“PEARL VERSES THE WORLD,” by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Heather Potter, Candlewick, Aug. 23, 2011, $14.99 (ages 8 and up)
The idea that children’s books are just for children is an outdated one. There’s something about children’s books that speak to adults as well. Perhaps it’s because there’s an honesty there that is somehow missing in many missives for the older crowd.
Pearl’s class is made up of groups: sporty boys, ballet girls, library kids, bus kids. But Pearl doesn’t belong to any of them. She is a group of one. Pearl loves to write poetry, but her teacher insists that poems must rhyme. No one seems to understand Pearl, and she’d most often rather be at home.
At home, Pearl is one of three: Pearl, her mom, and her granny. It’s been that way for as long as she can remember. Dad went away before she was born, but Granny, Granny has always been there. Except for now she’s not.
Granny’s there physically, but she’s fading. She doesn’t sit up and smile, she doesn’t tell jokes anymore and often, she doesn’t even recognize her granddaughter. Everyone is tired it seems — Mom from providing constant care for Granny; Pearl from trying to make sense of everything; and Granny from life itself.
I read “Pearl Verses the World” more than a month ago and I’ve thought about it off and on since. I knew I wanted to review the book, but I have had a hard time getting started. The reason: “Pearl Verses the World” hits home and sometimes it’s hard to face what’s at home.
I, too, have a granny. In fact that’s what we call her. She’s also slipping away and my mother is her primary care giver. Granny has Alzheimer’s, and though she still recognizes me, she doesn’t remember my husband or that I am even married. I am in a different place in life than Pearl, but oh how I can relate.
“Pearl Versus the World” is beautifully written. Like Pearl, author Sally Murphy likes poetry, and that’s what the book is, a poem. Sally’s prose is lyrical and heartfelt. There are no gimmicks or bells and whistles — just an honest depiction of grief and learning independence and where your place is in the world.
Artist Heather Potter’s accompanying illustrations are simple and poignant. She fleshes out the story to give readers a true sense of what Pearl is experiencing.
“Pearl Verses the World” is a short novel, only 73 pages, but as people say, size isn’t everything. It’s a heartbreaking, thoughtful tale that children will not only enjoy but understand.
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