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 South Sudan and the 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 conversation 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.

Get the facts about teaching A Long Walk to Water below.

Summary of A Long Walk to Water

Key Facts

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

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 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.

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 middle grade readers.

What Your Students Will Love About A Long Walk to Water

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

Potential Student Struggles With A Long Walk to Water

  • Understanding the causes of the violence in Sudan
  • Scenes of violence and disturbing imagery

Learning Objectives for 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.

Literary Elements in A Long Walk to Water

  • Bildungsroman
  • Cliffhanger
  • Exposition
  • Foreshadowing
  • Perspective
  • Repetition
  • Setting
  • And more!

Major Themes in A Long Walk to Water

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.

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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.

Related Works:

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.

Related Works:

Other Resources for A Long Walk to Water

Order A Long Walk to Water Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
A Long Walk to Water Paperback Student Edition
A Long Walk to Water Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in June 2017. It has been updated as of July 2019.