A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is an excellent book that is sure to capture the attention of even the most reluctant young reader. As my frequent visitors know, I am also a sixth-grade teacher. My students loved this book and were always so disappointed when it was time to stop reading for the day.
The story is unique in that it focuses on two different characters living in Sudan at different times. Salva's story begins in 1985 and Nya's story begins in 2008. While the character of Nya is a fictional, young girl who is meant to represent people living in her same situation, Salva is based on a real person.
Salva's story begins when he is a child living in war-torn Sudan in 1985. The reader soon learns that Salva is separated from his family during an attack on his village. The story follows him through his tumultuous journey that takes places over roughly fifteen years of his life. Over the course of the book, the reader is treated to a realistic, though not overly graphic, description of Salva's experiences while traveling on foot looking for safety. He encounters rebels, loses people he cares about in tragic episodes, and becomes a refugee. The story traces his life through adulthood.
In alternating chapters with Salva's story, the reader is also introduced to Nya. Her story begins in 2008. The reader learns of her family's struggles with having access to clean water. Nya must walk several hours to fill water jugs for her family, and she does this multiple times per day. However, the water is not from a clean source and leads to health problems for her younger sister.
As the story progresses, readers will naturally try to predict what the connection between Salva and Nya will be. The moment when readers discover the connection between the two characters is a satisfying one that gave this reader goosebumps and led to more than a few tears shed by some sixth-grade students.
I would recommend this book for ages ten through adults. Though it's written for a young audience, it will hold an adult reader's attention as well. It should be noted that there are several events that are disturbing. After all, the story does involve a child living in a third-world country at war. However, the writing is not gory or graphic and instead provides descriptions of the events that are suitable for young readers. Upon finishing the book, I would encourage parents and teachers to make use of the organizations and websites discussed in the author's notes at the end of the book. They provide more information about Salva's story. Trust me. You and your young readers will want to know more!