Linda Sue Park: 2019 National Book Festival

Linda Sue Park: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Eun Yang: Good
morning, everyone. All right. I’m Eun Yang, anchor at NBC 4 in Washington DC
and lover of books. I believe this is my eighth
year introducing an author at the National Book Festival. Thank you, Library of Congress. The Library of Congress
is a treasure in the city. If you haven’t had a
chance to visit it, it is truly incredible. I have the honor of introducing
Linda Sue Park this year. She’ll be signing books from
12:30 to 1:30 in lines 20-23, and as Karen mentioned there
will be a short Q and A session at the end of the
author presentation. It is particularly
special for me to introduce Linda Sue
Park because, like her, I am the daughter of
Korean immigrants. I have three American children of Korean descent who’ve read
all her books with respect and admiration, and not just because they were
assigned in school. And if you’re here,
you probably know that Miss Park is a
prolific and impactful write who received the
prestigious Newberry Award for her novel, A Single Shard. You may have even
heard her TED Talk where she beautifully explains
how reading can develop empathy which leads to engagement. And that reading can help us
all become better human beings. Her book, A Long Walk to
Water is evidence of that. It is based on the
true story of Salva, one of the lost boys of Sudan. He was relocated to the
US and eventually returned to his homeland in South Sudan to bring clean water
to remote villages. Her readers were
moved to do more than just discuss
how Salva responded to the great suffering
in his life. They raised more than $1 million
for water for South Sudan. Her readers did that. Now Miss Park has written a
companion book called Nya’s Long Walk: A Step at a Time which will no doubt inspire
even more people to take action. On top of all that, I cannot
overstate how meaningful it is for me and my family to have
this Korean American author’s books on the shelves in my
home, to have her books included as an important part
of the curriculum at my children’s school, and
to have her stories resonate with my family and
our community. Representation matters. And thanks to Linda Sue Park,
my children can maybe aspire to be authors themselves
one day. But they can definitely aspire
to change the world any day. Miss Park speaks of
the power of books, the superpower of
children’s books. And in my book that
makes here a superhero. Ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome Linda Sue Park. [ Applause ]>>Linda Sue Park: Thank you. And I sincerely mean that. I’ve been in the
children’s book business. I’ve been fortunate to be in
it more than 20 years now, but I still have that very basic
author insecurity that you show up at an event and
it’s five people who are all related to you. So I’m truly gratified
that you chose to attend this session among
all the fantastic offerings that are here today. I am going to talk about Nya’s
Long Walk: A Step at a Time, just introducing my work
which Miss Yang did so well. That I have middle-grade novels, I have picture books
and I have YA work. So I’ve been fortunate
to publish across the age spectrum
for young readers. My most recent picture book
before Nya’s Long walk is called Gondra’s Treasure. It’s available for sale
here at the bookstore. And it is about a little girl
who is a mixed-race dragon. Her father is an
eastern or Asian dragon and her mother is a
western or European dragon. And it’s amazing that on
opposite sides of the planet, the different cultures
both developed dragons but they’re very different. So wester dragons breathe
fire and have wings. Eastern dragons breathe
mist and don’t have wings. And for example this little
girl Gondra breathes mist out of one nostril and
fire out of the other. So it’s a metaphor for
mixed-race families, but as all of us in this room
who are family members know, every family is mixed. Here are some of the
other picture books. And I understand they also have in that lower corner,
they also have Yum! Yuck! which is people
sounds around the world. Not words, but sounds. So what do we say in English
when something tastes good? Yum or mm. But they don’t say that
all over the world. What do we say for a sneeze? The sound of a sneeze? Achoo. Right? Achoo. Well, if you are
in Korea, you say etchi. And if you are a Tamel
speaker, parts of India and Sri Lanka, you say abushku. Does that sound like a sneeze? Right? So my co-author
Julia Durango and I collected people
sounds from around the world and that book is also
available here today. As well as A Single Shard
and A Long Walk to Water. Well, to talk about Nya’s Long
