A Long Walk to Water written by Linda Sue Park takes place in what we now know as South Sudan, two separate stories, converging in a satisfying way by the end of the book.  It is based on a collection of true stories from children who walked miles daily for the day’s water, for water which was contaminated.  It is the true story of twelve-year-old Salva Dut Arik who fled his village, his home, his family, his country to find freedom from war…and eventually discovered his purpose in returning.

A couple of Christmases ago A Long Walk to Water was on A’s wish list.  I had not yet read the book about war-torn Sudan and debated whether or not to get it for him.  I was unsure how graphic the book was.  Whether due exclusively to his Asperger’s, or just his personal sensitivity, A is somewhat emotionally immature for his age, and has a difficult time knowing how to interpret grim information.  So, when earlier this year a friend handed me the book to pre-read, I took it with A specifically in mind.  Finding it completely appropriate for 9-14 years old, it passed the test.  Initially, I was just going to hand it to him to read on his own, but because we were in between our projects in literature and grammar, I decided we could create an excellent unit study.  A, S and I all read the book together.  It provided us with extra time together in the day, and allowed for periodic discussions over historical events and particularly emotionally difficult sections.  Here is what we did with the book:


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We brought out the maps.  Our home is filled with maps and globes.  We located the country of Sudan on the globe, wall maps and the markable map, which we purchased last year from Sonlight.  We put together the GeoPuzzle of Africa.

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The boys drew their own map of Sudan and South Sudan with neighboring countries.  We reviewed the countries’ capitals.


We defined concepts such as

  • culture
  • cultural assimilation (and discussed its implications, e.g. is this a purely positive or negative phenomenon?)
  • culture shock
  • immigration
  • emigration

We tried to give as many examples of each concept in the course of our conversation.


Like most parents, I harbor a love-hate relationship with Youtube.  In these instances, however, love is stronger.  We found some fantastic music videos from both the Nuer and Dinka tribes.  Click here and here to listen to both folk and religious music.  G loved joining us on this day.


National Geographic education  has discussion questions depending on the age of the students.

I wanted A and S to have an understanding of the continuing story, but did not want them subjected to some of the serious (and extremely violent) films recently issued.  As an adult, you might find these informative.  The films are entitled God Grew Tired of Us and Lost Boys of Sudan.  Fortunately, 60 minutes featured these “lost boys”and their emigration from Sudan.  Detailing their journey from refugee camps to their settling into life in the United States, it provided enough material for reflective discussion, but also some humorous bits.  For example, we saw one of  the young men as he learned to drive a car for the first time.  We also found a clip of Salva Dut Arik , which you will find here, explaining his organization.  A and S were enthused to learn he was indeed a real person, alive….and that he looked younger than their mother.

www.waterforsouthsudan.org is a fantastically inspiring website.  Coupled with Park’s book, it shows what can happen when one person steps out to invite others to join him in humanitarian efforts.

Take a look at Water for South Sudan’s website.  It introduces an H2O challenge my guys and I are considering.  Give up all beverages, with the exception of water, for two weeks, or a month, etc. then donate your savings to the fund.

This was an eye-opening study for all of us, which I hope will encourage A and S to think more globally, openly and compassionately.

Other books to consider by Linda Sue Park are A Single Shard and The Kite Fighters.

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