The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Sumatra, two teenagers, American Sarah and Acehnese Ruslan, meet and continue together their arduous climb inland, where Ruslan hopes to find his father and Sarah seeks a doctor for her brother.


32 Responses to “The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis”

  1. 1 paytonsaxton May 3, 2015 at 12:29 am

    I read Killing Sea and I found this book eye opening. Especially since I have never lived in an area that has many earthquakes not to mention tsunamis. I think it is important that we educate our students on natural disasters that effect more than just ourselves. I feel like when I was in school we learned a lot about tornadoes and hurricanes but never tsunamis. Tsunamis are devastating leaving villages underwater and millions of homes destroyed. A part of the book that really gave me the chills was when they talked about dumping all of the dead bodies in a pit. Millions of people drowned and they are separated from their families unaware if they are dead or alive. Also, they need so much help rebuilding and becoming a community again which takes time, people, and money. I think it is important that we teach kids about tsunamis and what they could do to help places that are experiencing the aftermath. What could we do in the classroom to get our students actively involved?

    • 2 Savannah A. May 3, 2015 at 1:28 pm


      This book sounds like a real page turner! I think its fascinating learning about earthquakes and tsunamis, since we don’t live in an area that is prone to those types of natural disasters. I think this book can help children from areas that aren’t prone to natural disasters really understand the effects they have on the people and their environment. Additionally, this book could be integrated into a science lesson and allow you to branch out and discuss other natural disasters. Furthermore, you could discuss areas that suffer from those natural disasters the most and have the students write a plan of actions for the after-math. This book sounds like a good summer read! Nice post!


    • 3 Alex Shiflett May 5, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      I also think this book would be an eye-opener for students, especially those who do not live near bodies of water as they would never experience a tsunami. I think that if the students were exposed to this type of natural disaster, the desire to help those in need would rise. I think if the students could fully put themselves in the shoes of those who have experienced a tsunami of such magnitude, the desire to help and inform others about this type of natural disaster.

      • 4 Emma Weiss May 2, 2016 at 8:41 pm

        I believe that this book does an amazing job of putting the reader in to the shoes of these two teenagers. The unspeakable things that were described in the book really plays on the emotions of the reader. The part of the book that was incredibly hard for me to read was when the bodies of all the dead people were being thrown in to a hole. This is graphic description, but one that will fuel the students to want to help in any way possible.

    • 5 Mikaela Knight May 5, 2015 at 5:00 pm

      I agree with you that it is important to expose our students to tragic events that happen around the world, whether current or in the past. I think reading books such as these gives students a chance to build understanding and empathy for people who are worlds away. Students have a hard time grasping these huge events, especially when they are so far away. By reading stories where students can connect and relate to the characters, they start to build a better worldview and can begin to become aware of important events happening around the world. I also agree with you when you said teachers can provide students with opportunities to help places in need. I think this is an excellent idea once finishing a story like this. Even if it is another place or tragedy they are helping, the idea is that they can do something and are learning that they can help make a difference. Teachers can encourage students to bring in food or goods that they don’t need to send; as a class they could make blankets and cards to send. There are so many options, both small and big that teachers could implement in their classroom.

    • 6 Ali Weber May 6, 2015 at 7:15 pm


      I really enjoyed your comments about The Killing Sea. This book sounds really interesting and it is making me want to start reading it right now! I agree with you that it is extremely important to teach students about natural disasters because it is the only thing in this world that humans cannot control. However, it could get to be a touchy subject with some students and you have to be careful on what you do and don’t teach. You could start a natural disaster squad with your kids and teach them how to be prepared in the event of a disaster. I really enjoyed reading your post! great job!


    • 7 Danielle November 25, 2015 at 12:01 am

      I, too, remember back in school when we would talk about natural disasters and things that could happen in the area where I live, however we rarely touched on tsunamis because that is not something that really occurs in the area where I am from. Things like this happen around the world and it can be very scary! However, children should we aware of these natural disasters and what can happen when they occur around the world.