Walk, I first do have to talk about A Long Walk to Water. And I just want to update
very quickly on that figure of how much money readers
of Long Walk have raised to help bring clean
water to young people and communities in South Sudan. That is now actually
up to $4 million. [ Applause ] It really does blow me away,
because when I wrote the book, collaborating with Salva,
I saw Salva as an example of that adage that one person
really can change the world. I had no idea that young
readers would go to the teachers and the adults in
their lives and say, “What can we do to help?” The fundraising has been
largely student-driven which has just really
just amazed me. All right, so A Long Walk to
Water is the story of Salva Dut, a family friend who came
to the US as a refugee from the Second Sudanese
Civil War. Okay? He was one of the
so-called lost boys who had to walk hundreds and
hundreds of miles to try to escape the ferocity
of the war. There were altogether
during this phase of the war in the 1980’s and ’90’s
about 17,000 lost boys who were walking like this. About one-third of them
did not make it to safety; 6,000 of them died
along the way. That’s how brutal the trip was. But Salva was one of the lucky
ones who reached the safety of a refugee camp in Ethiopia
which looked like this. This is actually Kakuma
refugee camp in northern Kenya. During the height of the war, anywhere from 80,000-120,000
people lived like this at Kakuma refugee camp. Not a wonderful place to live. The only really good
thing about it was that it was safe from the war. So Salva entered the refugee
camps alone, orphaned as a child at the age of 11, and lived
in camps like this one for more than 10 years. Then the people in the camp
got the incredible news that the United States was going to sponsor several thousand
refugees on fast-track visas to come to this country. And Salva received
one of those visas to come to the United States. He eventually settled
near Rochester, New York which is where I live. And that is why first my husband and eventually I
got to meet him. All right. This is what it looks like in
South Sudan where Salba grew up. And in the book there
is a second story. There is the story of Salba’s
escape from the war alternating with the story of a
young girl who lives in South Sudan today
whose name is Nya. Nya lives in an area
that looks like this. You can see that there
are small structures. The small ones are the
houses for the people. The larger ones are the barns
for the animals because Nya and her community make their
living as cattle farmers. They keep herds of cows and that’s how they
make their living. You can see also that
it’s not a desert. Geographers call it
semi-arid or semi-desert. There is enough rainfall
every year. There’s a rainy season for
grass, bushes, small trees. There is no infrastructure. You can see a dirt track in the
picture, but there are no roads. No electricity, no plumbing. Nya’s job is to walk every day
to fetch water for her family. This is a girl that my husband
met in South Sudan in 2015. She is nine years old at the
time the photo was taken. That is a
seven-and-a-half-gallon jerry can that she’s got on her
head, which would be heavy for a grown man to pick up. And she picks it up,
puts it on her head and makes a two-hour journey
from the water hole to her home with this jug on her head. It takes her two hours to
walk to the water hole, two hours to get back and then
she has a little bit of lunch or something to eat, and then
makes a return journey two hours to the water hole and
two hours back home. She spends eight
hours a day walking for water for her family. If you walk eight hours
a day to fetch water, you do not have time
to go to school. As of 2014, South Sudan had one
of the highest illiteracy rates in the world for
girls and women. About 97% of them could
not read or write. 97%. That is pretty
darn close to 100%. Right? Nya fetches water from
water holes that look like this, hand-dug wells that fill
up with groundwater. As you can imagine, that water
is not clean and not safe. And sometimes people say, “Well, I hope they at least boil
it before they drink it, because boiling water
can kill germs, right?” But look at the tiny amount
she’s scooping up in that bowl. That water hole is serving
several dozen families. Her family’s share
of it is very small. What happens when you boil
a small amount of water? It evaporates, right? You can’t boil the water. You have to drink
it just like it is. And that is what the water looks
like that millions of people all over the world, not just South
Sudan, but in many countries that don’t have a safe supply of
water, what they have to drink. We even experience it her in the
