This is another inspiring verse novel from Sally Murphy who has brought us, Pearl Versus the World and Toppling. Sally does not shy away from writing meaningful stories and when asked why she writes about sad issues she notes,
You see, as an author of books for children, I believe it’s my job to share stories which make readers feel. It’s when we care what happens to a character that we keep turning pages. If a story makes us laugh, or cry, or sigh, or even tremble with fear, then we are connecting with that story, and that’s a good thing.
We discussed the significance of having stories in our libraries that help children deal with some of the issues and sadness that they face in their own lives. A character such as Amber, who can smile through adversity and have hope for the future, is an important example for children.
On her motivation for writing this novel, Sally Murphy, a mother of six, wrote,
I’m a bit of a different mother, and sometimes this can be embarrassing for my kids. I sing (badly) in public, talk to strangers in supermarket queues and laugh too loudly. I was thinking about this one day, and I wondered what it would be like if your mother was really different, and you didn’t want your friends to know. The idea for Roses Are Blue came from this seed.
With those thoughts in mind we discussed the various themes of this novel. We talked about family and relationships and how they change and evolve over time. The accident in which Amber’s mum sustained her brain injury has had a profound impact upon her family. Their mum is different in many ways, their Aunt Fi has come to live with them and they have also had to move house and schools. Through these new experiences Amber has to learn to deal with her own feelings of grief, remorse, shame and guilt. She has not told anyone at her school about her mum and struggles with this decision. As we have discussed before with other texts, there are many children who come to school each day with secrets about their home life that they are not willing to share.
A great part of the novel involves Amber reconciling her conflicting feelings toward her mother. We can see that before the accident her mother was a little different from some of the other mothers at Amber’s old school and Amber herself felt unsure of fitting in. Amber recalls the time when she was embarrassed by her mum’s presence at her school and she deeply regrets her feelings from that time. Some of us could remember from childhood our own feelings of embarrassment at our parent’s actions and sometimes the accompanying sense of guilt or shame at feeling this way. What Sally Murphy does so beautifully though is show how all mothers are different and unique; some mums wear saris, some are short, tall, cranky or laugh a lot.
Amber struggles to come to terms with her new relationship with her mother which also brings about a new relationship for her with her little brother. We appreciated that Murphy does not judge Amber’s feelings but lets her express them, uncomfortable as they may be:
I am ashamed of myself
for being so mean
about my mum
who is still my mum
even though she is very different,
but I cannot change the way I feel.
Over the course of the novel Amber shows a great growth in maturity as she reaches some acceptance with her mother’s condition. She also realises that perhaps she has made some assumptions of her own and that she had misinterpreted the situation with Leroy and his mother at the supermarket. We thought that this was an important concept to discuss with children – that perhaps when we judge other people we are putting our own issues and interpretation on their behaviours; there are indeed two sides to every story.
This is a beautiful story and as it is written in verse works very well to read aloud to a class, because all poetry is meant to spoken after all. A very apt definition of a verse novel can be found at the NZ Poetry Box,
So, what is a novel-in-verse? You could think of it as one very long poem! But it is more than that. It is a story in the shape of a poem. Think of it as a very long story with line breaks (so the words don’t go to the end of the line). This gives the story RHYTHM! You might find lots of other poetry features as well (similes, metaphor, rhyme, alliteration, repetition).
Although life will never be as it was for Amber’s family there is, most importantly, the suggestion of hope at the end of this novel. The illustrations by Gabriel Evans add to the gentle spirit of this novel and it was a text that was well appreciated by our group.