      • 8 Savannah Quinn November 29, 2015 at 1:30 pm

        I agree with everything everyone said above. I think natural disasters are something that people never believe will actually happen in the area that they live in and it is completely devastating. I also agree that it is important to expose children to these kinds of books because it gives them a more realistic view on the work. Although this book was pretty graphic and had some heavy topics in it, I think it would be great to have students exposed to this kind of reading.
        – Savannah Quinn

      • 9 Emma Weiss May 2, 2016 at 8:54 pm

        I agree that students need to be aware of the natural disasters that occur around the world, but this book can do so much more than that. I can enlighten students on an exotic place that has been destroyed by a natural disaster. I would use this book at the end of a unit about Indonesia. The students would learn about the culture and landscape of Aceh and then read what this natural disaster did to the community they have learned about. This way the impact of the story would be much greater than just learning about the natural disaster.

    • 10 Miki Palagruto April 13, 2016 at 6:14 pm

      I think that this book is extremely interesting and hits on a lot of hard topics that students do not think about often. I think that it would be a great addition to the classroom. I think one way to get the students actively involved in this text would be through journalism. Students could journal as if they were a journalist covering the story or they could also have a diary between the characters.

      • 11 Emma Weiss May 2, 2016 at 8:48 pm

        The journalist idea would be great for students to incorporate research and writing into the subject. To elaborate on that idea students can research more about the author of the book, Richard Lewis. He witnessed the after math of the tsunami because he volunteered to help the people of Aceh, Indonesia. This author has a first hand experience that students can compare to the events i the story, and use these resources to elaborate on their research.

      • 12 Danielle Cullen May 16, 2016 at 2:20 pm


        I also like the idea of having students create a diary. I think it would be interesting to have students choose at the beginning of the story who to write as. Some students could be Sarah and other could be Ruslan. As they read each chapter, they can add another addition to their diary and see how their perception of the story and the characters change in the point of view of this character. It not only give student great practice and experience analyzing point of view, something they need to know for their common core standards, but it also allows them to step into someone else’s shoes and see how the world may look very different to one person than another.

    • 13 Danielle Cullen May 16, 2016 at 2:16 pm


      I agree that discussing national disasters is an important eye opener that students need to be exposed to. They can apply it to their own life and share stories of what they have seen. They can also prepare for the future and decide what to do to prepare for such a disaster. Another major eye-opener for students is the war that is going between the army and the freedom fighters as they try to control the post-tsunami area. I often find that students do not realize that war is still going on today, because it is not happening in their backyard. Reading this relatively contemporary book should serve well to expose students to the idea that injustice is still very real in the world and we need to work to create peace.

  2. 14 childrenslitblog May 3, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Richard Lewis has posted his own discussion guide and invites readers to contact him with suggestions:
    His website describes other books he has written.

    Additional information about The Killing Sea is available on

  3. 15 Elizabeth C. May 4, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    I read The Killing Sea and I found that it was a real page turner. It was about character vs nature. We teach our students different natural disasters and how they can be devastating. I like that the book took place in a different culture because students do not tend to read books from different cultures. So to have students think about how a natural disaster can affect that culture is important. I think we need to teach students about the different cultures. In the book, there is a scene with Sara and her mom and she says that they “should respect her culture.” I think that it is important for students to have an understanding of each of the different cultures and how one would act in that culture. This book can be integrated in many subject areas and I think it would be appropriate for ages maybe 3rd grade and up.

    • 16 Miki Palagruto April 13, 2016 at 6:34 pm

      I agree with you on the age limit that you expressed for this book. There were definitely some hard topics that were covered, such as the burial pits. The topic of humans vs nature is something that is not covered through typical children’s books so it is something that would be great to add to the classroom. The book being based in a different culture is something that would make this book even better to add into the classroom because many students have a lack of connection with other cultures.

  4. 17 Bethany Baer May 5, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    I also read The Killing Sea and I think it is a great book for students to learn about tsunamis and the areas in the world where tsunamis and earthquakes happen most frequently. I don’t ever remember learning about tsunamis in school and I was in middle school when this specific tsunami occurred. I think it is important for students to learn about how tragic and devastating a tsunami can be for the people affected by them. This book could be used across the curriculum for ELA, science, or even math. However, I think it is most important to see how the world rallies around a country that has just been devastated by a natural disaster. Just like Sarah and Ruslan, I want my students to see that they can rely on one another and help each other out in times of need or sadness.

