The Steps Across the Water
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The Steps Across the Water [Hardcover]

Adam Gopnik , Bruce McCall
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 5-7-Rose has an embarrassing speech impediment. Sometimes she switches around the beginnings of words, for example, calling her home, New York City, "U Nork" instead. During a trip to Central Park with her father and her brother, Oliver, from The King in the Window (Hyperion, 2005), she sees mysterious steps across the lake, but no one believes her. Soon after, classmate Ethan, now Louis, reveals to Rose that the steps are real and lead to U Nork, a flip-side New York City where, believe it or not, the pace is even faster and the people are ruder. Its citizens are in trouble, and it's Rose's face they've been seeing in the sky as the only one who can save them. The rip-roaring plot is laced with original and fantastical characters who fully enjoy 20-second lunches shot into their mouths with small cannons and use giant pigeons as taxis. Gopnik's writing is sharp and smart, and U Nork is an exciting place. Readers will cheer for Rose and her friends and have more than an occasional chuckle along the way. McCall's glossy, full-color, full-page illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and help create the feel of a modern fairy tale.-Mandy Lawrence, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

Oliver, the hero of Gopnik’s The King in the Window (2005), plays second banana to his fourth-grader sister, Rose, in this inventive fantasy adventure. A chance occurrence—well, maybe it’s chance—leads New Yorker Rose across a hidden bridge to U Nork, an Oz-style secret city that’s in many ways a mirror of New York (instead of Central Park, they have Sin-Trail Park). In other ways, though, it’s different: buildings are so tall it takes all day to ride elevators, and life is so hectic that cooks use cannons to fire meals across the street into diners’ waiting mouths. It’s a wonderfully imagined blend of 1920s detail—everything is marble and mahogany, and zeppelins are prevalent—with a fantastical drama involving a mystical invader known as the Ice Queen, who is hell-bent on destroying the city . . . and guess who’s supposed to stop her? The wackiness, deliriously inventive at first, eventually generates diminishing returns, but this will capture plenty of fancies, and Gopnik’s love of New York—a place where “it’s secret upon secret upon secret”—is infectious. Grades 4-7. --Daniel Kraus

About the Author

ADAM GOPNIK grew up in Montreal. He is best known as a staff writer for the New Yorker, and as the author of Paris to the Moon, an account of five years he and his family spent in the French capital. He is also author of the children's book The King in the Window.

BRUCE MCCALL is a Canadian author and illustrator best known for his contributions to the New Yorker. He has also written sketches for Saturday Night Live. He lives in New York City. Visit him at