United States after disasters, after things like hurricanes and
tornadoes and in places like, unfortunately, Flint,
Michigan for years now. If you do not have a
safe source of water — every human being on the planet
has to have water to live. Your choice in this
case in South Sudan is if you drink this water,
you might get really sick. If you don’t drink
it, you will die, because it is the
only water there is. It is especially
dangerous for children because children do not have — have not developed their
immune systems to contend with the microbes
that are in the water. So dirty water is worldwide
the number one source of child death. Children under five die
from dirty water more than any other cause
in the world. All right, one day
some strangers arrive in Nya’s village with equipment
that she has never seen. She doesn’t know what
it is or what it does. She thinks it looks
like a red iron giraffe. A little bit, right? She knows what giraffes
are, right? They are there to put a clean
water well in her village. It turns out that
underneath much of South Sudan there is a clean
water aquafer about the size of the United States’
Lake Eerie. But it is between 100 and
800 feet below the surface. You will never get
there with a shovel. You have to have
heavy equipment, and that is what these
strangers have brought. Whoops. Uh-oh. OH, there. There we go. Okay. When the water first comes
out of the borehole it looks as terrible as the water
they’ve been drinking. But that’s just debris
from the construction. And whenever you dig
for something that is under the ground, you are not
sure of finding it, right? You can’t see it, whether
that’s oil or diamonds or gold. You’re like, “We think there’s
some here,” and you dig down and you hope you’ve dug
in the right place, right? That is also true of water that you’re digging
for under the ground. Salva’s organization has dug,
had drilled 399 wells all over South Sudan now serving
half a million people. Half a million people
now have clean water who didn’t have it before. And his success rate in drilling
for wells is exactly 100%. And he talks to hydrologists
and geologists here in the United States and
they’re like, “No, no, no. Nobody gets 100% drilling
for stuff under the ground. How can you possibly
have 100% success rate?” And I asked Salva that and
he said, “Oh, it’s very easy. You go to the village
and you look around and you find the biggest tree and you stand there
and you look around. And you find the second biggest
tree and you put the well right in the middle because the
trees know where the water is.” It’s like the lowest
tech you can have. No fancy measuring equipment, no seismographs, no
nothing like that. Tree, second biggest
tree, well, 100%. Right? We think we’re
so smart here, right? [Laughs] All right. So 100%. Now, that means
that there will be a source of clean water in the village
after they install a hand pump and pour a concrete apron. And the girls will not have
to walk eight hours a day to fetch water anymore,
so what are they going to have time to do?>>School.>>Linda Sue Park: They’re going
to have time to go to school. So clean water doesn’t just
mean water and better health. It actually changes
the entire dynamic for communities like this. Businesses can start up. There can be clinics. There can be schools. So I wrote this book
called Nya’s Long Walk because if you read
A Long Walk to Water, most of it is Salva’s story. It alternates with chapters
form Nya’s point of view. I took one of those chapters and
expanded it into a picture book. Oh, that’s me and Salva
taken just recent. He now lives in South Sudan. He moved back and visits
the United States three or four times a year. So I always try to make sure
to see him while he’s here. Okay. Nya’s Long Walk. Oh, this is the illustrator,
the wonderful Brian Pinkney who has won Caldecott honor
and Coretta Scott King awards. And I was very, very
honored that he agreed to illustrate this book. So I’m going to read
the beginning of it now and we’ll see how much time
we have to get through. So okay. Nya’s Long
Walk: A Step at a Time. “Come on,” Nya said. “Why are you so slow today?” “I’m tired,” Akir said. Nya sighed. It was a long way
to the water hole. “I’ll tell mama that you
were trouble,” she said. “Don’t,” Akir begged. “I’ll be good.” She started walking
a little faster. “Akir, look.” Nya pointed to the horizon where
she could see a cloud of dust. “What is it? I can’t see,” Akir whined. “Antelope? Or a truck?” Too far away to tell. Probably antelope. Trucks were a rare
sight in their village. Akir was slowing down again. Nya said, “You know
the clapping game? Let’s sing the song.” “And do the clapping too?” “No, not while we
