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Crew, Linda. (1991). Children of the River. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Laurel-Leaf, 213 pp.

Grade Range: 6-12

Genre: contemporary fiction

Summary and Critique

    In Children of the River, the protagonist, Sundara, fled Cambodia with her aunt's family to escape the Khmer Rouge army when she was thirteen, leaving behind her parents, her brother, sister, and the boy she had loved since she was a child. Linda Crew, through Sundara, effectively provides an honest picture of the Cambodian people, their hardships, and their reluctance to change their homeland culture and tradition. The author depicts the struggles of a young immigrant attempting to fit in with her Oregon high school classmates while simultaneously honoring her family's tradition. Sundara wants to be a good Cambodian girl by refusing to date and waiting for her family to arrange her marriage to a Cambodian boy. However, Sundara is also drawn to Jonathan, an extraordinary American boy. Her miseries and adversities bring the couple closer. Finally, she is able to convince her parents to look beyond the boundaries of culture.

    Children of the River centers on the situation that the Cambodians faced in the Vietnam War. It shows that they were real people, with real prejudices. What it also tells, though, is how difficult it is to make the transition to American life and that there are people struggling every day to do that.


    American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults

    Golden Kite Honor Book from the Society of Children's Book Writers

    International Reading Association Children's Book Award



    Friends and Enemies

    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    War and Peace

    Challenges and Triumphs

    The Individual vs. Society

    Love, Sex, and Romance

Author/Illustrator/Editor Information

    Linda Crew grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, and then graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism after unfruitful attempts at being a singer and a theater artist. She has written numerous young adult books, such as Nekomah Creek Christmas, Long Time Passing, Fire on the Wind and, most recently, Brides of Eden.

    For more information on Linda Crew: Offers information about the author's biography and her works. This site has the author's profile and an interview with Linda Crew.

Media Connections


    Full Metal Jacket (1987) Based on Gustav Hasford's novel The Short Timers, the film details the volunteers' harrowing boot-camp training under the guidance of drill instructor Sgt. Hartman.

    The English Patient (1996) This movie portrays a doomed and tragic romance set against the backdrop of World War II. It won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress.

    The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) Based on real-life incident, the film tells the story of an imprisoned British officer who is forced to build a bridge for the Japanese that will enable them to carry supplies faster by train during World War II.

    Schindler's List (1993) This film by Spielberg is based on the true story of Oscar Schindler, who becomes humanitarian amidst the barbaric Nazi rule, and managed to save about 1100 Jews from being executed at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

    Smoke Signals (1998) Directed by Chris Eyre, this film is based on a young Native American named Thomas, whose parents died in a fire in 1976, and was saved by Arnold. Later on Thomas funds Victor (Arnold's son) to get Arnold's remains.

    October Sky (1999) This film by Joe Johnston is based on the true story of Homer Hickman, a coal miner's son who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry against his father's wishes.

    I am David (2003) This film based on the novel, North to Freedom, is a story of a 12-year-old boy, who escapes a Communist concentration camp. It addresses the cruelties, politics, and suffering of warfare and how David slowly learns to trust humanity and begins to smile.


    CNN News- The War of Terror or the Iraq War.

    M*A*S*H – The life of soldiers is portrayed in this comedy serial that is based on war.

    Smallville – The protagonist is an alien on earth and tries to fit in.


    "Children of the River." Written by Linda Crew. Published in June 1999. Recorded Books is the publisher of this audio unabridged version of the b4teens_book.

    "The Unknown Soldier." Lyrics by the Doors. From Waiting for the Sun. This song is about the war in general.

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Gordon, Sheila. (1987). Waiting for the Rain: a Novel of South Africa. New York: Orchard, 214pp. Tengo, a 10-year-old South African boy, strives to go to school, but struggles in his endeavors due to his poverty. After eventually receiving an education, he struggles for freedom as a scholar.

    Paulsen, Gary. (1987). Crossing. New York: Orchard, 114pp. Manny Bustos, an orphan, struggles to survive on the streets of Mexico and later dares to cross the border in the hopes to find a better life.

    Lowry, Lois. (1993). The Giver. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 180 pp. In a Utopian society, Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of memories and discovers that the society had many flaws even though it appeared to be the perfect place.

    Hayslip, Le Ly, Hayslip, James. (1993). Child of War, Woman of Peace. New York: Doubleday, 374pp. This shocking and inspiring book describes the life of the author during the Vietnam War, and details how she migrates to U.S. and struggles to raise her children.

    Yep, Laurence, ed. (1993). American Dragons: Twenty-Five Asian American Voices. New York: Harper Collins. 237pp This book includes thematic sections of short stories, poems, and excerpts from plays that focus on Asian Americans and their lives growing up in America.

    Brown, Julie, William E Cain. (1997). Ethnicity and the American Short Story. New York: Garland, 252pp. This collection of short stories is about different ethnic communities in America and how they approaches the short story form.

    Young, Richard, Judy Dockery Young. (1992). Stories from the Days of Christopher Columbus: A Multicultural Collection for Young Readers. Little Rock: August House Publishers, Inc., 160pp. This anthology includes stories of Spanish, Portugese, Italian origins, including stories about Christopher Columbus.

    Buss, Fran Leeper, Daisy Cubias. (1991). Journey of the Sparrows. New York: Lodestar, 155pp. This book addresses the struggles of refugees.

Teaching Ideas

(1) "Tying It All Together" Have the students select the name of a character two or three days prior to the activity day. Let the students familiarize themselves with the character by discussing with friends, skimming the novel, etc. On the activity day, the students wear a tag with the character's name on it and form a circle. The main character or the protagonist is given a ball of twine and is first asked to choose another character and explain the relationship between his character and the other character. Holding one end of the twine, the protagonist throws the ball to the next character. The game continues until every character is ‘tied up together'and forms a web of relationship. Later, ask various characters to pull their strings out. The students will feel great tension if the protagonist is asked to pull his twine. With the help of this teaching idea, the students will realize how the characters in a novel are webbed together to develop a story.

[Summarized from "Tying It All Together" by John Cebula in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. October 1993, p.3.]

(2) "Portraits and Points of View" The activity starts with a portrait projected on the screen. At first, the students will study the portrait and write three or four noticeable characteristics of the portrait's subject or surroundings using a neutral viewpoint (since the observer will know nothing about the subject's character). Then ask the students to describe the same portrait, but now think of the subject in a favorable light (e.g., as a best friend or a beloved grandfather). Next, the students will describe the character in an unfavorable way, such as an enemy, murderer, etc. This activity will not only give students practice in using language to illustrate different viewpoints but will also make them realize that all people do not perceive the world in the same way.

[Summarized from "Portraits and Points of View" by Lance Voss in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. October 1992, p.3.]

(3) "Family, Self, and Literature" Have the students list ten things that they know about their family and five questions that concern their family. Then share the lists with the class and discuss the literature using some of their insights. Later, post the students'questions, concerns, and writings in the classroom to create a thesis statement. At the end, have the students write an analytical essay, short story, play, or poetry about their lives.

[Summarized from "Family, Self, and Literature" by Beverly Lewis in Ideas Plus, Book Ten. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. 2001, p.31.]

(Review written by Vijaya Vavilikolanu and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)