Sipping a glass of water or even just turning on the tap will never be the same again. That is what my pupils told me as we finished reading A Long Walk to Water in class. The acclaimed novel, which formed a major part of our unit about water scarcity and unequal access to natural resources, had my fourth-graders (Year 5) hooked from chapter one.
This powerful novel is presented as a dual narrative following two children living at different times in South Sudan. The true story of Salva Dut begins in 1985 when, aged 11, he is separated from his family by civil war and forced to travel on foot through hundreds of miles of hostile territory. He survives starvation, animal attacks and disease, and after more than a year of walking leads a group of 1,500 "lost boys" to safety in Kenya. Eventually airlifted to the US, he learns English and attends college before returning to Sudan and establishing a charity that drills wells in remote villages that have no access to clean water.
This incredible story is told side by side with a fictional account of Nya, a young girl who lives in one of those Sudanese villages today. Both stories are equally compelling and the author's style is succinct (short chapters and only 120 pages make it a pretty quick read).
This novel is recommended for older primary pupils. The plot is harrowing: it deals with disturbing events including war, child death, murder and some violence. My fourth-graders had the maturity to cope as we read together, and they were stunned by the triumphant climax. We watched a YouTube video of author Linda Sue Park interviewing Dut, and found the website for his charity, Water for South Sudan. My pupils were so moved by the story that it prompted them to take action.
The children volunteered to fundraise for the charity by selling homemade lemonade and biscuits in their neighbourhoods at the weekend, created posters about saving water in Sudan and visited other classes to encourage younger pupils to think about their own use of water.
This novel is a great resource for upper key stage 2, and it opens up strong cross-curricular opportunities. It provides a unique, very personal perspective on the Sudanese conflict and ends with a message of hope. It made my pupils more conscious of how much we take water for granted, and made them feel that, in their own small ways, they can make a difference.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is published by Clarion Books. www.lindasuepark.com
Mary McCarney is British and teaches fourth grade at Atlanta International School, Georgia, US
Try some map work on Sudan, research the civil war, discuss inequality of access to natural resources and find ways to save water. bit.lyLessonsOnSudan
Find out more about Salva Dut's charity, how drilling wells can transform lives and how we can all make a difference.