A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is a wonderful book to share with students. I picked it up when I was looking for culturally diverse books. Our district has a large number of Sudanese students, so A Long Walk to Water stood out. It tells the story of two Sudanese children - a boy in 1985 who becomes one of the Lost Boys and a girl in 2008 who spends her days walking to collect water for her family. The two stories come together in a beautiful, though predictable, way.
The first thing to keep in mind is that this is based on a true story. The story of war and conflict in the Sudan is important to share, and A Long Walk to Water is a safe way to introduce this story to children. It shows the reality of the situation through the eyes of a child, but the violence is never gratuitous. That said, be sure to preview this text before introducing it to your class. I think that it would be appropriate for Grade 5 and above, but there are sensitive issues (for example, a man is murdered in front of one of the protagonists) and these require sensitivity and understanding of your students.
While the story of the modern-day protagonist is tame in comparison, it is easy for a child to relate to. Imagine that, instead of going to school, you had to walk to the only safe water source twice a day to keep your family alive. Your entire life is about water. By getting inside of the Sudanese girls's thoughts, we can put ourselves in her shoes. This lends itself to some great writing or role-play activities for students.
The story ends on an uplifting note, suggesting that we can transform hardships into opportunity. How will you change the world? How do difficulties in life shape you into a better and stronger person? If you are looking for a text to model these values, A Long Walk to Water might be the right match for you.
Food for thought... what are some of your favourite texts to teach that include diverse protagonists?