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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pearl Verses the World, written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Heather Potter. Candlewick, Random House. 2011. $17.00 ages 6 and up

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

Three women live in Pearl's house..Pearl, her mother and her grandmother. Her grandmother has Alzheimer's and her mother is providing the care that she needs to keep her at home. Their life together is basically happy when Pearl is there. School is a different story. At school, Pearl feels alone and lonely. She does not belong to any of the obvious groups...ballet, soccer, library. She sees herself as a group of one.

Her grandmother's illness and the need for more care than her mother can provide is upsetting to Pearl, and she is struggling even with day-to-day happiness at home. When her grandmother dies, Pearl loses one of her most precious and loving companions:

"If you take one away,
we won't be whole
like a shoe without a lace
or a flower with no petals.
It takes three
to make our family,
never one or two."

One of the complications of her school life is a class poetry unit. Miss Bruff wants one thing, and Pearl finds a rhyming, rhythmic format impossible to use when her goal is to express herself through her poetry. She finds the requested format limiting. Her grandmother has taught her that poetry does not have to rhyme:

"Why, Pearl, didn't you know
a poem does not have to rhyme? 
It does not have to be written 
in a certain way 
at a certain time. 
A poem comes 
when it is needed 
and writes itself
in the way it needs 
to get its point across." 

 It is that memory that allows Pearl a voice at the funeral. It is not until then that she is able to share what is in her heart. When she does that, she makes connections with others and begins the process of healing. She is no longer a group of one.

Pearl has a very real and honest voice as she shares what she is experiencing in her young life. This is a lovely and touching story told simply in free verse form, giving Pearl an outlet for the gamut of emotions that are overwhelming her. A story about love, loss and acceptance finds its voice in the power of poetry.

Sally Murphy has written a story for young readers that will be appreciated by older readers, as well. Just as the author finds a sure voice for the telling, Pearl finds her voice for her final gift to a beloved grandmother.
The illustrations that Heather Potter uses to help tell Pearl's story are perfect, emotional and realistic while also adding touches of humor to keep it from being too sad.

In the end, as Pearl and her mom sit on a bench that Granny painted, she has this to say:

"There are two people
at our house:
and me.
And somewhere
Granny is watching us -
no longer old
or drooling.
that we can carry on
without her."

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