A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Wanna see something cool?  Watch this.

Think about social studies.  What is the number one thing people need to live?  Stable food supply, right. And what is the number one thing they need to establish that stable food supply? Water.  It’s kind of a big deal. Did you know that the Earth is over 70% water, but less than 1% of that is available to us as drinking water?  Most of us have it pretty easy in that we can turn on our sinks and get water like it’s magic.  Or we can go to the store and just buy a bottle of water, no problem.  We are very lucky.  The video above is just one example of how people struggle to collect water, each and every day.  The book I just read, A Long Walk to Water, is another example of what life is like in another country.

a long walkA Long Walk to Water tells the stories of two children from Sudan: Salva, whose story starts in 1985, and Nya, who is a child in 2008.  The book goes back and forth between their stories, but it is not confusing to read.  Nya spends her days walking to and from the pond to collect fresh water for her family.  It takes two hours to get there, and longer to get back because she must carry the heavy water back to her home. She does this twice a day, every day.  She cannot attend school and her family depends on her to complete this task.  Salva’s family is fairly well-off in their village, compared to others, and he does get to attend school.  However, Sudan is in the middle of a civil war* and one afternoon the fighting comes to Salva’s village.  The teacher tells all of the boys to start running, just start running away so they don’t get caught up in the crossfire.  Salva is separated from his family and joins a large group of people who set out walking towards a refugee camp that will hopefully take them all in.  It is very dangerous to walk across the desert, having to face lions and crocodiles, not to mention the threat of soldiers at any time. The adults in the group are reluctant to help Salva because it is not safe to invest energy and resources into someone who could hold them back.  

*A civil war is when a country is fighting with itself, and the people are divided against each other.  Here in America, we often refer to The Civil War, which took place in the 1860s between the northern and southern states.

Meanwhile, Nya notices some activity going on her village.  Strangers have appeared and they seem very busy.  They bring in a large drill and say they will find water and build a well, but the people of the village do not understand how this is possible.  They are very skeptical about this new situation, and life continues on as usual, with Nya making the long walk to water every day.  In his sections of the book, Salva continues to face many challenges.  He becomes a leader of a group of boys, who became known as The Lost Boys of Sudan.  They walk and walk and walk.  For years.  YEARS.

Eventually the two timelines catch up to each other, and you will be truly humbled by these stories.  Salva’s story is true; Nya’s character is fictional, but based in fact.  She is what we call an amalgam, or a combination character based on many different sources.  I remembered the story of The Lost Boys of Sudan from the news, so I sort of knew how this story would end, and it still moved me to tears.  The book tells a tale of a life that we can barely imagine from the comfort of our homes where water flows freely, our toilets flush, and our refrigerators are stocked with fresh food.  This is why we read, and this is why we travel– to open our eyes to different possibilities, to be thankful for what we have, and to help those in need when we can.

Salva is now an adult, and here is a link to his project if you’d like to know more about what he has accomplished: http://www.waterforsouthsudan.org/

A Long Walk to Water has an AR level of 5.0 and is worth 3 points.



Since my last update, I have prepped report cards, taken 44 sixth graders to science camp for a week, led a flashmob dance at our trimester awards ceremony, hosted Open House, and attended approximately 800 meetings.  So without any further ado, here are the two book reviews I promised!


The first book is called The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, which all by itself is an awesome title!  Doesn’t that make you want to find out more? The author is Kristen Levine, who also wrote The Lions of Little Rock, which I blogged about earlier this year.  Best Bad Luck is also about an interracial friendship, this time between a white boy and a black girl.  The setting has rolled back in time, too, taking place in 1917.  The main character, Dit, has heard that the new postmaster has a son his age, and he is looking forward to getting a new friend.  The postmaster and his family live right behind Dit’s house, and so he waits at the train station imagining the baseball games and fun they will have together.  Much to his surprise, the new postmaster has a daughter instead.  Also, the family is black and from the North and from a big city.  Emma is well dressed, smart, and always has a book in her hand.  She doesn’t know how to swim or play baseball and she probably won’t want to get dirty anyway!

Except, she’s a surprising one, that Emma.  She might seem different, but she turns out to be really fun.  Soon though, Dit has to deal with the two issues this brings up with his old buddies:

1.)  She’s a girl.  2.) She’s black.  (Also, she’s a GIRL!)

Eventually Dit has to take a stand, which leads to the kids working together to solve an even bigger problem in town later.  This book was a fun read with some serious and scary moments, reminding me of a mashup of  To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn.  Even though Levine’s two books stand alone and are not connected to each other, I’d recommend reading Best Bad Luck first, just to put the stories in chronological order.  (It seems the younger my students get, the harder time they have imagining a world without television and PlayStations. They can’t quite wrap their brains around the idea that this is not ancient history-type stuff!)

