Review: Pearl Verses the World

Murphy, Sally. Pearl Verses the World. Illustrated by Heather Potter. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2011. First published in Australia, 2009. Grades 3-6.

For all of Pearl’s life family has meant Pearl, her mom, and her granny. But now Granny is slipping away from them, slowly losing her memories and her life, and turning Pearl’s world upside down. Pearl’s heart and mind are always at home with Granny and her mom, who is on compassionate leave from her work in order to care for her dying mother. Pearl’s teacher is unaware of her grieving and fails to notice how she has separated herself from her friends and classmates. Miss Bruff’s insistence that Pearl write poetry with rhyme and rhythm is turning her into the enemy in Pearl’s mind:

Miss Bruff wants us to write poems.
I am.
Miss Bruff wants poems that rhyme.
Mine don’t.
Rhyme is okay sometimes,
but my poems don’t rhyme
and neither do I.

Readers ache with Pearl as she faces the coming loss of her beloved granny with no caring adult, other than her overburdened mother, to listen to her fears and share her heartache. Adult readers will want to whisper in Miss Bruff’s ear, “Your job is to be a caring, compassionate guide. She’s hurting! Listen to her. Care about her. She needs you,” as Pearl writes:

At school Miss Bruff
is still wanting poems.
Good ones, she says.
With lots of rhyme
and rhythm.
Miss Bruff, I’d like to say,
There is no rhythm in me.
There is no rhythm in my life.
How can I write it down
on a page
when it isn’t there?
But Miss Bruff is not
that kind of teacher.

It is not until Granny dies that her teacher becomes aware of Pearl’s pain and slowly realizes her gift for poetry, a gift that had been instilled and nurtured by her granny, a gift that helps Pearl cope with her loss and move toward acceptance.

The title of this slender volume is doubly apt. Pearl writes about her life and world in free verse, but the title also reflects how alone Pearl feels, how she seems to be fighting a solitary battle, Pearl versus the world. It’s a heartbreaking battle, but one that Pearl is winning, and one that will reassure young readers that they, too, can be victorious over grief and loss. Australians Sally Murphy and illustrator Heather Potter are a strong team, beautifully capturing emotion without being maudlin and sharing hope without being cliched or didactic.

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About kstreet245

I'm a teacher librarian with Norman Public Schools and adjunct instructor for children's literature at the University of Oklahoma School of Library and Information Studies. I've been married to Ken since 1975, and we have two wonderful children, both married. We have no grandchildren, but instead are "owned" by three dachshunds. We are active members of Country Estates Baptist Church in Midwest City, OK, teaching Sunday School, playing handbells, keyboards, and percussion, and singing in the choir. I enjoy reading, crafts, travel, and nice, long naps when I can work them in!
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