuela while she is in her soul flight? (p. 50)
  7. What is her spirit animal? (p. 51)
  8. What does Abuela have to do after staying up all night? Why does she have to work while Ta’nu can rest? (p. 52)

Chapter 4 | Pages 53-71

  1. Does Clara feel like her outside self matches her inside self? How does she describe it? Have you ever felt this way? Explain. (p. 53)
  2. Where do Clara’s grandparents get their food? How is this different from where your family gets their food? (p. 54)
  3. Is there a map of Yucuyoo? Why? (p. 58-59)
  4. What did Clara hear during her hike? What does she learn about this from her grandparents? (p. 59)
  5. Why did Abuela invite Clara to come to Yucuyoo for the summer? (p. 61)
  6. What happens when Clara turns over the rock she’s laying on? Who warns her? (p. 65-66)
  7. What does Clara find out about the boy who saved her? (p. 69-70)

Chapter 5 | Pages 72-91

  1. What happened the second time that Abuela took a soul flight? (p. 73)
  2. How does Abuela’s uncle feel about her? (p. 74-76)
  3. How did Abuela’s father die? (p. 78)
  4. Where does Uncle Jose want Abuela to go? What will she do there? (p. 74, 79-81)
  5. How is Abuela treated when she first arrives at don Manuel’s house? How is this different from what she expected or the traditions of her village? (p. 86-87)
  6. Who becomes Abuela’s friend when she is working as a maid for don Manuel? (p. 87-88)
  7. How does doña Carmen deal with don Manuel’s treatment? What does she do to make herself feel better? (p. 90-91)

Chapter 6 | Pages 92-117

  1. Is Pedro embarrassed when Clara catches him singing? How does Pedro’s music make Clara feel? (p. 94)
  2. Why does it surprise Clara that Pedro thinks of her as an American? How does she answer when Pedro asks her what she thinks she is? (p. 95-96)
  3. How does Pedro describe himself? What can you infer from Pedro’s answer about what he thinks of himself? If you had to predict what he is most sensitive about, what do you think it would be? (p. 96)
  4. How does Pedro compare to Clara’s friends and schoolmates back in the U.S.?
  5. Clara initially loves the gifts her father brings her from work. What changes this? (p. 98)
  6. Why does Clara have such a hard time drawing Pedro? What upsets Pedro? (p. 101-103)
  7. Why did so many of the men leave Yucuyoo? (p. 105-106)
  8. What does Clara dream about? What does Pedro tell her she should have done in her dream? (p. 107)
  9. Why does Pedro’s explanation of the meaning of his songs upset Clara? What does she think they’re about? How does Clara defend her father? Why do you think she runs away from Pedro? (p. 109-113)
  10. What makes Clara feel better the next day? (p. 116-117)

Chapter 7 | Pages 118-131

  1. Why is Silvia so mean to Loro? (p. 119)
  2. How does doña Carmen punish Helena? (p. 121)
  3. What did doña Three Teeth do to end up in jail? (p. 126-129)

Chapter 8 | Pages 132-148

  1. What does Abuela do for Clara? What does Clara realize about the heron? (p. 133-135)
  2. How does the limpia change Clara? (p. 135-136)
  3. What does Clara learn about her father while working with Abuelo? (p. 137-142)
  4. What happens at the market? (p.142-146)

Chapter 9 | Pages 149-162

  1. What does Silvia say to Helena when she stops by the jail? (p. 150)
  2. What happens when Helena enters the dreams of Silvia? What does Silvia do as a result?(p. 151-153)
  3. How has Silvia changed? (p. 154-155)
  4. Who does Helena bring back to the village? (p. 156)
  5. How does Uncle treat Helena when she returns? (p. 159-160)
  6. How has Helena changed since she left the village? (p. 158-160)
  7. How does Ta’nu help Helena understand that it is his time to die? (p. 160-162)

