One of the perks of attending conferences designed for librarians is the opportunity to hear from some of our favorite children's and young adult authors. Recently, I was privileged to be able to attend a conference in Madison at which Newbery Award-winning author Linda Sue Park spoke. Park won the Newbery Medal in 2002 for her book "A Single Shard." But on this day, she talked to us about a more recent work, "A Long Walk to Water," which is based on the true story of Salva Dut, and his experiences as a refugee in Africa and the United States.
Park met Dut when her family became involved with his nonprofit organization, Water for Sudan (www.waterforsudan.org). As soon as I returned home, I quickly read the book.
Salva's story begins in 1985, when he is just 11 years old and attending school. When gun shots are heard, everyone realizes that the civil war has arrived in their Dinka village. Not sure which side has descended on the village, the teacher realizes that the boys are in danger of being recruited as child soldiers. He instructs them to run into the bush, and under no circumstances are they to return home. So begins Salva's long walk as one of thousands of "lost" boys in Sudan.
A second fictionalized story, set in 2008, is about a girl named Nya. Salva and Nya's stories are told in alternating chapters, years apart. Nya's job is to walk four hours each morning to get water for her family. Because of the intertribal fighting in Sudan, it is too dangerous for her family to live near the only source of water, so girls in the family spend their whole day walking to and from the source of water that their families so desperately need.
Although the readers can guess that these stories are related somehow, the author keeps us guessing until the very last sentence. Park has clearly done her research here. Good books have the ability to help readers see the world from another perspective. Teachers and librarians will find this book clearly meets that objective. Highly recommended for middle grades and up.