________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 16. . . .December 18, 2009


The Next Step. (Streetlights).

Beth Pollock.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2009.
127 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55277-441-0.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Laura Dunford.

**** /4



Clara nodded. She ached to talk about Mama, to tell Daddy how she missed her every day. But Daddy had that sad look on his face. If she talked about Mama, it might hurt both of them. She said nothing.

Clara Cooper’s family is beginning to adjust to the loss of her mother, but her father is hardly ever home, and when he is, it seems like her little brother, two-year-old Calvin, gets all his attention. Clara can’t bring herself to tell her father how much she hates her ballet classes or ask for new clothes when she’s outgrown everything she has. That is what she used to talk to her mother about, and Clara is afraid of upsetting her father. And the third grade isn’t any easier than life at home. Clara has to deal with a class bully and figure out how to get Jenny to forgive her for telling lies. As the ballet recital approaches, Clara begins to learn that being truthful and open with the people you love (and maybe even the ones you don’t) is a big part of the healing process and the first step in moving forward.

     The Next Step is a thoughtful and engaging book that tells the story of a grieving family living under realistic circumstances. Clara’s narrative is not monopolized by her grief; she still deals with issues of developing friendships and sibling rivalry. She is a sympathetic and likeable character who endures and triumphs over relatable childhood mortifications. Her relatable experiences extend the reader’s empathy over what may be unfamiliar territory: Clara’s confusion over the death of her mother, and the new state of her family and her role in it.

     The readily identifiable setting strengthens the realistic quality of the narrative. Clara lives in Toronto and visits landmarks, such as the CN Tower, that young readers will recognize. Her voice is also authentic. Short, simple sentences are infused with the quirky logic and concerns that plague the minds of eight-year-olds all over Canada. The Next Step is a bittersweet read with an inspiring young protagonist that young female readers will love.

Highly Recommended.

Laura Dunford is a student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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