Review – One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich

9780987380951Inspired by a true story, One Step at a Time exposes the unfortunate reality of the global landmine crisis through the prism of a friendship between a young boy and an elephant. Writer Jane Jolly and artist Sally Heinrich handle this subject with such deftness and clarity to ensure young readers grasp the predicament facing an estimated 70 countries around the world.

According to a 2003 edition of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, over 110 million mines had been spread throughout the world in an estimated 70 countries in the preceding 65 years. These indiscriminate weapons cost around $1 to produce, but around $1,000 to find and destroy, and the vast majority of incidents occur in regions with limited resources and substandard medical infrastructures. These are man-made devices afflicting dastardly mortality rates. The landmine crisis is real, and needs to be talked about.

Of course, the information above is as an ethereal backdrop to the story rather than its focus. One Step at a Time is actually a very uplifting tale. It begins with Mali, a young elephant exploring the border of Thailand and Burma, merrily going about her day, until one misplaced footstep sets off a landmine. Sally Heinrich portrays the devastation of the blast with a powerful two-page spread of black smoke and an enormous BOOM! printed in fiery red. When the smoke clears, poor Mali is clearly injured; unable to stand, utterly helpless. All because she trod on a bad patch of grass.

Thankfully a young boy, Luk, finds Mali, and supports her during her long recovery. They’re kindred spirits: both are victims of landmines, and both are fitted with prosthetic legs. Luk explains to Mali the arduous physiotherapy involved when adjusting to walking with prosthesis, but ensures she’ll be able to do so, and very soon she’ll be able to carry on as before, gaily exploring the jungle. Only from now on, she’ll have a companion: young Luk.

Ultimately a story about friendship and about overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, One Step at Time handles the subject of landmines with a soft touch. Working in wonderful harmony, Jolly and Heinrich have created an endearing tale for young readers that is both poignant and enlightening.  Children wanting to learn more will gain valuable insight from the page of facts at the book’s end, while there is plenty of information on the web about the inspiration for Mali, Mosha the elephant, who thrives with her prosthetic leg.

Simon McDonald

www.writtenbysime.com

Buy the book here…

Christmas Countdown – Kids’ reads to keep you calm and collected

If you’re already thinking how to fill the sleigh this Christmas, climb on in and assume the brace position because it’s only 44 more days until Christmas. Yes! As terrifying as that may sound, here are three fantastic new reads to lessen the impact. They are cheerfully Christmassy, are already, or destined to be classics and just perfect to start your countdown to Christmas in earnest with.

The Nights before ChristmasI don’t like to risk cavities on store-bought Advent calendars and don’t always have the time to make my own, so when The Nights Before Christmas: 24 Classic Stories to Share magically appeared, I bubbled with festive gratitude.

Twenty-four excerpts, poems, and yuletide stories even carol lyrics are thoughtfully brought together in a magnificently presented hardback anthology. Readers as young as seven will enjoy immersing themselves into this collection of traditional and contemporary tales but the real joy ignites when you spend each night with your child(ren) sharing the magic and anticipation of Christmas together.

Storytellers including Tolstoy, Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brother, Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Louisa May Alcott all contribute to the festive soirées but perhaps my favourite ‘night’ is Number 22, Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus; reaffirming once again that to simply experience magic one need only believe in it.

Lavishly illustrated in glorious full colour by acclaimed UK illustrator, Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas is the penultimate Advent Calendar for bibliophiles and true lovers of Christmas. This is one Christmas keepsake you won’t be throwing out with the Christmas crackers. Highly recommended.

Koala Books imprint of Scholastic October 2014

Mr Darcy and the Christmas PuddingMy November Christmas to-do list often involves provisioning the pantry with more festive goodies than anyone can eat and making the Chrissy Pud, which is why Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding by Alex Field and Peter Carnavas is included on this countdown list.

The ineffable Mr Darcy adores Christmas and having mastered his former social ineptitude with the help of his friends in the previous picture books, Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy and the Dancing Duck, prepares to involve them in a splendid yuletide celebration. He invites his nearest and dearest over on Stir-up Sunday to help bake the Christmas pudding but is somewhat disconcerted by the unexpected presence of Mr Collins.

Plucky ducky, Lizzy appeals to Mr Darcy’s more charitable side until he finally relents so that everyone, including Mr Collins, enjoys Christmas time, pudding and all.

As with all these titles, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding draws deliciously on Christmas traditions, mode a la Austen and how the expectation of the big event is often sweeter, more satisfying and twice as exciting as the day itself.

Pride and Prejudice fans have another one their collections. Three to six year-olds will be begging to lick the pudding bowl.

New Frontier Publishing November 2014

Tea and Sugar ChristamasAnother picture book that heralds the beginning of the festive season and is a definite keepsake for Christmases to come is Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen.

This is less of a picture book and more of a beguiling glimpse into the yesteryear life of Kathleen, a young resident of a settlement town along the Nullarbor Plain rail link back in the days when the Tea and Sugar Train travelled from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie once a week.

Jolly’s substantial prose ably transports us into Kathleen’s world past the ‘drooping peppercorn, bent acacias and scraggy salt bush’ as she eagerly awaits the provisions train in a heat so torrid her feet sear ‘like scones on a griddle’. Chocolate could only be brought in winter when it was less likely to melt.

Ingpen’s glorious line pencil drawings belie a world of colour as each page unfolds into a spectacular double panoramic spread emphasising the breathtaking enormity of the outback and the complexity of the Mixed Goods Train No 5205 aka The Tea and Sugar Train itself.

Tea and Sugar SantaBut what is so special about this week’s train, the one that every child on the Plains waits for on the first Thursday of December every year? Take the trip and find out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Tea and Sugar Christmas truly epitomises a child’s anticipation and expectations of Christmas no matter where or how they live. And as with all NLA publications, the fascinating factual inclusions ensure this is one of those special unexpected Christmas surprises you are sure to treasure.

National Library of Australia November 2014

Make room in the sleigh for more after you check out these fantastic gift ideas for kids from the Kids’ Reading Guide 2014. And stayed tuned for more fantastic pre-Chrissy posts guaranteed to keep you and your little ones inspired and excited and above all, well read!