Inspired 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.