A Long Walk to Water

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
A Long Walk to Water Book Poster Image
Parents recommend
Touching take on Lost Boys of Sudan, based on true story.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 24 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Tweens and teens will learn something about the history of Sudan, including what happened to many children during a civil war that took place from the 1980s to the 2000s. They also will learn about people who are trying to solve problems there, including nonprofits that come to build wells in villages (and how fresh water can lead to schools, markets, and more). 

Positive Messages

A strong message about working on problems piece by piece. Salva adds an end note, telling readers in his own words, "Stay calm when things are hard or not going right with you. You will get through it when you persevere instead of quitting."  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Salva's an amazing person who not only stays committed to his own survival but also to returning to help the people from his country lead better lives. 

Violence

Takes place during a civil war, and there are bombings, burnings, and people with guns and machetes. Salva knows that sometimes boys are forced to fight. He suffers greatly during his walk from thirst and hunger. His friend is eaten by a lion, he sees people who have died from dehydration in the desert, and he watches his uncle get shot to death. Another man is hit in the head with the butt of a gun. A boy is shot, and another is killed by a crocodile after refugees are forced in the water by soldiers -- 1,000 refugees die that day. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Salva has a happy memory of drinking Coca-Cola with his family.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know A Long Walk to Water by Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) blends fact and fiction to tell a story of the civil war in Sudan (1983–2005), in which more than 20,000 so-called Lost Boys became displaced and/or orphaned. There are bombings, burnings, and people with guns and machetes. Protagonist Salva, who's 11 when his story begins in 1995, knows that sometimes boys are forced to fight. Walking from his village to a refugee camp, he suffers greatly from thirst and hunger. His friend's eaten by a lion, he sees people who have died from dehydration in the desert, and he watches his uncle get shot to death. Another man is hit in the head with the butt of a gun. A boy is shot and another is killed by a crocodile after refugees are forced in the water by soldiers -- 1,000 refugees die that day. Readers will learn through the alternating story of Nya, an 11-year-old Sudanese girl in 2008, about people trying to solve problems in that country after the civil war, some with nonprofits that come to build wells in villages, and they learn how fresh water can lead to schools, markets, and more. 

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byGamer4056 June 1, 2018

A Long Walk to Water Parent Guide

The violent plot may not be suitable for kids under 12.
Parent of a 9-year-old Written byRobin M. February 13, 2017

Wonderful combination of turmoil and uplifting.

My 9 year old daughter was assigned this as part of a book club. I had never read it, so I picked it up. This story has many violent moments, however I feel the... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byDanbail613 January 17, 2019

Melancholy book is like a mix between Among the Hidden and A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Definitely NOT my favorite.

I read this book in school because the teachers picked it for our class. I really understand the message of this book, and I feel sorry for those people who hav... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old December 12, 2018

Very Amazing!!! (no jk it is the complete opposite)

This book is SOOO good
Actually, It is the worst book ever.
You should never read this
Just don't
Seriously
NEVER READ THIS BOOK IN YOUR LIFE!!!
EVER!!!

What's the story?

A LONG WALK TO WATER is two interlocking stories, taking place in Sudan more than 20 years apart. In the first, 11-year-old Salva runs into the bush when his village is attacked during the civil war. He spends years walking to overcrowded refugee camps in bordering countries, seeing friends and family die at the hands of armed men as well as from attacks by a lion and crocodiles, wondering if he will ever see his parents or siblings again. In the other story, 11-year-old Nya spends her days collecting water for her family, often making two trips a day to a dirty pond. When strange men arrive in her village, they begin working on a project that could not only change her daily duties but also her life.  

Is it any good?

A Long Walk to Water is a short book, but it packs quite an emotional wallop. Readers will have no trouble empathizing with Salva, who suffers incredible hardship when a war drives him from his home. They'll also be impressed by his strong will, which helps him not only survive a terrible circumstance but also return to help the people still suffering in Sudan. Author Linda Sue Park doesn't gloss over the gory details -- a child is eaten by a lion, and Salva watches his uncle get shot to death -- but she doesn't dwell on them, either, making this book an appropriate choice for tweens. Some of the saddest moments come when Salva remembers the family he's separated from, including his father, who would sometimes ride home on his bicycle with mangoes wedged in his spokes. Readers not only get a look the historical tragedy that took place in Sudan but also, through Nya's story, learn how much work continues to be needed in that region of the world. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Salva's story. Were you surprised that A Long Walk to Water is based on his real-life journey?

  • Do books like this one that blend fiction with facts help you understand history better? Does the book inspire different emotions -- or action -- than reading a news story might?

  • What do you think about Salva's advice: "Stay calm when things are hard or not going right with you. You will get through it when you persevere instead of quitting." How can you apply his advice to your own life?

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