Title: a long Way Gone Author: Ishmael Beah Summary of Book Note to Curriculum Guide Writer

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Title: A Long Way Gone

Author: Ishmael Beah

Summary of Book

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: Capture the summary from the author’s website. Either source the summary or rewrite. Make certain to always provide credit. The summary only needs to be one or two paragraphs)

A Long Way Gone is described on the author’s website as the riveting story of twenty-six-year-old Beah reflecting on his childhood in violence and the lessons he learned. At the age of twelve, he fled attacking revels and wandered a land unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. Eventually released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center, he struggled to regain his humanity and to reenter the world of civilians, who viewed him with fear and suspicion. This is, at last, a story of redemption and hope.

A Long Way Gone is described as a gripping story of a child’s journey through hell and back. There may be as many as 300,000 child soldiers, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s, in more than fifty conflicts around the world. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. He is one of the first to tell his story in his own words.

About the Author

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: Capture the author background from the author’s website. Either source the summary or rewrite. Make certain to always provide credit. The author summary only needs to be one or two paragraphs)

• Birth—November 23, 1980

• Where—Sierra Leone
• Education—B.A., Oberlin College, 2004
• Awards—A Long Way Gone nominated for Quill Award in Best Debut Author category, 2007
• Currently—lives in New York City, New York, USA

In 1991, the Sierra Leone Civil War started and rebels invaded Beah’s hometown, Mogbwemo in the southern province of the country. Beah was forced to flee, separated from his family, and spend months wandering south with a group of young boys. He fought for almost three years against the rebels, under government control, before being rescued by UNICEF. In 1998 he relocated to New York City with the help of UNICEF. There he lived with his foster mother, Laura Simms, and attended the United Nations International School, graduating in 2000. He went on to attend Oberlin College, graduating in 2004 with a Political Science degree.

Beah reflects on his time in the Sierra Leonean government army by saying he cannot remember how many people he killed. He and other soldiers smoked marijuana and sniffed amphetamines and “brown-brown,” a mix of cocaine and gunpowder. He blames the subsequent addictions he developed and brainwashing for the violent acts he committed. The pressures of the army made escape seem impossible without help.

He was rescued in 1996 by a coalition of UNICEF and NGOs, before eventually relocating to New York City. He credits one volunteer, Nurse Esther, as having the patience and compassion required to bring him through the difficult period of re-assimilating into society. She recognized his interest in American rap music and reggae and gave him a Walkman and a Run DMC cassette. She used the power of music to bring back memories from Beah’s past, prior to the violence. (Wikipedia)

Radio/TV/Special Appearances
Traveled to his former home in Sierra Leone with ABC News in 2009 and to Calgary to speak at the My World Conference in 2013

Beah has spoken to the United Nations, Council of Foreign Relations, and Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory over the past 15 years

His work has appeared in VespertinePress and LIT magazine.

2007 appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Beah said that he believed that returning to civilized society was more difficult than becoming a child soldier. He also said that dehumanizing children is a relatively easy task.

Special Projects

Member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee

His most recent novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, was published in January 2014.

Learning Target for Discussion Questions:

Identify global issues, including war, and its effects on our communities and states, and its effects internationally.

Discussion Questions (Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: As you read through the book, think of appropriate/applicable questions. Keep in mind that the questions should be directed to a 9th/10th grade reading level. Try to avoid yes-or-no questions without requiring further elaboration from students, e.g., how, why)
Title: (Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: If the title is self-evident, a question(s) regarding the title may not be necessary or applicable)
What does the title, A Long Way Gone, mean to you? Who is gone? Will they ever be able to return?

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: You do not need to have questions in every section. This section is just a guideline to ensure comparability with the other curriculum guides)
How do you think war affects a community? Can the civil war of one country affect other countries?
Does bringing international attention to war help or aggravate the conflict?

Does war destroy community, or does it create a new community?

Is war ever justified? Why or why not?
Does the Sierra Leone Civil War remind you of any other international or national conflict?
How much did you know about the internal affairs of African countries, or specifically Sierra Leone, before reading this memoir?
Structure/ Narrative:

