A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park (lexile: 720; AR book level: 5.0; 120 pp)
I love stories with heroes: characters whose bravery, integrity, perseverance, or compassion inspire me. A Long Walk to Water is the story of a real-life hero, told simply, with the power to open kids’ eyes to a world often ignored, yet so important in current events.
The year is 1985, and, at age 11, Salva Dut is sitting in a classroom in southern Sudan, north Africa, when his village is bombed, a target in Sudan’s civil war. With no idea where his family is, Salva flees, and begins a trek that will take years — across Sudan, Ethiopia, to a refugee camp in Kenya, and ultimately America. Along the way he’ll brave enemy soldiers, crocodiles, the Nile River, and the desert, growing to become a leader among those known today as “The Lost Boys of Sudan.”
Salva’s true story is interwoven with the fictional account of Nya, a typical girl from a southern Sudanese village in 2008. Every day Nya must walk 8 hours, two trips, there and back, to a pond to get water for her family. During dry season, however, the pond dries up, and her family moves to camp by a muddy lake bed, where she can find water by digging. It’s dirty water, but water still, to last until the rains return.
Both stories are told simply and powerfully. Park (author of the Newbery winner A Single Shard), chooses just the details necessary. The real beauty, however, comes from the way in which the two tales eventually come together (which I won’t spoil by telling you).
There is, inevitably, violence, and there is death. But Park does not dwell on the details, and only hints at some. Ultimately, this is a story of courage, hope, and healing. It is all the more relevant given the vote in January, 2011, when the people of southern Sudan were finally allowed to choose independence from the northern Sudanese government.