One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way Reviews

The Horn Book Magazine

OneStepAtATime“Skrypuch’s Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War (rev. 9/12) told the dramatic story of eight-year-old Tuyet’s 1975 rescue from Saigon aboard a giant plane filled with babies in cardboard boxes. This sequel describes Tuyet’s adjustment to life with her adoptive Canadian family, the story’s drama this time revolving around the surgery she must have on her leg. Polio has left Tuyet with one leg that’s weak and smaller than the other: “Her ankle turned inward, making her foot useless. She had to limp on the bone of her ankle to get around.” Memories of fire, bombs, helicopters, and a hospital—things she thought she’d forgotten—come flooding back, and Tuyet is all alone in the hospital (no parents allowed) and knows no English. Readers will be just as riveted to this quieter but no-less-moving story as Tuyet bravely dreams of being able to run and play—a new concept for a girl who has spent her days caring for babies. Especially satisfying is Skrypuch’s portrayal of Tuyet’s growing trust in her adoptive family, whose love and affection never fail to amaze and thrill her. Illustrated with photos. Includes notes, further resources, and an index.”
—Jennifer M. Brabander

School Library Journal

“In this continuation of Last Airlift  (Pajama Press, 2012), eight-year-old Tuyet is now adjusting to life with her Canadian adoptive family, the Morrises. She is uneasy about sleeping alone after years in a crowded orphanage and is troubled by recurring nightmares of the war. In addition to the trauma she has endured, Tuyet suffers from the painful effects of having had polio. One of the book’s many touching scenes occurs when Mrs. Morris buys the child her first new footwear. She delights at the prospect of getting shiny red shoes, even though the left one could not be worn, due to her shrunken leg and twisted foot. Her mother does not give up until she finds a soft, red slipper that fits over Tuyet’s left foot, making the pair complete. Skrypuch only describes Tuyet’s first operation and subsequent therapy, and her first steps using a leg brace, an orthopedic shoe, and crutches. In her notes, she details five additional surgeries, ending with the operation that made the child’s legs the same length. To capture accurate details more than three decades after these events happened, the author interviewed Tuyet’s two adoptive sisters, her surgeon, and the hospital archivist as well as Tuyet herself. A historical note about the eradication of polio in North America and suggestions for ways to help make universal vaccination a reality are appended. The black-and-white cover photo of Tuyet’s face looking apprehensive and earnest is of a better quality than the handful of rather grainy ones in the text. An inspiring story that will appeal to a wide audience.”
—Deborah Vose, Highlands Elementary School, Braintree, MA

Kirkus Reviews

“New in Canada and unable even to understand the language, Tuyet faces a painful operation to straighten an ankle bent by polio years earlier in Vietnam.

Skrypuch continues the story she began in Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War (2012), but it’s not necessary to have read the first to appreciate this true story of healing. Drawing on her subject’s reminiscences, the author describes Tuyet’s operation and subsequent recovery with sympathy and respect. Although this takes place in 1975, it seems immediate. Seven-year-old Tuyet secretly dreams of being able to kick a ball and play with other children. As long as she can remember, she has only been able to watch. Shortly after her adoption by the Morris family, a Vietnamese-speaking woman comes to explain that she will be having an operation. After, another Vietnamese speaker visits her in the hospital and gives her a piece of paper with Vietnamese and English words she can point to when she needs something. Otherwise, this brave child endures this frightening experience without the ability to communicate. Her eventual joy at having red shoes that match and, even better, a brace and ugly brown built-up shoe that allow her to stand on her own two feet, is infectious.

