Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryWell, oops.

I don't use netGalley all that much; I've got a lot of requests lined up, but because I have a hard time (lately, at least) getting to a computer where I have Adobe Digital Editions, I try not to pick anything up unless I know, say, I'll be taking a trip, where I'd rather be carrying one e-reader than several real books. Also, because the ARCs expire off my device (and off my computer), I forget to review what I've read, and then I no longer have the file... And shoot, because I have about 20 half-written reviews waiting for me to polish them up and post them, and I want to get to it!

Thus, it's only after at least a couple of weeks that I stumbled upon a reminder that I read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Clarion), based on a true story about a boy whose village in Sudan is attacked in 1985. His teacher tells him to run--and after that, he's on the run, on his own, with stragglers from his village, with other boys he meets at refugee camps. He sees gruesome sights along is journey, and there's a wonderful, wonderful moment when Salva and his group run across another group in the desert, and must decide whether to save them--or save themselves. (I can imagine, say, a fifth-grade class really debating what he should do, and how many threads for discussion open from there.) Despite all that's taken away from him, Salva survives, and helps others to do the same.

Interwoven in alternating chapters is Nya's story, set in 2008. She walks for hours each day to carry water to her home, and for part of the year, her family travels far away to dig for water, competing with wild animals and other desperate families. Her younger sibling gets sick. Her family can't earn any money. So, when a strange man shows up in her village with plans to build a well, she has no reason to believe that there's been water just a few feet from her front door all this time.

Eventually, as you might expect, Salva and Nya's paths cross. While I figured out how they would early on, I don't think this distracted or detracted from the story, and if a reader doesn't pick up on hints, I don't think it will ruin the reading experience, but rather, I think it will be a satisfying surprise.

It's really difficult to present history and current events to middle grade kids; their worldview is still very much in development--and I have to say that I learned some information about what was going on in the world when I was little, and about things I've been conveniently able to not know much about. I think A Long Walk to Water is a good introduction to the topic for middle grade readers (who most likely won't encounter it anywhere else in their public school curriculum), because it's simple in its telling, but it doesn't seem like a gloss: the important ideas are here, in terms a young reader will be able to understand and later build upon.

In addition to the fictionalized story, there are notes from the author and now-grown Salva at the end of the book--much appreciated for filling in some of the questions I had while reading.

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