Sarah and the Steep Slope
Little Hare, 2017
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
When Sarah opened her door one morning she was confronted by it. A steep slope. Blocking out the sun and casting a shadow across everything. Rising in front her like an insurmountable and impenetrable barrier. And so it proved to be.
Prodding and pushing didn’t move it, surprising it didn’t shake it and trying to sneak around it was hopeless. And when she tried to climb it, even with her climbing shoes, she got halfway and then slid all the way back down. How was she going to see her friends?
Nothing worked – even ignoring it didn’t make it go away and neither did the help of the slope doctor so he left clutching a lot of notes for Sarah’s friends and going out the door to a flat, sunlit landscape. Next day her friends visited her and they didn’t see the steep slope either. They stayed and played all day long. And the next day…
This is a sophisticated picture book for older readers who will appreciate its symbolism as Sarah tries to negotiate the steep slope that is only visible to her. Younger readers who are still at a very literal stage of development may not understand that the slope exists only in Sarah’s mind and that it is a representation of a problem that she perceives to have no solution.
If used in a class situation, students may make suggestions about the slope that is facing Sarah and be willing to share the “slopes” they have had to navigate – physical, academic, mental and emotional – and how they found their way, while others with slopes in front of them still may draw comfort and even hope that they are not alone and that there is a pathway they can follow. We are all faced with “slopes’ as we live and learn – some steeper than others but without them there is no progress in life – and part of the success of climbing them lies in being able to acknowledge and analyse the issue, break it into small steps, develop strategies to tackle each step, understand that others are willing and able to help and it is no shame to ask them, believe success is possible and engage in positive self-talk.
This is a story about the power of friendship, of having the courage to take the next step forward, of being resilient and acknowledging we are part of a village that we can seek support from and that there is always help and hope. The absence of Sarah’s family in her solution and her reaching out to a doctor rather than a parent suggest that sometimes the issue is within the family or it is not something the child feels comfortable talking about with a family member for a range of reasons, giving the reader the approval that it is okay to seek advice and assistance beyond the traditional helpers used as they have grown up without feeling guilty that they have betrayed anyone or hurt their feelings.
Apart from the concepts of symbolism, similes and metaphors and all that technical English language stuff, this is an important book in the mindfulness collection as we finally start to acknowledge the mental health issues for even the youngest children and help them develop the strategies and skills that will enable and empower them. Those are the important lessons teachers, and I use the word in its broadest sense, teach.