DeadEndinNorveltNewberyThe second book I read is the Newbery Award winner for 2012, called Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos.  Jack Gantos becomes his own main character in this story that is partially based on his real life.  It is described as “entirely true and wildly fictional,” just so you know what you are getting into, which at that rate could be anything! Because the character is real and the history of the town is real, this book is also historical fiction and won the Scott O’Dell Award  for that genre as well.  Jack Gantos is a 11-year-old kid in the 1960s, who immediately manages to get himself grounded for the entire summer vacation.  He has an unfortunate disorder of spontaneous nosebleeds any time something stressful or startling happens, which is incredibly messy and disturbing for those around him.  The only thing he is allowed to do while on restriction is help old Mrs. Volker, who happens to write the obituary column for the local newspaper.  She is an original resident of the town and a source of great historical knowledge, which she likes to pepper into her articles whenever she can.  Due to her severe arthritis, Jack has to take notes and type up her obituaries, but as a bonus, Mrs. Volker allows Jack to drive her car around town.  On the other hand, Mrs. Volker is a nurse and the town’s medical examiner, so they also have to go around investigating all of these deaths.  (Which instantly gives Jack a bloody nose, of course.)   A mystery soon arises, and I can tell you that I was really worried about one of the possible endings!

All that said, I liked the individual components of the book, but I’m not sure I loved the book overall.  I wasn’t quite sure who this book was written for– kids? teens? adults?  Gantos doesn’t give much context to what he includes, so you either have to have a certain amount of background knowledge or be intrigued enough to do some research.  It’s hard to know what is truth and what is fiction, which could be confusing for young readers. When I sat down to write this review, I discovered that there is a second book planned, and now I can say that I will probably seek it out and read it.  Jack Gantos (the author, not the character) has a way of dropping some priceless, deadpan hilarious lines into his writing.  The character of Mrs. Volker is feisty and larger-than-life, and her scenes kept me going through the book.  Even the cringe-worthy one.  You’ll know it when you read it, trust me.  Give it a shot if you like books that don’t fit into any particular formula and feature quirky writing.  I think I’ll look for another book by this author the next time I am at the library.

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had has an AR level of 4.2 and is worth 9 points.

Dead End at Norvelt has an AR level of 5.7 and is worth 12 points.

Election by Dan Gutman

Today, I have a little something different for your reading enjoyment– a non-fiction book! Remember that a fiction book is not real, so a non-fiction book is NOT not real.  In other words, it’s true stuff: facts, or history, or biographies.  Because we are in an election year, it’s a good idea to know how these things work.  (If you were in my class as a third grader, you’ll remember how we watched Barack Obama officially take office on Inauguration Day! That was cool!)

I was able to preview a copy of Dan Gutman’s new book Election! this summer.  It will be available to you at the end of August, in just a few weeks.  I  know that middle school readers will like this book because it is written in question/answer format, instead of pages of paragraphs.  It definitely makes reading non-fiction feel easier to understand, and Mr. Gutman has made sure that his answers are just the right length, without getting all crazy and technical.  If one answer leads you to another question, you’ll find that he has almost read your mind because your new question will follow along in just the right order as you are thinking it!

Election! covers some of the history of how we ended up with a president instead of a king (or a pharaoh or emperor), how the government of the United States is set up, and what the Constitution is all about.  He tells us what kind of powers the president has in ruling our country and why he can’t just do whatever he want, whenever he wants.  There are some interesting fun facts about various past presidents, too.  It’s interesting to see how the voting process has changed over time and who can or cannot vote today.  Every answer is explained with a good sense of humor; in fact, when things are about to become complicated, the author advises, “You’d better sit down for this.  Lock yourself in a room and don’t do any texting for a few minutes.”  It’s like he knows you!

We The People (that’s a Constitution joke for you!) are constantly bombarded with information, especially if you ever go online or watch TV.  Sometimes it is hard to know what is real these days.  As we are coming up onto Election Day, which will be in November, you will start seeing more and more commercials that suggest you vote for a particular candidate.  Sometimes those commercials are not very nice.  The part of the book that I liked best, reminds the reader to stop and think before making any decisions.  Voting is a big privilege and responsibility, so we adults need to do our best to find out as much information as possible ahead of time.  We also need to consider what is being told to us and who is telling it, but also what is NOT being told in those commercials and advertisements. (Think about those times when you have to tell your parents something, and you don’t exactly lie, but you don’t tell the whole truth either.  It’s kind of like that.)  Even though you may say, “I”m just a kid!” you can start to practice these evaluation skills now, too.

Voters have to pay attention and stay informed.  They should read newspapers and news magazines.  They should find out how the candidates stand on each issue.  They should be looking at what each candidate has done in other elective offices they held….Always remember that a candidate is trying to show himself in the best possible way.  You cannot make a fair evaluation just by watching TV commercials.

This book includes a nice glossary of election vocabulary in case you get stuck while reading, but also to make yourself sound like an expert at the dinner table or in social studies class.  At the very end of the book, there is a list of all of the presidents’ stats for their lives and the years when they served as the POTUS.  (That’s another term you may hear during the elections.  Can you guess what it stands for?*)

I really enjoyed this book.  It flowed along nicely from question to question and it was definitely written at the middle school level.  Some readers might like to keep a dictionary nearby, or a computer.  I know I looked up a few historical figures who were named in this book to search for more information, just because their stories sounded interesting! This book was written fairly and did not seem to take any political sides (as grownups sometimes do when they are passionate about an issue.)  The author’s attitude is clearly neutral, as stated below:

Remember, the election is not a popularity contest.  We are trying to choose the best person to lead our country for the next four years.

^^^See what I did there?  I evaluated the author’s message in this book and decided it was a good one.  You should always do the same when you read.  I recommend this book for kids who like to read non-fiction books, kids who like to learn about history, kids who like collecting “fun facts”, and anyone who could use a quick brush-up on how the US government works.

*POTUS= President of the United States.  Ah ha! I knew you could figure it out!