CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 7. . . .October 15, 2010.
The Steps Across the Water.
Adam Gopnik. Illustrated by Bruce McCall.
New York, NY: Disney /Hyperion (Distributed in Canada by Doubleday Canada), 2010.
291 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12
Review by Janet M. Johnson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
So her father began telling her the long story that he had made up. “You were born far from us Rose, dropped accidentally in the snows of Russia. But we knew that you belonged here in New York with us, so Mother and I made a long journey to the snow lands to find you. We searched and searched through the wastes and wind until we came upon a house made of ice. And inside was the most beautiful baby girl that had ever been seen. And we said, ‘You are the child of the winter star, and you have been misplaced. Come home with us! And the beautiful baby nodded her head to mean yes, and that’s how the Princess of the Winter Snows came home with us to New York City.
The story in The Steps Across the Water is complex and unique. It is a modern fantasy blend of alternative worlds and a royal princess called to a heroic quest. Gopnik has intertwined events and characters within counterparts of the real world of New York and the surrealistic U Nork. Readers will enjoy the exaggerations of the miniature world and the exotic setting of the real one.
The Steps Across the Water is the story of Rose, an adopted child, her family and how Rose saves the tiny world of U Nork from destruction. One day, Rose is brought to the shop by a school friend, and on her way home, she drops her purchase of a smaller globe and it breaks. Is this a portent of what will happen to U Nork? The reader is not given an answer, and the puzzle remains to be deciphered. Later we learn that U Nork is actually a hidden in a snow globe at this shop.
Readers will also learn that Rose was adopted as a baby from an orphanage in Russia, and there is a mystery surrounding her birth and origins. We also learn that Rose has a speech impediment, which often makes her feel out of place and unaccepted by all her classmates, except for her one friend, Ethan, a rather short, sad little boy. One day while in the park with her brother and father, Rose spots a bridge which appears suddenly across Central Park Lake with people walking across it. Although this soon disappears like an apparition, the scene remains with Rose. Then, startling events occur more rapidly. One day on a school trip to the Empire State Building, this shy boy reveals himself to be a midget and not a child. He tells Rose that his mission is to ask for her help in saving his world, U Nork. Undaunted by all this sudden strangeness, Rose puts on her best coat, leaves her home at night, is pursued by a woman in a pink car, and crosses the bridge again with the little person as a guide to meet the mayor of this parallel world. Many readers may be uncomfortable with the author’s use of the derogatory term "midget” instead of the now familiar “little people”.
The book is written in an effervescent and brisk tone which will remind adult readers of glitzy cars, the jive and other things as quintessentially American as soda floats and Norman Rockwell. Some children will not relate to this language while others will enjoy the foreign tone of speech. Regardless, this tone further supports the unique nature of U Nork and contributes to the fantasy setting. Unfortunately, illustrations which are to be incorporated into the chapters were not available in the Advanced Reading Copy. Pictures of incidents, such as the episode where food is shot into hungry mouths, would appeal to most young readers.
As strange as the language and imagery are in the story, it works well as a fantasy. Good triumphs over evil, and Rose is returned to her proper family and acquires a sense of belonging. The concept of place is explored intelligently in this work from many viewpoints.
I would highly recommend this book to children with above average reading comprehension.
Janet M. Johnson is a librarian and instructor at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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