    • 18 Hannah Cohan May 5, 2015 at 3:12 pm

      I really like your point that we don’t learn much about natural disasters in school, and as they are a real life tragedy, maybe we should be teaching about them. Books like this are a great learning device as it introduces mature topics that may frighten kids in a contextual way that opens students eyes. I also like your point that it could be used in many different subjects. It sounds like a great book.

    • 19 Danielle November 24, 2015 at 11:59 pm

      I agree with you when you say you think it is important for students to lean about these tragic things that happen around the world. Some children to not understand things that could be occurring around the world because they are not exposed to things like that. Having a student read this book in particular could be a little much, but touching on the different storms and tragedies that could occur around the world could help open their eyes some about what is going on in the rest of the world!

  5. 20 Ashley Sizemore May 5, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this book because of how well it brought me in to the time and place where the tsunami took place. In our society, tsunamis are not something that we typically are concerned with, which may leave us lacking knowledge on how serious this type of natural disaster can be. This book shows the reader how damaging tsunamis can be and how easily it can take lives. In school, I don’t remember every learning about tsunamis, probably because of how unlikely they are to come to our area. Despite their presence where I live, I still think it is important to be informed of what is going on around the world. Teaching a lesson on how and why tsunamis are prone to occur more in other parts of the world would be a great lesson for students, especially when I’ve seen first hand a class of fifth graders learning about natural disasters. By including tsunamis in their discussion, students will be able to become more aware of what happens around the world that they live in and how where they are from may differ.

    • 21 Cristina Brown November 25, 2015 at 7:12 pm

      I agree where we live we don’t focus on the things that can happen in other areas of the world, we only focus on what can immediately affect us. But I think it is important for students to be aware of things that can happen in different parts of the world, and by including something such as tsunamis in a theme it won’t take much time to add a few books and lessons on the topic. By reading books about those who suffer from these things can help the students put themselves in the shows of someone else, in order to be able to see the world from another perspective.

      • 22 Krista S May 16, 2016 at 6:03 pm

        I think that when including such a topic it would be key to focus on the idea of how we can help tsunami victims. There are several relief organizations that give aid in such crisis’s and it would not be hard to get students involved or if a tsunami has not impacted anywhere recently the students could develop a plan for how they could help in the future.

    • 23 Susan LeCompte April 2, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      I will absolutely agree with you on this. Were I live there are really bad tides and damaging high waters after hurricanes, but nothing like a tsunami. The descriptive details that the author uses to explain just how high the waters came and how damaging the water can actually be made the reader feel like they were right there when it happened. This book would be great to add with a unit on weather and natural disasters. The students could find the places on the map and see just how damaging a tsunami can be and how it can effect more than just one beach.

  6. 24 Ashley Daniels May 10, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    I cannot imagine experiencing something so devastating. We hear about natural disasters all of the time; but, when we hear about the gritty details, especially through of the eyes of someone with a first hand experience, it makes what happened more real to those of us who live miles and miles away from the tragedy. In order to get studnets actively involved in a tragedy such as this one, we could come together as a class and make cards explaining our sympathy for the surviviors and make care packages for them. We could also try to put ourselves in the shoes of those effected by the natural disaaster. We could discuss what we might do or what we might need in order to move on from the tragedy.

  7. 25 Savannah Quinn November 29, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    I agree with everything posted above. I think this type of book is something that children do not read everyday but it is important to expose them to tragedy. Although we do not live in an area where natural disasters occur often, it is still important for students to learn about other areas of the world. This book was very eye-opening and I think it would be great for students to read it.
    – Savannah Quinn

  8. 26 Danielle Strauss December 4, 2015 at 1:08 am

    I agree with everyone above. This book was very detailed and it helped me realize that those underdeveloped countries don’t have a lot of resources to recover from natural disasters like in this story. I thought it was a great idea that Richard Lewis broke each chapter into the different perspectives of each main character and then how they eventually come together. I think this would be a great book for older children to read about in a social studies class when learning about a new country or even learning about how countries come together when surviving/recovering something so brutal like a tsunami.

