CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 8. . . .October 26, 2012
One Step at a Time continues with the true story of Tuyet, a Vietnamese orphan featured in Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War. (Vol. XVIII, No. 11, November 11, 2011). Tuyet has been adopted by a family in Toronto and faces the challenge of a new language and culture, but she also must contend with surgery on her ankle which was affected by polio. The story begins the night before Tuyet is to enter the hospital for the first time and takes the reader through her time in the hospital, her return home and subsequent fitting for a leg brace and orthopedic shoes so she may walk without crutches.
The narrative is descriptive, clear and utilizes language accessible to young learners. Photos illustrate very well the people, places and objects described in the story, such as the family home, the hospital and the orthopedic shoes. However the subject matter is not light as the topic of surgery and Tuyet’s fear of the associated pain begins on the second page of the book. And indeed, Tuyet is unable to communicate with the nurses and suffers more than she needs to after the surgery. While this is realistic, it is not subject matter which will captivate or interest young readers. Also, because polio is not mentioned or described until the historical note at the end of the story, and the narrative is sprinkled with flashbacks of the war, it is easy for a young reader to believe Tuyet has suffered from an injury rather than polio. These flashbacks serve to link the book to the previous one, but feature the loss of her mother, the experience of witnessing the explosion of bombs, and feelings of pain. These flashbacks are not well explained or situated. For these reasons, this book is best read as a sequel and is perhaps best suited for educational purposes.
The story does, however, powerfully capture the frightening experience of entering a hospital for surgery for the first time. The dialogue skillfully illustrates Tuyet’s unfamiliarity with what is happening to her body and what those around her are communicating, invoking deep sympathy from the reader. The author skillfully interweaves the challenges of life as a newcomer with the challenges of overcoming disability. As such, this book would be a valuable tool for initiating discussion in an educational setting.
Alicia Copp-Mökkönen is a teacher, librarian and researcher in education in Vancouver, BC.
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