Friday, 17 June 2016

One Step At A Time by Jane Jolly

At the beginning of the CBCA shortlist period, I like to remind myself what the criteria are for the judges.

I try to keep these in mind as I read and review the books on offer each year.

The judging criteria were updated at the end of last year. Click here for the full information sheet.

One Step At A Time by Jane Jolly and illustrated by Sally Heinrich has been nominated for the Picture Book of the year award.

CBCA Picture Book of the Year awards will be made to outstanding books of the Picture Book genre in which the author and illustrator achieve artistic and literary unity, or, in wordless picture books, where the story, theme or concept is unified through illustrations. 

Unity seems to be the key word for this section. Which helps me to understand why, in the past, some of my favourite picture books (thanks to their glorious illustrations) haven't won. There needs to be that magic synchronicity between the words and the pictures for the book to actually win.

I confess that I wasn't really sure how a children's picture book about the landmine issue in Southeast Asia was going to work. And after my first reading of One Step At A Time, I was still somewhat doubtful. But several readings later, with some time for it to sit and work its magic, I have come to admire this picture book and it's aims a lot.

But it's a difficult topic to get just right in picture book format.

Heinrich's hand coloured lino cut prints are wonderful. I love her choice of colour palette, her use of borders and the sense of depth and texture in each block.

Each page is a work of art.

The story begins with one small step, followed by an act of violence - an image that we are spared as the violence occurs behind a black double page with a loud BOOM! splashed across it.

In my case, though, the imagined violence behind the BOOM! was probably worse than anything Heinrich and Jolly had in mind.

This is a story book for young readers, so there is no blood and gore on display. Which I, personally, don't mind as there is more than enough blood and gore in our movies and books and on the daily news.

But the almost pristine clean images in One Step At A Time seemed to deny any horror at all and it was to hard to see what awful thing had happened to young Mali, the elephant.

But of course, the horrible thing did happen.

And Mali's story is based on the real plight of Mosha, who is now nine years old and has just received her latest prosthetic leg to keep pace with her growing body.

Jolly, Heinrich and their publishers, Midnightsun, have created a webpage full of information about Mosha, landmine news, and book launch related news. They have teachers notes and information about SafeGround. And, wonderfully, whole posts about Heinrich's creative process with lots of photographs to pour over.

If I had any doubts left about how a story about landmines could be translated into Australian schools, the reams of drawings and letters from local schools that had tackled this topic under the conflict, violence and peace learning area were impressive and inspiring.

Jolly and Heinrich obviously worked closely together on this project.

There are times where Jolly's words reveal more than the prints, and others, like the final page, where Heinrich's illustrations convey the missing part of the story that makes you catch your breath when it is revealed.

Thought provoking, and, yes, a worthy nominee for this year's picture book award.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.


  1. I'd seen the cover for this one, but not read it, and I didn't realise the subject matter- land mines is certainly a tricky picture book subject... I love the illustrations you included. I look forward to reading this one- the best picture books do need several readings.

    1. The illustrations throughout the whole book are stunning Louise.
      It was the research I did after I read the book that helped me to appreciate it more.


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