There are some stories that need to be told regardless of how sad or horrifying they might be. The challenge becomes even harder when the stories are being told to children. How much should one include? What details are necessary and what can be left out without changing the story too much? And what about stories that involve extreme violence and severe suffering? How best to tell the story? These questions can be debated over and over again because there is no one right answer. No two authors will present the same story in the same way.
I have a hard time reading books that get really graphic. I know that if the book makes me sick to my stomach that I will never be comfortable sharing it. But today I'm highlighting two books that tell stories that involve children facing war and starvation. One book is fiction, but based on a true story and the other is nonfiction. Both books do a good job of telling the story the way it was/is without getting overly graphic.
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story
by Linda Sue Park
Clarion Books, 2010
Reviewed from purchased copy.
This book follows two main characters, Nya, a child living in Southern Sudan, who must spend every day walking to and from a pond bringing water to her family, and Salva, who twenty-three years earlier became a refugee when his village was attacked by soldiers from the north. The story about Salva is the longer of the two and follows the eleven-year-old as he runs from his school and must somehow cross hundreds of miles of desert, swamp, and forest to reach safety. After six years in the refugee camp, Salva faces terror once again as the Ethiopian soldiers force all the Sudanese refugees back into Sudan, killing hundreds in the process. But Salva finds the strength and hope to survive and becomes a leader among what has become known as the Lost Boys of the Sudan. These boys were orphans who struggled to survive on their own. Some of these boys were able to find a way to not only survive, but to help those left behind. Salva's story intersects with Nya's in an interesting way, showing that the efforts of one can have a far-reaching effect.
While the book does explain some of the horrors that the Lost Children of the Sudan and the other refugees faced, it does not do so in a graphic way, and the story is not about despair or violence, it's about hope, which makes the book great to share with students who face their own challenges.
Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan
by John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech with Michael S. Sweeney and K.M. Kostyal
National Geographic, 2010.
Reviewed from purchased copy.
John and Martha, as children growing up in Sudan in the 1980s, both find themselves caught in the midst of a growing civil war. Both are forced to flee their homes, and travel hundreds of miles on foot, suffering thirst, hunger, and sickness, in order to find safety in Ethiopia. But their refuge proves only temporary, when a new government takes charge of Ethiopia, the refugees are violently forced back into Sudan, where war still rages. Both John and Martha find the courage and hope to survive despite their awful circumstances. And both John and Martha survive to build better lives for themselves.
The book does describe many violent acts, including deaths through animals and warfare, but they are not graphically portrayed. If you decide to use the book in a classroom, you'll want to pre-read to make sure the material is appropriate for your students. The story is a powerful one, about survival, hope, and the difference that one person or group of people can make.
I highly recommend both of these books, but please read before sharing with your children. This type of story is not appropriate for all children.