Written by: Linda Sue Park
For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about A Long Walk to Water and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!
Spoiler Alert! The summary below contains spoilers about the plot that your child might not want to read until after finishing the book.
It's hard to imagine what it would be like to drop everything and run away from all that you know and love, but that is exactly what Salva Dut is forced to do when bombs and soldiers tear through his village in southern Sudan. In the midst of a horrible civil war, Salva and many other Sudanese people have no choice but to flee their homes. As Linda Sue Park tells the story of Salva's difficult journey, she also presents the story of Nya, a fictional character who spends her days in southern Sudan collecting water for her family. In the end, Nya and Salva's paths cross when Salva comes to Nya's village to build a well for her people. After facing many challenging obstacles and traveling through southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, Salva is chosen to be sent to America and he makes it his mission to bring fresh water to the people of his country. This gripping, dual narrative juxtaposes Nya's experiences in Sudan in 2008 with Salva's experiences beginning in 1985, until they meet. These two storylines contain one resonating message; hope, determination and compassion can save lives in even the most dismal circumstances.
Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.
What I Know
In the "What I Know" section, let him/her think about what things s/he already knows about the subject matter, answering questions like, "What do you know about Sudan and Africa? What is civil war? What do you know about the story from the description?"
What I Want to Know
Include questions like, "Who are Nya and Salva? Do they know each other? What do they have in common? What will happen in this story? Why must Salva run away? Why must Nya walk so far to fetch water?"
- What caused the civil war to break out in southern Sudan? Why did the people (especially the young men) have to flee?
- Nya is a fictitious character that represents many children in Sudan but Salva is a real person. Why do you think Linda Sue Park decided to write this story from the perspective of two different people? What do Nya and Salva have in common? How are they different?
- Water is a very important topic in this story and in the lives of these characters. How does water play a significant role in Nya's life? What about Salva's life?
- When Salva first leaves his schoolhouse and is trying to find a group to travel with, no one wants to take him because they fear he will hold them back, but one group does take him. The only reasoning that the man gives for accepting him is "He is a Dinka". What does he mean by this? How is community important in this story?
- On page 99, Salva describes how hard it is for him to learn the English language and that there are many rules that he doesn't understand. For example, he is confused by how "ough" can make so many different sounds depending on what letters come before or after it. What are other strange rules in the English language that you find confusing?
- Why is Nya surprised that Salva has come to bring water to her village? What is the message behind Salva's actions?
- Salva started Water for South Sudan, an organization that helps to bring fresh drinking water to families in his home country. Learn more about his organization and watch an interview with Salva and Linda. If you want to find a small way to help the cause, try doing the H2O Project Challenge!
- "A step at a time." Why did Salva's uncle say this to him? How did Salva use this phrase throughout the rest of his journey? How can you use these words in your own life?
- Write a letter to Salva! Consider answering the following questions in your letter: What did you learn from his story? How did you feel reading his story? How will you use what you've learned in his story in your own life?
Above all, be sure to engage your child in a discussion about the plot line and his/her thoughts and feelings about the book. Ask what s/he likes, encourage exploration related to the book, and every now and again, offer to read parts of the book aloud, just for fun!