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A Long Walk to Water
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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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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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