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: You do not need to have questions in every section. This section is just a guideline to ensure comparability with the other curriculum guides)
How did Ishmael Beah’s grandmother explain the local adage that “we must strive to be like the moon” (p. 16)? And why has Ishmael remembered this saying ever since childhood? What does it mean to him?
This book describes two kinds of domestic living in detail, village life and city life. Which does Ishmael prefer, and why?
Ishmael Beah opens his memoir with a dialogue between his American high school friends and himself in New York. What is their perspective on war? How does it compare to the perspective that Beah provides in the book? Are there similarities in how they view war? (https://international.uiowa.edu/sites/international.uiowa.edu/files/file_uploads/ocob_2008_questions.pdf)
How does the first-person perspective affect your experience reading the novel? Do the graphic descriptions make the experience more real to you? More powerful? Would the story have been different if it were written by someone else about Beah?
Some have questioned the accuracy of A Long Way Gone, asserting that the detailed descriptions of past events would be beyond what an adult could remember about life as a twelve-year-old. Although there is no question that Beah's horrific experience happened, we may not be sure that all the detail is accurate. Should we regard memoir as truth? How much can we trust what we read? Does trust change our reading?


A Long Way Gone is told in a series of flashbacks. What does this structure say about the trauma he suffered as a boy soldier? Do you think your reading experience would have been different if the story were told chronologically? Why do you think Beah chose to structure his memoir this way? (A Long Way Gone study guide)
Chapter eight closes with the image of villagers running fearfully from Ishmael and his friends, believing that the seven boys are rebels. How do they overcome these negative assumptions in communities that have begun to associate the boys’ appearance with evil? Does this interaction remind you of anything in your own life? What can we take away about overcoming stereotypes from this scene?

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: You do not need to have questions in every section. This section is just a guideline to ensure comparability with the other curriculum guides)
How would you describe Ishmael at the beginning of the memoir? What was his life like? His priorities? Did his character change after he was forced into becoming a soldier, or was he a victim of circumstance? How would you describe Ishmael’s character at the end of the memoir? Have his priorities changed?
As Chapter 2 begins, we flash forward to Ishmael’s new life in New York City. He relates a dream of pushing a wheelbarrow. What is in the wheelbarrow, and where is he pushing it? What does Ishmael mean when he says, “I am looking at my own” (p. 19)?
What kinds of music does Ishmael like, and why? What is it about music that matters to Ishmael, or that moves him so? Why is it important to him, especially during his rehabilitation at Benin Home? Does music have this kind of power to you?

How does Beah’s concept of family change from his childhood in Mattru Jong, to being reunited with his uncle, to living with his foster mother, Laura Simms? Without the forces of family, do you think Beah would have been able to remain a civilian? Why or why not?
How does Ishamel’s view of family change throughout the story?
Content/ Plot:

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: You do not need to have questions in every section. This section is just a guideline to ensure comparability with the other curriculum guides)
What does RUF stand for and who were these people? What did they do to new recruits to prove their loyalty? (chapter 3)
Why, after their escape, do Ishmael and the other boys sneak back into the village of Mattru Jong in chapter 4?
How does Ishamel describe the hunger he feels in chapter 5? Can you connect this feeling to any of Beah’s other experiences thus far?
Chapter 7 begins with the story of the imam’s death, followed by Ishmael’s recollections of his father and an elder blessing their home when they first moved to Mogbwemo. What can this recollection tell us about Beah’s spirituality and faith? How does Beah sustain emotionally after this and later on in the story?
In chapter 7, why did the family not help Beah get to the sea? Do you think this incident has an effect on Beah’s view of himself? Why or why not? What kind of self-perspective is Beah developing?
In chapter 8, what does Beah describe as the worst thing about loneliness?
Ishmael tells us that some of the boys who had been rehabilitated with him later became soldiers again. What factors ensured that he could remain a civilian? What does being a civilian mean to Beah?
How does Ishmael react when he sees the village destroyed in chapter 11? How is his reaction the same or different than that of the other boys? How can you relate Beah’s reaction to what he learned about men and crying when he was younger?
Why do you think Beah wasn’t afraid of the lifeless bodies in chapter 13? Do you think his reaction would have been different if he was exposed a few months ago? What is happening to him here?
Consider Beah’s addictions portrayed in the novel. After being rescued, it takes him many weeks to feel comfortable to start believing that the events were not his fault. What destructive beliefs had he become addicted to? Do these result directly from his drug use? Do you think he would have acted differently without drugs in his life? For better or worse?
How are civilians depicted in the novel? How are they thought of? How did Beah interact with civilians in the beginning of the novel? How did his relationship with civilians change over time? What can this change tell us about civilians as a class?
Who finally made Beah believe that this was not all his fault? Why did he finally believe it?
Why did Beah stop dating Zainab in chapter 19? How does his past affect their relationship?
What was Ishmael’s answer to the monkey riddle in the final chapter? Why is this important?

