This morning at the Northport Library, Linda Sue Park inspired a room full of students from Northport and East Northport Middle Schools to read, write, and most importantly, re-write. When introducing herself as a writer, Linda feels like she really should say she’s a “re-writer,” since that’s what she spends most of her time doing. The published version of When My Name was Keoko was the 37th draft. “Imagine if your teachers asked you to write 37 drafts,” she teased the audience. Fortunately, none of the students fainted.
These students, after all, were well prepared by their teachers for the Newbery award-winning author’s presentation; the sixth graders had read Project Mulberry and the seventh graders read A Long Walk to Water.
Linda charmed her audience with photos from her childhood (she was very cute) along with photos of her son’s puppies (who are also very cute.) The slides she displayed of full grown silk worms? Not so cute! Linda explained how she called upon her nephew and father to grow silkworms to prepare her for writing Project Mulberry. Linda was just too grossed out to grow them in her own home. It became a sort of “family research project,” she joked.
After Linda had all the students’ attention with the photos, she delved into a more serious discussion of her latest novel, A Long Walk to Water. Just recently released in paperback, this book based on a true story has been the topic of Linda’s student presentations around the country. Pictured on the screen above Linda is a photo of her taken with her friend, Salva. Salva was one of 3,800 Sudanese “Lost Boys” airlifted to the United States beginning in the mid 1990s. He was adopted by a family in Rochester, which is where the author now resides. Linda paired his story with one of a girl named Nya. Although Nya is fictional, she is a composite of real young women Linda’s husband interviewed in Sudan. Because families have to live far from water to avoid tribal warfare, many daughters walk up to eight hours a day to bring fresh water to their families. Today, volunteers like Salva are using modern equipment to build wells in villages all across southern Sudan, freeing up young men and women to attend school and become literate.
Did the middle school students in the audience walk away with a deeper appreciation for running water and the opportunity for a free education? I can’t say for sure, but I can report that they were attentive and responsive. The librarians and teachers in the Northport-East Northport community deserve kudos for forming a successful partnership that has been connecting students, books and authors at the public library for over twenty years.