17 May 2011

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water

In my life I have read many moving books – books that made me reconsider my world view and books that have made me reconsider my view of self.  As a middle school librarian, sometimes the books that move and inspire me are books that I cannot add to my collection because they are inappropriate for the grade level I serve.  But the issues still remain, and because I want to encourage young people to become reflective members of society, I constantly look for books that will help them see the world in a broad, non-egocentric way.  There is a great, big, fascinating world out there, and the sooner we can teach young people to embrace it, the better off our future will be.

Over the past two years, I’ve read several very moving books about the struggles of misplaced natives all over Africa.  But none were middle school appropriate.  Enter Linda Sue Park and her short novel about two young people in Sudan.  A Long Walk to Water many not be the best book I’ve ever read, but it is written in such a way that it will inspire and inform middle school students about the lives of people who live half a world away.  It is a short novel – about 120 pages – and it is mostly the story of Salva and his struggle to survive.  After violence strikes while he’s at school, he is forced to walk to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and then years later to another in Kenya, all the while not knowing whether his family is alive or dead.  At the beginning of each chapter there is a short narrative from the perspective of young Nya, a girl growing up some twenty years later in southern Sudan, who must walk for eight hours each day to fetch water for her family.

What struck me most about the book is that I could not imagine how these two stories would intersect.  I didn’t notice at first that the accounts were over 20 years apart, so I assumed that Nya and Salva would meet, she would save him and they would marry, or something like that.  Having read other novels by Park (A Single Shard is another one that really made me think), I should have known that it would be different.  And I loved it.  Park does an amazing job of creating an inspiring, realistic story (well, it is based on a true story so it should be realistic) that explains the trials occurring in Africa in a way that young people will relate to and possibly be moved to action.  The one thing I would recommend to making this book just a bit better would be a resources list at the end.  Salva’s organization is mentioned, so there’s a possible starting point for those interested in getting involved, and I suppose it wouldn’t be too difficult for students to find information on their own.  But I’ve seen how middle school students conduct research (and I’m working daily to make them better, more saavy researchers) so I feel like a list of trusted organizations might be helpful to them.

All in all the book may not have moved me in the way that other books did, however, I think it is perfectly written for young people, and I hope that it is a catalyst for them to see the world in a different way and to understand that sometimes making a change in the world happens one step at a time.

Salva Dut's Organization - Water For Africa

Other books about the Lost Boys & Girls of Africa

What is the What? by Dave Eggers
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Other Reviews of A Long Walk to Water

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