10 General Questions for any book

  1. How did you feel about the book?  What was the experience of reading it like for you?

  2. What do you think the author was trying to accomplish with this novel?

  3. Who was your favorite character? What did you appreciate about him/her?

  4. Sometimes when we read we relate to a particular character.  Did you find anyone you related to in this book?  Why?   If you didn't, is there value in reading about people very different from ourselves?  

  5. Consider the main character: what does he or she believe in? What is he or she willing to fight for?

  6. At the end of the book, do you feel hope for the characters?

  7. Are any of the events in the book relevant to your own life?

  8. Was the story credible? The characters credible?

  9. What is the favorite book you've ever read, why?

  10. What is your favorite Book -to- movie?  Why?  What were the differences between book and movie?  What did you like better in which version?

Enrichment Ideas for Discussion

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: Capture enrichment ideas for facilitators to use during an ABG session, such as small group activities; accountable “talks”; games; role play; or props)
Discuss the ways that Beah has used his past as a catalyst for change today. Consider ways that you can be advocates for change by embracing your own past.
Enrichment Ideas for Teachers

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: Capture enrichment ideas for teachers to implement book into language arts curriculum, such as writing or art projects; lessons; historical relevance; or vocabulary)
Vocabulary Section:

(Note to Curriculum Guide Writer: Provide vocabulary that may be challenging for students in this section for teachers to review with their students)
crapes: sneakers

kamor: teacher

lorry: motor truck

cassava: tropical plant

palampo: single

RPGs: rocket-propelled grenades

sleepers: flip flops


sura: prayer

waleh: slate

soukous: style of central African popular dance music with electric guitars, Caribbean rhythms, vocalists

jerry cans: water containers

carseloi: spider

spirogyra: fresh water algae

pestles: tool for grinding

leweh: rice paste

ngor: respectful term before first name of adults

gari: grated and dried food made of cassava

brown-brown: cocaine and gun powder

tafe: marijuana

kule: open air showers

sickie thomboi: special dinner for celebration

poda podas: pedalers

CAW: children associated with the war


Purpose: The purpose of the Read Think Write Pair Share document is to help Words Alive volunteers increase high-level thinking and student participation with the classroom.


Use the Learning Targets and Success Criteria to select a passage from the book.

Give students 7-10 minutes to sit quietly to read the passage and write down their thoughts.

TIPS for using this activity:

  1. Read the questions out loud to get students thinking about the activity sheet they’re about to complete.

  2. Read the passage out loud in the group.

  3. Encourage students to use their books to pull evidence to support their ideas.

  4. Give students 7-10 minutes to write down their ideas.

  5. Break-down in small groups to discuss their answers. Assign a volunteer to each group.

  6. Use different passages with different learning targets and questions. Have each group with the same learning target discuss their ideas and solutions and report out to the entire group.

  7. Create separate sheets, based on the number of learning targets, for all students to complete. When reporting out to the entire group, allow students to who have not already spoken to share. The purpose of the activity is to get as many students to speak and voice their opinion. Having them write down their ideas give the students an opportunity to have something to share with the class

Learning Target: Identify the nature of war.

Success Criteria: Students will be able to discuss the nature of war as it applies to A Long Way Gone.

Read the following quote from page 37

This is one of the consequences of the civil war. People stop trusting each other, and every stranger becomes an enemy.” 
Read the following quote from page 207, Ishmael reflecting on war coming to Freetown

They had run so far away from the war, only to be caught back in it. There is nowhere to go from here.”
After some thought, please write down your ideas about the passage you just read. Here are the questions that we would like you to answer:

  1. Is trust or lack of trust an underlying cause to civil war? Or is distrust its effect?

  2. What are some other outcomes of civil war?

  3. What does the mindset that “war is inescapable” do to people?

  4. How has war affected Ishmael’s community as it spread? Communities in general?

Note: Please be prepared to share your written thoughts and ideas with the class.






How to Use the ABG Curriculum Guide:

1. Review the author information, discussion questions and enrichment ideas

2. Select a few questions (e.g. 5-8) to ask/review at the ABG session

3. Reword the question(s) to make your own. Think of good follow-up questions. (i.e., What is the character’s relation to the family housekeeper? Are social classes important in Iran? What characteristics determine a person’s social class? Describe the family’s social class.)

4. Do not use the curriculum guide as your only source of preparation. It is recommended to conduct your own research in addition to reviewing the guide. If the guide is too overwhelming, please just use the questions/information that is applicable to you.

5. Make the facilitation your own – showcase your personality. The guide is designed to provide suggestions. Your facilitation should not directly mirror what is provided in the guide.

6. If you need more support, please consult your site manager and/or the Words Alive Program Manager.

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