(D) Ages 10-12, (E) Ages 12-15, Book Reviews, Middle Grades, Multicultural, Nonfiction, Starred Reviews
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*A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This popular middle grades story poignantly recounts the stories of a young boy and a young girl in Africa as one flees civil war and the other hauls water.

*A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2010.

Reading Level: Ages 10-12

Recommended For: Ages 10 and up

A Long Walk to Water is a popular title for novel units, assigned reading, and book lists–and with good reason. Park simultaneously tells the stories of Salva (from the 1980s) and Nya (2008) in alternating chapters/points of view. Salva is fleeing the rebel armies after his Sudanese village was invaded; boys his age are being scooped up to join the army, and he is determined to escape. Nya’s family is making the switch from their village to the watering hole where they will be able to get water through the dry season; her entire young life is consumed with finding and hauling water. Salva survives his perilous walk to the refugee camp in Ethiopia where he ends up living for years. Nya wonders what new thing is being built at the watering hole.

The story comes full circle in the end as Salva and Nya meet, but I won’t spoil it by giving away the circumstances of their meeting!

This is a deeply poignant, moving story. Those of us who live in the developed world, particularly in the West, take such commonplace amenities as clean, running water for granted. We also take the relative peace of our society for granted, protesting when we feel like it and watching Netflix when we don’t. Few of us here in America can imagine what boys like Salva have gone through (and still are today in parts of the world). Nor can we imagine working as hard as Nya and her family do just to survive.

Park’s simple, lyrical prose recounts desperate times vividly, but matter of factly. When someone dies, it is heartbreakingly sad–even though she doesn’t dwell on it. This is a remarkably short book, concise and spare. It is all the more effective for its straightforward simplicity. Sensitive young readers may wish to wait, but readers who are emotionally ready for this type of story should be able to read this book easily. It is not a difficult read in terms of reading level.

If you are looking for a good story to jumpstart discussions about our relative wealth and comfort, the ongoing global refugee crises, or simply the hardships many children around the world face, this is a good option. It is not a “fun” read, but it is a good read. The relief organizations in the story are not identified as Christian organizations, but there are many Christian organizations working at various, similar relief efforts. Use this book to help your children understand better how to pray for these missionaries on the ground. You can also get involved! Operation Christmas Child is a great entry point. So is something like our Summer Books for Refugees recommendation. Or Little Dresses for Africa.

Cautions: violence (civil war and related violence–including death)

Overall Rating: 4.75

  • Worldview Rating: 4.5
  • Artistic Rating: 5

The audio version is told by two narrators and has subtle background music between sections. It is tremendously effective! A fantastic companion book to this one is What the World Eats. If you have older readers, check out Running for My Life

*indicates starred review 

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