walk, but later, okay?” At the water hole
they took long drinks. Nya filled the jerry can, then they played the
clapping game twice. “Time to go,” Nya said. Akir dragged her feet. She walked more and more slowly. Soon she began to cry and
sat down on the ground. “I can’t walk anymore,”
she said. “It’s too far and
I’m too tired.” “Don’t be silly,” Nya snapped. “You’ve walked this
before lots of times.” Akir cried and snuffled
and hiccupped. She looked at Nya,
her eyes very big. Nya frowned. Akir was not a crybaby. Usually she skipped along,
chattering like a starling. Nya knelt in front of
Akir and felt her face. Akir’s forehead and
cheeks were burning hot. She had stopped crying
and was quiet and still. Akir was sick. Maybe very sick. Nya felt worry swelling
inside her. They were at least half a
morning’s walk away from home. “I must run and get
help,” she thought. She took a few steps,
then glanced back at Akir. No, she could not
leave Akir alone. Should they stay
and wait for help? It might be hours
before someone came. Akir would get sicker
and sicker. “I will have to carry
her and the water too.” Her mother would need the
water to help make Akir better. Nya opened the jerry can and
poured out half the water. She picked up the can, hefted
its weight and shook her head. Still too heavy. She poured out a little more. “Akir?” Akir opened her eyes. They were dull and sad. “I know you don’t
feel well,” Nya said, trying to keep her voice steady. “But you have to climb on
my back and hold tight. Can you do that?” Akir got on Nya’s back. Nya used her headscarf
to tie Akir in place the way her mother did. Then she picked up the
jerry can and began to walk. Akir was heavy. The water was heavy. Nya could only take a few
steps before she had to rest. Home was so far away. Tears filled Nya’s eyes. “I can’t do it. It’s too far.” Nya saw a tamarind
tree up ahead. She swallowed and
blinked away her tears. “I’ll go to the tree. I’ll put Akir down there.” When she got to the tree,
she thought she might be able to walk a little more. “Those thorn bushes. I’ll stop there.” At the bushes she
rested for a moment. Akir had fallen asleep. Farther on, Nya saw
an old stump. “I can make it to that stump. I know I can.” Step by step, a bit at a
time, Nya kept walking. So it is not what my
friends call happy, nicey, rhymey story, right? It’s a story about the
very daily struggles faced by millions of children
all over the world. And there will be parents
who will say, you know, “This is too touch a
story for my little one.” And each parent will
make the judgement about whether the story is right
for their children to hear. But keep in mind that there
are children who live this. So if there are children who
live it, maybe the children who don’t have to
can learn about that. And I promise that
there is a happy ending. All right, I am nearly
out of time. But I would have time for
maybe one or two questions if somebody wants
to hurry to the mic. Good, a brave soul.>>In Project Mulberry, what was
it like to be talking to Julia?>>Linda Sue Park: Oh,
that’s a great question. In one of my novels I break
what’s called the fourth wall in Project Mulberry. And the character
argues with the author about what should happen next. So for example, the character
says, “I hate my little brother. Will you please delete him?” [ Laughter ] And the author says, “I
love your little brother. He’s funny. No, I’m keeping him
in the story.” And they argue about
what should happen next. I wanted to give young
people, young readers, some idea of how
a story gets made. And so everything that
happens with Julia and the author whose
name is Miss Park in between the chapters is
something that I struggled with as I was writing the story. Thank you for asking
that question.>>Hello. I love all of your
books, and they all have such impactful meaning. What are you working on next?>>Linda Sue Park: Oh,
thank you for asking. I have a middle-grade
novel coming out next spring called
Prairie Lotus. And as a young child, I loved
the Laura Ingles Wilder Little House series which
have now proven to be quite problematic
in many ways. So this was my attempt
at a reconciliation: a half-Asian girl in the
Laura Ingles Wilder Little House setting. And what happens to her, what
happens to a person of color and how as wonderful as
the Wilder books are, they present a very skewed and inaccurate view
of American history. So it’s sort of Laura
Ingles Wilder, I love it, but here, I fixed it for you. Okay? So I hope you will look for that book next
spring, March 2020. Thank you for coming. Have a wonderful day here. [ Applause ]

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