Chapter 10 | Pages 163-180

  1. How do Clara and Pedro apologize to each other? (p. 164-165)
  2. What happened to Pedro’s father? (p. 166)
  3. How did Pedro know that Clara was looking for the waterfall too? (p. 167)
  4. What happened when students spoke Mixteco at school? What happened as a result? (p. 168)
  5. What do Abuela and Clara do to help heal the young girl who was stung by the scorpion? (p. 170-172)
  6. How does Clara’s impression of Felipe and Diego change after she sees them with their sister? (p. 173-176)
  7. How does Clara assure Pedro that she’s not interested in Felipe? (p. 178-179)

Chapter 11 | 181-197

  1. What does the man tell Helena they must do if they don’t want the illness to spread to their village? (p. 184-185)
  2. What does Helena’s aunt need after she has the baby? Why is this dangerous? (p. 187-191)
  3. How does Helena help the officer? Does he arrest her? (p. 192-196)

Chapter 12 | Pages 198-215

  1. What is the purpose of the green feather, the egg, and the cocoa beans? (p. 198-199)
  2. What are some of the things that Clara realizes she is thankful for? What kinds of things are you thankful for? (p. 199-200)
  3. Clara has a feeling that something is going to happen soon. Predict what you think it is. (p. 200)
  4. When one of the goats falls into the hole, Clara and Pedro realize that they’ve found something. What have they discovered? (p. 202)
  5. How does Pedro get hurt when they’re trying to leave the waterfall? How does Clara try to counter the sting of the scorpions? (p. 208)
  6. How does Clara find her way out of the cave? (p. 211-214)

Chapter 13 | Pages 216-236

  1. Why doesn’t Helena want to get married? (p. 218-219)
  2. How does Helena scare don Norberto so that he doesn’t hurt her? (p. 221)
  3. What do don Norberto and Uncle Jose agree upon? (p. 222)
  4. How does Helena escape from don Norberto? (p. 227-228)
  5. Who rescues Helena from dying in the forest? (p. 230)
  6. What happens to doña Three Teeth once she is released from the jail? How does she find Helena? (p. 231-232)
  7. How does Helena end up in Yucuyoo? (p. 234)
  8. Who is the man with one green eye and one brown eye? (p. 236)
  9. How does Helena meet Abuelo? (p. 235-236)

Chapter 14 | Pages 237-249

  1. Who is Pedro’s great grandmother? (p. 239)
  2. Why do you think it’s so hard for Pedro and Clara to explain about the waterfall? (p. 239-240)
  3. What will Pedro’s songs continue to remind Clara of even once she has returned to Walnut Hill? (p. 243)
  4. Why do you think Pedro leaves instead of helping Clara to pack? What are Pedro and Clara feeling about her return to Walnut Hill? (p. 244-245)
  5. Does Pedro come to say goodbye to Clara? What does he give her? (p. 248)

Chapter 15 | Pages 250-252

  1. How has Clara’s relationship with her Dad changed since her summer in Yucuyoo? (p. 250-252)

Epilogue | Page 253

  1. What do you think the Epilogue is trying to tell us? (p. 253)
  2. Do you think the Clara returns to Yucuyoo? Why or why not?

Reflective Writing Questions:

  1. Think about how girls were treated when Helena (Abuela) was growing up? Were men and women treated equally? How did Helena have to fight against the stereotypes to do what she wanted? What did she have to sacrifice in order to do this?
  2. How does Clara’s attitude toward Yucuyoo and her grandparents change throughout the novel? Think about how she felt about visiting before her trip and how she felt when it was time for her to return to Walnut Hill.
  3. How does Clara change or evolve by the end of the novel? Is she the same person she was at the beginning of the book?
  4. Through her trip to Mexico Clara learns a great deal both about her grandmother and her father. What does she learn about her father? How does this change her perception of him? How do you think this knowledge changes Clara?


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the Classroom, including additional information about the book group, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared 4/2014 by Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant and Neoshia Roemer, LAII Graduate Assistant.


2 thoughts on “Educator’s Guide: What the Moon Saw

  1. Pingback: WWW: Ocean in a Saucer | Vamos a Leer

  2. Pingback: Book Review: What the Moon Saw | Vamos a Leer

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