From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One
Across the Bridge

If Rose had been looking the other way when Oliver was talking to their father, she might never have seen the crystal staircase suddenly arch over the Central Park lake, and the two small figures looking carefully at Rose before skipping over the steps.
“Look!” she called out.
But by the time anyone did, the steps had already begun to recede, noiselessly, into the lake, shimmering for a moment, like an image going out of focus on a television set.
It wasn’t exactly a lake—just a pond, really—but it was right in the middle of Manhattan, the densest and most crowded borough in the city of New York.
Rose was trailing behind her brother, Oliver, and their father as they tossed a football back and forth on the great oval lawn.
It was a perfect fall Sunday in the park, high October, and a cool breeze cut through the sunny afternoon. Leaves and litter skimmed across the lawn. Gusts of wind caught Rose’s dress and teased it slightly upward, clutching it to her around the knees as she tramped through the leaves.
The sun cast long, golden, slanting shadows along the edge of the grass. Gone were the shouting summer crowds of softball players and barefoot Frisbee catchers. Only old couples sitting on park benches were left, and harried-looking students turning the pages of their books, which the wind tipped over. A few dogs pulled at their leashes on the walk that encircled the lawn, but their owners didn’t let them wander onto the grass.
Rose sighed. She wanted a dog so badly. But she could never have one, because her mother was allergic to dog dander. Even when they went to a pet store, her mom wept and sneezed.
Oliver and her dad threw passes back and forth in the long shadows, and encouraged each other with congratulations and shouts. A single pink helium balloon from a child’s birthday party floated away in the sky overhead.
All around the park the great towers of Manhattan loomed, crowding around as though they were giants on tiptoe, struggling to look down at the people at play. Looking east, Rose could even see the twelve stories of the apartment building where she lived. Looking south, she could see Belvedere Castle and the mysterious hills and paths of the Ramble that lay behind.
And that was when she saw it—a glass staircase sweeping up as suddenly as a rainbow, arcing across the lake at the end of the lawn. On the steps, two tiny figures in long overcoats, with one wreath of smoke around their heads, raced up and across the steps, taking quick, frightened looks backward.
“Look—there are steps across the water!” Rose exclaimed, pointing toward the lake.
Oliver and their father stopped playing catch.
“Where?” asked Oliver.
“Right there! Look! Right there!”
But the steps were gone by the time they turned around.
“That’s very nice, sweetie,” her dad said. Rose could tell by his tone of voice that he didn’t believe her.
“Dad!” she said. “I really saw something—glass steps going out across the water. And two children running across them.”
Rose. You’re just looking for attention,” Oliver said.
“I am not. I saw them. They were real.”
Rose,” Oliver said.
“Don’t ‘Rose’ me,” Rose said.
“Well then, stop making things up.”
“I didn’t!” Her bottom lip began to quiver.
“Oh, toughen up a bit, kiddo,” Oliver said.
Rose turned and started running away back down the path toward the park gate. They always treated her as if she was . . . little. Even a baby. Oliver teased her about being young, and small, and though she knew he didn’t really mean it in a cruel way, it was still incredibly annoying.
“Oliver!” warned their Dad, running after her. He tried to scoop her up. She resisted.
“Baby, Ollie didn’t mean . . .”
She looked out longingly at the people who were walking their dogs at the edge of the lawn. There were big dogs and little dogs, snarly dogs and yappy dogs, ugly dogs with long snouts and sharp ears, and beautiful dogs with soft ears and fluffy coats. Every dog had an owner at the end of its leash. It was as if there was a magical connection between them, Rose thought: each person would never be lonely as long as they had their dog, and each dog knew that he could never be lonely as long as he had his owner. . . . If she had a dog, at least he would believe her about the steps.
Now Oliver was there, too. He put his arm around her and drew her close and kissed her still plum and blooming cheek.
“Hey, I’m sorry, Miss Tubs,” he said. He was really very fond of his little sister. Rose pulled away a little bit. But only a little.
Suddenly, a loud flutter of wings rose from the other end of the Great Lawn. They all turned. A flock of gray pigeons, hundreds of them, was flying from the trees on the east side of the Great Lawn, toward the West Side.
“What’s making them do that?” their father asked.
“There must be something chasing them!” Oliver answered. Rose couldn’t help but look up, too. She saw a single red-tailed hawk swooping down toward the terrified pigeons.
“It’s the hawk! It’s Pale Male!” Oliver said.
Rose remembered having read once about Pale Male, the famous hawk in New York City that lived high up on the balcony of an apartment building on expensive Fifth Avenue. For a while, the rich people who lived there tried to get rid of him: some people said it was because he was a nuisance, and others because he wasn’t paying any rent. But lots of children and other sane people signed a petition to let him stay in his nest, and he did. This was good for everyone but the pigeons in Central Park.
Oliver laughed. “Go, Pale Male!” he shouted.
The pigeons seemed to make it safely into the leaves. The hawk hovered above the lawn, circling it, and then suddenly zoomed right out of the sky toward the western trees. The terrified pigeons, with the same clatter and coo, all flew in a dark gray cloud back across the lawn.
“Go, pigeons!” Rose whispered to herself. Her heart held tight as she watched them all make it safely across the way.
“What happens to the baby pigeons? I’ve always wondered,” Rose asked their father, after she was sure the gray city birds were hidden in the trees.
Rose, don’t you know that’s the oldest question in the book?” Oliver said, laughing. “The answer is . . .”
Their father’s cell phone sang out, and he picked it up. He seemed to spend half his life on his cell phone.
“Just a second, baby,” he said. “I’ll get right off.”
“Hey, Rosie,” Oliver said suddenly. “Look what I found.” And he pointed to a small dead mouse.
Rose made a face.
“No, it’s good for the hawk!” Oliver said gently. “Hawks are always hungry. And this one doesn’t have a mother to find him delicious tidbits. I read all about it. He’s a motherless hawk.”
“I don’t exactly feel sorry for him,” Rose said. “I mean, it’s sad when anyone doesn’t have a mother. But he’s making a lot of motherless pigeons.”
Oliver ignored her. “He’s hungry. We have to take care of him. Look—we just have to put it on something bright that he can see from high above so that he’ll notice the scrumptious smelly dead mouse carcass.”
Rose knew that he was trying to make her shudder, so she ignored him.
“I know!” he said. “My sock!” And without another word he untied one of his sneakers, pulled off his bright red athletic sock, and carefully laid the dead mouse upon it.
“Mom will be furious at you for using your sock as a mouse plate,” Rose whispered.
“I’ll tell her you took it to make a puppet with,” he said. She must’ve looked worried, because he added, “No, not really. I’ll think of something. But how can Pale Male miss that?” he said, pointing at the sock. “A delicious mouse on a red platter. Mmmmm!”
Rose still felt queasy, and she didn’t want to look at the dead mouse, of course; but she was impressed, as she often was, by her brother’s practical mind. For, only moments later, Pale Male the hawk did come swooping down, grabbed the mouse in his ferocious talons, and then flew away again, as Oliver jumped with pleasure. She did, too, though she looked as she jumped, to see if the steps across the water had reappeared.
“I did see something, Oliver,” she hissed a few minutes later, as they turned down a crowded street, the empty park and their lagging father behind them.
“Hey, Rosie, if you say you saw it, you saw it,” he said calmly. But Rose knew that he meant just the opposite.
“I did see it,” she said. “It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in U Nork!” Her heart fell in her chest as she said it. Now he would really tease her.
She had meant to say “New York.” But Rose had a mild speech impediment, and often when she was excited, she switched around the first sounds of words. When s... --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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