‘Sarah and the Steep Slope’ is a deceptively simple, yet deep, story presented as a metaphor for young children struggling to go out into the world. When young Sarah opens the door, all she can see is a very steep, densely patterned slope that appears impossible to climb. It blocks out the sun. It casts a shadow across her house. Sarah cannot climb it or go around it. Distraught, she visits the slope doctor, leaving him with notes that he posts to her friends. The very next day Sarah’s friends arrive and play with her all day long, braving bridges, scaling mountains and helping each other when they are tired or fall.
The author’s initial language cleverly captures Sarah’s sense of despair. Opening sentences that describe Sarah’s first interactions with the slope are short and sometimes incomplete. These contribute to a sense of unease. Such expression signals to the reader that Sarah is struggling and needs help. Illustrations by Matt Ottley match this sense of unease with his initial sloping and leaning objects, including words, both inside and outside the house. After Sarah’s visit to the doctor, the language returns to a regular pace, reflecting a rejuvenated Sarah.
Matt Ottley’s illustrations capture Sarah’s initial dismal mood and sadness through her body language and when she cannot mount the slope. This intricately patterned slope appears foreboding and insurmountable. His images then capture Sarah’s playful, cheerful and rambunctious friends. They interact in an imaginary adventure land that helps to restore Sarah to her lively self. She knows her friends will lend a helping hand whenever needed.
Matt Ottley’s signature illustrations feature. There is a humorous, highly supportive pet dog mimicking Sarah’s every emotion and offering support. Unusual perspectives include the slope and a cliff edge reflecting moments when Sarah needs a helping hand. When Sarah feels she can climb no further, ‘her friends held out their hands and helped her up’. ‘Sarah and the Steep Slope’ is a warm and comforting story confirming that help is there for those who feel unable to (metaphorically) climb any slope.