Readers of this moving refugee story will celebrate as well. (Nonfiction. 9-12)


“In this sequel to Last Airlift (2012), Vietnamese orphan Tuyet, now rooted and happy in her adoptive Toronto family, is terrified of the surgery she has to undergo to straighten her leg and ankle, which were left twisted from the polio she contracted in Saigon. As she lies in the hospital recovering from the operation, her leg in “cement,” she is haunted by nightmares of the past and by her fear of losing her present home. Is there something she has done to upset Mom and Dad? Are they sending her away? Unable to speak English, she cannot ask for help in the hospital, and her confusion about what is happening now forms the story’s drama. Occasional black-and-white photos show Tuyet at home in Toronto with her loving parents and siblings. Along with the true personal story, the facts about polio across the globe, past and present, will grip readers.”
Hazel Rochman

Resource Links

“One Step at a Time is an easy-to-read book about Tuyet, a Vietnamese girl adopted by a Canadian family. It is the sequel to Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War and picks up where that book leaves off. Tuyet suffers great pain from having a weak ankle. Just weeks after her adoption, her new family decides Tuyet should have surgery to correct the problem. Tuyet goes through the surgery, learns to use crutches, and takes physiotherapy in the hope of one day being able to walk confidently on her own two feet.

At the same time, Tuyet, who speaks little English, is learning about her new family, new home, and new culture and is healing from terrifying experiences in Vietnam. Events that seem ordinary to many Canadian children are extraordinary for Tuyet, and we share her confusion and delight as situations—such as a flaming cake and a pile of pretty boxes, or the passing of a crop-dusting airplane—begin to resolve into meaning.

This is a gentle non-fiction telling of a particular period in Canadian history and of the experience of being a new immigrant with health concerns. Notes in the end matter provide some useful context for readers who may not understand the significance of polio or the conventions of narrative non-fiction. Black-and-white photos, including pictures of Tuyet and her family, add to the reading experience. Although Tuyet’s experiences are unusual and sometimes frightening, the narrative is full of love, kindness, and comfort.

One Step at a Time is a good choice for sensitive young readers interested in non-fiction about other children, other cultures, and recent history; it may be eye-opening for many readers. Although aspects of Canadian culture have changed, the disorientation that new Canadians experience may be similar to Tuyet’s. The book is likely to encourage many questions and wide-ranging discussion in a reading group, and the story is highly likeable. Readers do not need to know the author’s earlier book about Tuyet to understand this one, but many will want to read more about this brave and spirited girl.”
Leslie Vermeer

International Reading Association: Social Justice Book Reviews

“This companion book to Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War (2012) provides the chapters that follow in the life of young Tuyet, a Vietnamese orphan stricken with polio and raised in a Vietnamese orphanage until her adoption by a Canadian family. As Tuyet becomes part of her new family, she also faces the surgeries that are required to repair her inward-turning foot. Unable to speak much English, the young girl is frightened by the hospital and surgical lights, the doctors, the consultations and examinations since she is still dealing with the nightmares of war-torn Vietnam and near-death experiences with guns and helicopters. As the surgeries conclude and the painful physical therapy begins, her new life starts to take shape. The cover of the book and the red shoes pictured take on a very special meaning by the end of this heart-warming book that will leave readers in tears. Teachers can read an interview with the author on the back matter for her book.”
—Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

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School Library Journal: Lost Childhood

In a recent article titled “Lost Childhood,” School Library Journal contributor Kathleen St. Isaacs highlighted books “about child refugee experiences and children who’ve found safe havens, but have haunting memories.” The selections are “emotionally rich narratives, often with a political subtext.”

“…One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way

Gr. 4–6—A seven-year-old Vietnamese refugee, newly arrived in Canada and unable to understand the language, faces a painful operation to straighten an ankle bent by polio. Tuyet’s poignant story was begun in Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War (2012) but readers don’t have to have read that to enjoy this story of healing.”

Learn more about School Library Journal here

The International Examiner

“…as a poignant story of compassion, perseverance and recovery, Skrypuch’s writing provides a platform for opening a dialogue on the repercussions of war and violence, as well as global health in regard to polio. As such, the story is perfect for bringing together multiple generations of readers.”