  9. 27 Danielle Michaels December 17, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    I think that The Killing Sea is a great book to show how people from different cultures are able to accept each other and work together. Throughout the book you watch the characters change and grow closer to one another. Ruslan and Sarah are from two completely different words brought closer together by this tragic event. Ruslan has to forget his initial thoughts about Sarah to realize that she is trying her best for her family now instead of remaining the complaining brat that she was before. When Ruslan noticed Sarah at his father’s coffee shop, Sarah had not even taken notice of him. She has to become more mature and realize that this boy, who she thought was insignificant at the beginning, could be the difference between life and death for her and her brother. The Killing Sea also gives you an insight into a different culture and the dangers that they face from the crazy nature around me.

  10. 28 Susan LeCompte April 2, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    The Killing Sea, written by Richard Lewis was a great novel, I found it hard to put it down. The novel is about the December 2004 tsunami that hit in the Indian Ocean. Lewis wrote a novel about a native boy from Indonesia and an american family that was vacationing in Indonesia at the time the tsunami hit. As the story goes about the author goes back and forth between the two stories at hand, how the American family ( The Bedford Family) has so many struggles with illness and trying to find a doctor and how the native boy (Ruslan) is trying to find his father. How the author went back and forth between the stories made it so easy to read, the reader gets excited and nervous to see what is going to happen next. When the two characters meet up with each other and help each other on their journey of surviving the tsunami it is so heart warming to see how people with very different backgrounds from very different places can come together when needed.
    Reading the story made me wonder: what would I do if I were in that kind of situation? Ruslan had put the search for his father on hold for a while as he helped Sarah Bedford find medical help for her younger brother. Would I have done the same? After seeing so much death and not knowing if my father made it though the tsunami or not, would I have wanted to help a stranger before finding my family? This story not only describes just how damaging tsunamis can be along with descriptions that are so detailed the reader feels like they are right there as it is happening, but it also has the reader thinking about their own character as a person and what would they do in a situation such as this.

  11. 29 Miki Palagruto April 13, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis was a book that I found extremely interesting. The book was a great read and something that I think would be a great addition to any classroom. It is definitely a book geared for older students because of the tough subjects that it hits on. Tsunamis are something that are very seldom covered in depth within schools in the US since it is not a disaster that we see very often. In all reality tsunamis are extremely dangerous and can affect anyone. Sarah and her family were vacationing over in Thailand when the tsunami struck. This shows that these disasters affect more than just the local people. I think that a lot could be done in the classroom with this book including journaling and diaries.

    • 30 Krista S May 16, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      I agree that such topics would be good to discuss in a classroom. I have several ideas that could relate to this topic such as science and social studies. I would expect students to struggle with some of these topics to help with this I think the books could be read as a class. I do not mean as a read aloud but in literature groups so that students could discuss the harder topics.

  12. 31 Danielle Cullen May 16, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    When reading this nook, I was thinking about how to turn this book into a whole unit. Students can learn about how tsunamis form and see their effects in action through inquiry-based science activities. The students could research the 2004 tsunami and other tsunamis to learn about the history of them. They could record the damages involved in major tsunamis over time to create a graph. The students could design and build their own preparation device or plan to help them survive a disaster like this. They could also engage in drama by reenacting some of the major parts of the book. Students could identify one of the many themes (social injustice, natural disasters, working together, etc.) and write a paper on it. The list goes on with the possibilities of incorporating this book into a whole integrated unit.

  13. 32 Krista S May 16, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    After reading the Killing Sea and being exposed to a different culture and a tragedy that I was not closely familiar with I have considered the implications of using the book in a classroom. Students could be exposed to a different type of culture through reading the book as well as get an insight to how other countries view Americans. The book could also be used around a science unit about waves, tsunamis, and natural disasters. Social studies could also be implemented as a unit. How would you use this book in a classroom?

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