#ReadWalkWater—How a Book Leads to Social Action by Holly Mueller and David Etkin

keep calm and readwalkwater on


You’ve probably seen this video already. As of this writing, it has almost 61 million views. What’s cuter than babies dancing?!

Did you catch the last tag line on the ad? “Evian. Live Young.” Advertisers want us to buy into the idea that water makes us more beautiful. And young. Frankly, I’m more into that than claiming other beverages serve the same purpose. All the same, spending a couple dollars a bottle to live young in our wealthy Western society is much different than the water situation around the world—where people aren’t trying to live young, they’re just trying to live.

In other parts of the world, water is a scarcity; a commodity that is difficult to find, and once it is found, it is not fit to drink.  Nowhere is there bottled water, lawn sprinklers, or Evian ads.  People in those parts of the world need clean and available water.


Our attention was drawn to this issue from reading Linda Sue Park’s book A Long Walk to Water.  Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, inspired us to take action.


Description from IndieBound:

A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about a girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

Ask anyone who’s read this book: It’s difficult not to feel a call to action after reading about Salva and Nya. It’s eye-opening to realize that the resource we take for granted and waste—clean water—is unattainable by many people around the world.

That’s where this idea for #ReadWalkWater formed. We both were inspired, got in touch, and BOOM—we put our ideas into action. What are the actions?

HOLLY:   When I finished A Long Walk to Water, the first thing I did was give it to my daughter’s friend who started a Living Water International chapter at Miami University.  I knew she would love it.  Then, I reached out to my building’s sixth grade literacy leader, and she had already read the book and wanted to do something, too.  We proposed our ideas to our principal, and she was excited and supportive. After all, her theme for the year is “If not you, then who?” That week, we went to the other sixth grade language arts teachers, and they were immediately on board.  Over 300 6th graders can make a big difference in the world!  After brainstorming ideas, our plan is to have kids collect pledges and bring in gallon jugs of water.  They will  carry them around to their classes all day on Friday, October 11th, feeling the impact of the weight of water.  Our cafeteria will only be serving water that day, and we will be showing videos of Salva Dut and his water charity during lunch.  October 11th will also kick off our 10 Days Water campaign, a 10 day commitment to drink nothing but water.  The money saved by not purchasing other beverages will become a donation to Water for South Sudan, Salva Dut’s water charity organization.  We know our plans may have some imperfections, but we can’t let that stop us.  This is a work in progress.

DAVID: I knew that I wanted to do a water walk. I got the idea from an article someone sent me last year. I ran a couple 5Ks at the end of last year that supported water organizations. Though a few students ran one of them with me (that was awesome!),  I know that it is out of reach for many. Walking? Anyone can do that. And walking with a gallon of water to show empathy for—and unity with—those suffering from lack of water would be powerful.

ugandan water project plus harrington

My friend, James Harrington, is the head of a local organization called Ugandan Water Project.  Instead of building wells, which can be very expensive, this NPO sets up water collection tanks in villages that can provide water for about 400 people. They also provide filters that make contaminated water pure. Our goal will be to raise enough money through students’ sponsors of their OneGallonOneMile walk to cover the cost of one of these tanks. James will be coming to visit our school and talk with the students in the coming weeks. (Here’s a great video.) I can’t wait to see his presentation. James has also said that we might be able to Skype with the Ugandan town that gets our tank. Just the thought of that brings tears to my eyes.

As Holly said, this is a work in progress.

We would love for anyone who would like to join us in these efforts to let us know who you are and how you would like to be involved.  We like the idea of students from different schools in different states connecting with each other and sharing stories, successes, ideas, and responses to the book.  Students and classes can Skype, GoogleHangout, blog, Tweet, or email with one another. To get involved, sign up on the nifty form below.  Participate on Twitter by using #ReadWalkWater—and keep your eyes open for Tweets of our students engaging in this great project. Please post your own as well. We’re looking forward to connecting with you!

To guide you and your students along the book, we’re putting together ALWTW guide to show as you read—a bit like Brian Wilhorne’s (@HelpReaders) Wonder guide.

If you are unable to read the whole book before October eleventh (though at just over 100 pages, it’s not too tough), don’t let that stop you. Either get started with the book and jump in or use some picture book resources to introduce this issue to your students or find the many videos that water for Africa organizations have on their sites. World Water Day, on March 22, might be a better culmination date for you if you get a late start.

We believe that books are powerful.  Stories can change lives, and this is one book that could change the world.  Join us in showing kids how reading can lead to action.

we believe there is good in the world

Holly Mueller is a gifted intervention specialist who teaches accelerated 5th/6th grade ELA at Columbia Intermediate School in Kings Local School District in Ohio.  She loves to read, teach, write, learn, hang out with friends and family, walk her dog, and travel.  Books cover every corner in her house and classroom.  She blogs atReading, Teaching, Learning and tweets as @muellerholly.  She recently became a contributor for Choice Literacy.

David Etkin teaches sixth grade ELA in Amherst, New York. His TBR pile is way too large and he has a difficult time balancing digital literacy and print literacy. He has been known to live his job—just ask his ever-so-patient wife. This year’s new endeavor: Try to occasionally flip his English class with 1:1 iPads. David blogs at {Eat the Book}, tweets as @DavidAEtkin, and has his fingers in other social media to keep students and parents connected with the classroom.