November 19, 2021

Burying the Moon

Written by Andrée Poulin
Illustrated by Sonali Zohra
Groundwood Books
112 pp.
Ages 9-12
October 2021

Every night
in the field 
     of Shame
Latika has only
     one thought
     one wish:
     to bury the moon. (pg. 14)
That's because Latika and the girls and women of her Indian village always head to the field on the outskirts to crouch and do their business in the night as there are no toilet facilities available to them. They are silent, they are ashamed and they are fearful. And Latika resents that moon shining down on them and revealing them in the shame of their bodily functions.
From Burying the Moon by Andrée Poulin, illus. by Sonali Zohra
At home, Latika's grandmother is bedridden, her Aunt Nita sobs for the loss of her young son, and her older sister Ranjini, once the brightest student at school, rages at everything now that she has turned twelve and been forced, as a young woman, to stop attending school.

When a very-important-government-official, Mister Samir, comes to Padaram to see how the government could help the village, Latika is desperate to ask about "you know what" but she is dissuaded by her mother.
It's so hard
to stay silent
when you have
important things
          to say.
Important things
  that everyone
      stays silent
          about. (pg. 41)
When Mister Samir brings an engineer to the village to install a well, Latika tries to speak with Mister Samir, whose smiling eyes encourage her. But when the sarpanch–village leader–and Mister Samir have a disagreement, Latika is terrified to approach him. Still Latika finds a way to engineer something that will work before she is able to share their need for sanitation with Mister Samir and change minds, including her own about burying that moon.
From Burying the Moon by Andrée Poulin, illus. by Sonali Zohra
Today, November 19, is World Toilet Day and Burying the Moon makes a significant contribution in recognizing the great number of people globally who do not have access to toilets and sanitation. Worse yet is the gender inequality and discrimination that accompanies this deficiency. With girls prohibited from going to school once they turn twelve in anticipation of them getting their menstrual periods, the stigma of expelling their bodies' waste is compounded. But Andrée Poulin does more than just indicate how inconvenient the lack of toilets are for women. She recognizes that the Shame, always capitalized in Burying the Moon, is a greater burden for them. It robs them of their pride, their voices and their education. 
Telling Latika's story in free verse is inspiring. The text is heavy with meaning and emotion but short on filler. The depth of Latika's loathing for the moon, her jealousy at what boys are allowed to do, and her anger at the harm their village's unsanitary conditions have done is so palpable that readers will feel all that. Even though most who read this book will know nothing of these conditions, whether sanitation or gender discrimination, they will sympathize and hopefully learn more. (Andrée Poulin who previously worked in international development assistance offers further reading to help inform readers.)
With India's Sonali Zohra's digitally-rendered illustrations, rich in purples, roses and blues with lines of vitality, providing the context for Andrée Poulin's story, Burying the Moon is both a story to inform about a global issue and one of empowerment as Latika steps up to find a solution while discovering her own voice.

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