How to Teach A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water intersects the true story of Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, with a fictional account of Nya, a Sudanese girl. Before you have students begin the book, it would be helpful to have a lesson on the Second Sudanese Civil War. Background on the geography of Sudan and surrounding region and the contentious Dinka and Nuer tribes will further contextualize this work.

Students can evaluate the dual narrative format and whether the inclusion of Nya's fictional story complements or detracts from Salva's story. Salva's and Nya's narratives offer dynamic perspectives on gender roles that students can discuss. Class discussion can also include the cultural similarities of the Dinka and Nuer people and why the tribes are in conflict.

After reading this book, you may want to consider contributing to Salva's project, Water for South Sudan. Your class's ability to fundraise and sponsor a well in Sudan will probably depend on school administrators, so, before starting this unit, you may want to propose this idea and determine what you and your school can do.


When Salva Dut's school is caught in the crossfire of the Second Sudanese Civil War, he must flee into the wilderness to avoid being killed or forced to fight as a child soldier. Salva travels with other people who have been displaced by violence as they journey across the country to reach refugee camps. Salva ends up living in various refugee camps, sometimes having to traverse hundreds of miles in order to reach relatively safe locations. Eventually, he is granted asylum and moves to the United States.

In a dual narrative, Nya travels many miles each day to gather water for her family in South Sudan. This long walk and the lack of sanitary water causes Nya and her family many problems until, one day, a man and his work crew arrive to dig a well in Nya's village.

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water


In A Long Walk to Water, author Linda Sue Park tells the stories of two Sudanese youths: the true story of Salva Dut and the fictional story of Nya, a village girl. The two characters' lives intertwine to demonstrate the importance of family and water.

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Content Warning

A Long Walk to Water depicts the violence and warfare that has occurred in Sudan; however, it is shown through a child's perspective in a manner that is appropriate for younger readers.

Objectives for Teaching A Long Walk to Water

  • Identify and understand the political and social issues that exist in Sudan.
  • Discuss how the dry season affects the Sudanese people in terms of water scarcity and migration.
  • Trace Salva's maturation from a boy to a young man.
  • Analyze how the dual perspectives provide a broader view of life in Sudan than a single point of view would have, and examine how these two narratives converge.
  • Discuss the gender roles portrayed in the novel.
  • Infer meanings about characters, events, and culture when the meanings are not explicitly stated.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Cliffhanger
  • Coming of Age
  • Exposition
  • Foreshadowing
  • Perspective
  • Repetition
  • Setting

Themes and Motifs

  • Coming of Age — The trauma Salva suffers as a child causes him to grow up quickly. Nya also must take on adult responsibilities as she collects water for her family.
  • Loss of Innocence — Violence forces Salva to flee his home without his family. The remainder of his innocence is shattered after Salva's friend Marial disappears in the night and he witnesses his uncle's murder.
  • Hope —  Despite the hardships Salva and Nya endure, there is an underlying optimism that conditions in Sudan can improve through international aid and the construction of wells.

Key Facts

  • Length: 128 pages
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Lexile Measure: 720
  • Recommended Grade Band: 7 – 9


  • Jane Addams Children's Book Award (2011)
  • Flicker Tale Children's Book Award (2012)

Your students will love:

  • Learning about the culture and recent history of Sudan.
  • Salva's resilience and continued efforts to help his fellow Sudanese people.

Students may have problems with:

  • Understanding the causes of the violence in Sudan.
  • The simple, repetitive writing style may prevent some students from becoming engaged in Salva's compelling story.

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A Long Walk to Water

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