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Smithsonian BookDragon

“…From learning to blow out birthday “fire” and realizing that the beautiful wrapping paper is meant to be torn, to not grabbing her baby brother and seeking shelter at the sound of an airplane, to being able to balance well enough on her own two legs to kick a soccer ball, Tuyet takes her new life – and her steadily recovering legs – one glorious, triumphant step at a time.

…Readers, too – especially younger readers who might be facing any sort of adversity – will surely appreciate Tuyet’s inspiring experiences. Step by step, Skrypuch shows with forthright clarity how Tuyet becomes her own very best hero.”
BookDragon is a media initiative of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

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Good News Toronto: books to help kids through new beginnings

“One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (published by Pajama Press)is the true story of Tuyet, an orphaned refugee from wartorn Vietnam who is adopted by a Canadian family. Life in a strange country with a new language presents many challenges, including the first of six operations to repair her left leg, which was deformed by polio. Through incredible determination and strength of character, along with the support of her family, Tuyet learns to walk without the aid of crutches. Readers 8 to 11 years old will marvel at Tuyet’s perseverance and laugh at moments when she reveals her unfamiliarity with Canadian customs, such as when Tuyet doesn’t understand why her first-ever birthday cake is ‘on fire.’”

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Winnipeg Free Press

“While the story is told from Tuyet’s viewpoint, it is a non-fiction account, written for an eight-12 age group and illustrated with black-and-white photographs of Tuyet and the Morrises, who became her family.

Skrypuch, who has published a number of both picture books and juvenile novels, many on the theme of Ukrainian immigration, does a good job of portraying Tuyet’s feelings as she faces the uncertainties of a new country, a new home and frightening surgery.”

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Jean Little Library

“Skrypuch’s simple language captures the fear and bewilderment of a girl who’s barely had time to deal with the trauma of her escape from Vietnam and new life in a strange country when she’s confronted with yet another frightening experience. Tuyet still doesn’t speak English and although she knows they’re trying to fix her leg, she doesn’t understand why they’re doing it the way they are. However, with the help of friends she makes it through the operation. Then the real work begins as she struggles with physical therapy and recovery. However, Tuyet has boundless determination and insists on standing on her own two feet, both emotionally and physically, and finally triumphs. Along the way there are incidents and growing experiences that give the reader a good look not only at Tuyet’s childhood but also at the time period…Recommended.”

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Love Builds Families adoption website

“Tuyet was born in Vietnam and raised in an orphanage until a family in [Canada] adopts her. Tuyet was stricken with polio which has left her leg weak and her foot twisted. She needs to have a series of operations to help her walk again and this is her story. Tuyet doesn’t speak English and is very scared about what is happening, but her parents find people to translate for her to help her along until she learns English. This is a story of bravery, love, and courage.”

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“Marsha Skrypuch has written two short books for young readers that tell the story of eight year old Son Thi Anh Tuyet, a Vietnamese orphan who was adopted by a family from Brantford, Ontario. Living in an orphanage in Saigon, in 1975, Tuyet  had been crippled by polio when younger and was suffering from psychological trauma as a result of  her experiences during the Vietnam War…

These two books will serve as a gentle introduction for younger children to an event known as the Fall of Saigon and also the Vietnam War. Skrypuch’s books can also be used as the jumping point for children learning about the Vietnamese refugees who came to Canada in the mid-1970′s.”

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CanLit for LittleCanadians

“Just as she so eloquently did in Last Airlift, Marsha Skrypuch gently takes the reader by the hand to observe the young girl’s new life from Tuyet’s viewpoint…  Not the princess dreams and perfect endings of fairy tales, Tuyet’s story is all the more satisfying when her anxieties and confusions are resolved fittingly, just as her shoes are, though not perfectly, and provide the hope necessary to help her take her next steps.  A wonderful tale of making things fit, whether they be people or shoes.”
—Helen Kubiw

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