As I start Year Two of my blog, I am launching a new Thursday feature: 2015 Rebecca Caudill Roundup. Each week I will highlight one of the 20 titles on the 2015 Master List of nominees for the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award, which is Illinois’ students choice award for grades 4-8. Some posts will be excerpts of and expansion upon previous reviews and others will be newly written reviews. All posts are meant to be a resource for those looking for more information about the rich titles on this year’s list.
A Long Walk to Water is a dual narrative, with both narrators living in South Sudan, but during different time periods. Nya’s story takes place in 2008. She must make a four-hour round-trip journey from her village twice a day to get water for her family. Obviously, this takes up so much time that she is unable to attend school. Salva’s story is set during civil war in Sudan in 1985. One day at school, bullets start flying , and Salva’s teacher tells all the students to run. Separated from his family, Salva latches on to various groups and eventually makes it to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. When that camp closes, he leads other boys on a long and treacherous journey to a new camp in Kenya. After many years spent in the camps, Salva gets a sponsorship to the United States, and when he grows up, he starts a charity that digs wells in Sudan. The two stories converge when it is Salva that brings water, and hope, to Nya’s village, even though the two are from rival tribes.
Park based Salva’s story on Salva Dut, founder of the Water for Sudan charity. Teachers looking for extension activities can order a DVD of Salva speaking to children from the charity’s website for only $6. Another option is for students to participate in the H2O Project, which challenges them to drink nothing but water for two weeks and then donate the money that would have been spent on other beverages to a charity like Water for Sudan.
I have to admit that I had a lukewarm reaction to this book back when it was first published. I found myself struggling to get into the dual narrative. However, I have grown to appreciate the book more over time. The 2014 Caudill nominee Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth opened my students’ eyes to the way many children in other parts of the world must live–specifically kidnapped and trapped in a sweatshop in Mumbai, India. A Long Walk to Water will open their eyes to the reality that some children cannot attend school because they must help their families take care of meeting basic human needs–and that there are ways we can help. And hopefully, too, it will help students feel grateful for the many positives in their lives.