This year the kids and I are studying world cultures/geography. With the return to school in January we began a unit on Africa. With each area of the world we’ve studied we’ve read a lot of picture books. I’ve tried to have John read at least one longer work as well. He is a very good reader but needs to work on thinking more deeply about what he reads and on being able to discuss and write about books. For some of the books I’ve had him write essays or fill out a reader’s guide that I made for him. His view was that doing those “spoiled reading”. I understand his viewpoint, but it is still a skill we need to work on. So for Africa I decided to pick a book and then to meet weekly with him to orally talk about the book. Sort of a mini book club. I’m hoping that this helps him to think about the book more deeply than he normally would but that it isn’t as onerous of a task for him. And that it’s a stepping stone to being able to more easily write about what he reads.
I picked A Long Walk to Water primarily because the author, Linda Sue Park, is the author of many other books we have read and enjoyed. In it, she tells the story of two Sudanese children: Salva Dut, a Sudanese boy who is forced to flee into the bush when his village is attacked by rebels and Nya, a young girl who must spend all day every day walking to and from a water source in order to provide her family with drinking water. Salva is a real person and the account of his journey to Ethiopia, Kenya and ultimately the United States is based on his true story. Nya is a fictional character who is representative of the life of many Sudanese girls. Each chapter in the book is divided into two sections; one tells a part of Nya’s story and one tells a part of Salva’s story. In the end, the two stories come together in a satisfying way.
A Long Walk to Water is not a difficult read but the events are disturbing and so it is probably best for middle-school aged kids. Park does a good job of relaying Salva’s story in a truthful way without sugar-coating the horrible events but also in a way that is manageable for kids. It introduces the topic of the Lost Boys of Sudan and child soldiers and refugees and the effects of war on children. However, by including Nya’s story and the ultimate happy ending for both characters, kids will be left with hope instead of just horror. The book will also challenge kids to think about how they should react to what they read and how they might even help to bring about change in the world.