A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
A couple years ago I reviewed a couple of autobiographies of people who had been raised in Sudan and escaped during the ‘troubles’. Both of those stories were definitely not for children because the story was told with unvarnished truth. Nothing was spared the reader. But now American author Linda Sue Park has tried to tell a similar story, but this time in a way that children will understand. Actually, she is telling two stories, one of a young girls whose whole life is centred around walking the miles to the pond to get water for her family, twice a day, every day, with only time for food between trips.
The second story is much longer and complex. Salva was at school when the bombs attacked. His teacher opened the back door and told all the students to run into the bush, and keep running. Assuming his village and his family has been destroyed, Salva runs, and runs, eventually joining a group of refugees that includes his uncle. Together they walk to Ethiopia, well until the thieves strike, then Salva walks alone. In the refugee camp in Ethiopia he finds relative safety, that is until the Ethiopian government decides to send all the refugees home, at gunpoint.
This is really an over-simplification of the story Park tells. She continues the story of Salva into his adulthood, and even up to the present day when Nya and Salva meet. In 120 pages she manages to convey the horror of the Sudanese refugees, and the war they were escaping. But this book is not without hope. It is about the stubborn determination that some people have to ensure that the world is left a better place.
In our privileged world, this is an important book for the shelves. It is not only beautifully written but very accessible to even weaker readers. It may also jolt some of our over protected selfish children towards some social conscience. That is never a bad thing.