Verse Novels: Sally Murphy


Verse Novels: Sally Murphy

I have spoken before about how I love verse novels and in my review of ‘Pookie Aleera is not my Boyfriend’ by Steven Herrick I said the following (is it uncouth to quote yourself?): In my humble opinion, Herrick is the king of the Australian verse novel for younger readers and Sally Murphy the queen. If you or your child has never tried a verse novel, these two authors are a must.

I’ve reviewed a number of books by Herrick, and today I want to introduce you to Sally Murphy…here we are together at the launch of her latest verse novel ‘Roses are Blue’.

sally murphy and megan daley Click on title or cover images to purchase.

‘Roses are Blue’ is a stunning piece of writing and a worthy companion to Sally’s two other must-read verse novels, ‘Pearl Verses the World’ and ‘Toppling. Walker Books has done a great job branding these three books with the same sized formats and lovely whimsical covers – I’m a big fan of good book design because (though many don’t like to admit it), we all of course judge books by their look and feel.

All three books deal with themes which could potentially be upsetting (illness, dementia, family tragedy) but the stories are told from the perspectives of young characters and are at all times full of hope. Parents, caregivers and librarians need to make the decision on reading age suitability based on individual circumstances and maturity of the child. Every child wants to see their life reflected in literature and, even for children, life is full of moments of darkness and light. Sally deals with some of the darker moments of life with care and at all times she uses her powerful writing to shine the light of hope through the darkness. Her books are for all children – those going through circumstances which may be similar to her characters, and others, who will develop empathy and understanding of the lives of others.

All three books are told in first person narrative using free verse poetry and would be perfect for a comparative study in a classroom. Reading ability wise, all three of these slim chapter books are suitable from independent reading age. The verse novel format is particularly good for middle primary readers who may struggle with a long and text-dense narrative.

‘Roses are Blue’


Written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Gabriel Evans.

Themes: family, change, accident, disability, resilience, friendship, care, compassion, empathy, hope.

I read Sally’s latest offering on a plane; I am an out and proud reader of children’s books in public places and no adult cover versions are necessary for me! Like all of her other verse novels, ‘Roses are Blue’ made me laugh and made me cry (on a crowded plane); Sally does lightness and dark so beautifully. The writing is exquisite and appears effortless but is clearly painstakingly crafted by a talented wordsmith.

Amber Rose and her family are dealing with tragedy and change. Amber’s mum is profoundly changed following an accident and Amber is very much struggling with some big issues as well as a new home, new school and new friends. Each free verse poem is told from Amber’s perspective and verse novels allow the reader to totally enter the heart and soul of a character and hear their voice. There is no extraneous detail in a verse novel, just carefully chosen words, lines and verses. Amber Roses learns some importance lessons about family, her peers and about resilience.

Illustrated by a talented newish arrival to the children’s literature world, Gabriel Evans.

 I have not got used to my new mum.
Even though I love her
(I absolutely love her),
I miss my happy,
smiling mum.



Written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Rhian Nest James.

Themes: illness, cancer, bullying, childhood games, friendship, empathy, comfort, support, hope.

Teaching Notes are here.

Awards: Winner of the Mary Ryan’s Award (Children’s Book) in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2010 Winner of the Children’s Book Category in the WA Premier’s Book Awards, 2010 Shortlisted CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards, 2011 Winner CBCA Junior Judges Project (Younger Readers), 2010

In the words of my dear literary friend Trish Buckley: Cried. Like a baby.

John is obsessed with toppling dominoes. He spends hours setting up spirals, ramps, patterns and lines of dominoes just to watch them topple. Beginning with a small push in the right direction, everything falls as it is meant to. When John’s friend Dom falls sick it is John and his friends’ worlds that fall apart. Can they face Dom and support him through this uncomfortable illness? It’s hard for all at first but John and his friends find a way to comfort Dom and laugh with him again.

‘Pearl Verses the World’


Written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Heather Potter.

Themes: loneliness, death, grief, family, dementia, old age, grandparents, care, compassion, sadness, poetry, hope.

Teaching Notes are here.

Awards: Winner of the Children’s Book category in the Indie Awards, 2009. Shortlisted in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, 2009. Honour Book in the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards, 2010 Winner Upper Primary category Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year 2010 Winner Junior Judges Children’s Choice Award (Younger Readers), 2010 Winner, Hoffman Award, WAYBRA Awards 2010 Winner Victorian Family Therapist’s Award for Children’s Literature, 2010

My heart broke for Pearl and I cried real tears in front of a real class when I read this book aloud to Year Four for the first time. At home, Pearl has always had her mum and her grandmother. But her grandmother is slowly fading away and her mum is incredibly and desperately sad. At school, Pearl feels as though she is in a group of one and is it any wonder? To make matters worse, her teacher wants her to write poems that rhyme but Pearl’s poems don’t. When her grandmother eventually passes away, Pearl refuses to talk at the funeral. But she finds the courage to deliver a poem for her grandmother that defies her teacher’s idea of poetry – her poem doesn’t rhyme; it comes from the heart.

 In the fiction corner
there are pink books
full of princesses
and girls who want to be princesses
and black books
about bad boys
and brave boys
and brawny boys.
Where is the book
about a girl
whose poems don’t rhyme
and whose Granny is fading?

Three must read verse novels by Sally Murphy

The title and cover of each book takes you to the Australian based online bookstore Booktopia. If you live in the US or would prefer you can use Amazon. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here.

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The titles of each book takes you to the Australian based online bookstore Booktopia. You can also compare prices on Fishpond and Bookworld for Australian purchases.If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon click here. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here. Purchases clicked through from the Children’s Books Daily site result in a small commission. Commission is used in part to maintain Children’s Books Daily and to support community groups which connect children with books.


  1. […] As a bonus,one review – at Children’s Books Daily –  also features reviews of both Pearl Verses the World and Toppling.  You can see what reviewer Megan Daly has to say, and see a photo of her with me at the book’s launch here. […]

    • Hi Deb…I have a few super sensitive girls here at school read them here at work and absolutely LOVE them. They are written with such light and hope…just gorgeous! Tear jerkers for sure…but in an incredibly lovley way…YOU read them first!

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