Pearl Verses the World
By Sally Murphy
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 8/23/2011
Summary from NetGalley: Pearl likes to write poems, but despite the insistence of her teacher, Ms. Bruff, Pearl’s poems don’t rhyme, and neither does she. She wishes she could grow gills so she could stay underwater in swim class without drowning. And she hasn’t a clue why perfect Prudence bumps her desk and sends her pencils flying. Pearl thinks there’s no nicer sound than the bell at the end of the day, even though back at home Granny, always a crucial part of their family of three, sometimes doesn’t recognize Pearl, and Mom is tired from providing constant care. In a lyrical novel told with clear-eyed sympathy, humor, and heart, Sally Murphy follows a girl who holds fast to her individuality even as she learns to let go—and in daring to share her voice, discovers that maybe she’s not a group of one after all.
Review: This was a very short read (80 pages), but it was such a sad story. I felt sorry for the little girl, Pearl. Her teacher, Ms. Bruff does not understand her poetry because it does not rhyme. Pearl feels like Ms. Bruff is always looking at her with disapproval, leading to Pearl’s feelings of being a “group of one.” When her grandmother dies—after a long battle with dementia—Pearl has a need to share her feelings, but has trouble finding the words. At the funeral, she shares a poem that she writes about her grandmother. In doing so, she releases her feelings and shows Ms. Bruff that not all poems have to rhyme.
The poems were quick and easy to read. Most of the pages had simple sketch drawings to help illustrate the book. I do not typically read middle grade novels, but I thought it might be something my students would read. After finishing the book, however, I’m not convinced any of my students would read this book without my probing. It was a very sad story. As a piece of writing, I think it would be worth using in class if we discussed the underlying themes and the idea of coping with loss of a family member. I think the book would be best suited for a child struggling with loss.