Friday, April 9, 2010


While some may have been indulging themselves with a nice Saturday morning sleep-in on 27 February this year, or contemplating what other aspects of the WA Writers Festival to enjoy, I was savouring a windswept breakfast at the Matilda Bay Tearooms with members of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

Among those present was Western Australian children’s author, Sally Murphy. I chatted to her about her latest book: ‘Toppling’, released by Walker Books that week. ‘Toppling’ is Sally’s second verse novel and since I had been lucky enough to receive a review copy, I took it with me for Sally to sign.

Everybody needs a hobby, and in ‘Toppling’ the main character, John, is into domino toppling. He admits to it being a kind of a strange endeavour.

Some kids collect model cars
or aeroplanes
or stamps
or Game Boys.
I collect dominoes. ‘

Domino topplers get only a few minutes of glory as they watch several hours or days worth of their work falling down.

But you and I know, there are other kinds of toppling - especially as one gets older - and I have the grazes to prove it. For John, though toppling dominoes is his hobby it is not his whole life. And when, at school one day he finds out, Dominic, his ‘best mate and not just because his name sounds like domino’ is in danger of toppling, his own world begins to topple. He wants to know the truth about his friend.

‘Another sad one,’ says Sally as she hands the book back to me.
I didn’t agree. Sensitive, yes! Sad, no!

. . . Sally Murphy has a gift of getting inside the hearts and heads of middle-graders and exploring the myriad ways they deal with family stuff, loneliness, feelings of isolation and sickness.

So what is a verse novel?
Since the narrative does not rely on rhyme or a set pattern of rhythm what makes a verse novel a verse novel? As it seemed a fair question, I stopped stacking dominoes for a minute to reflect. (Now Caellum is going to finish his tower first!) I thought about the verse novels I'd read. What do they have in common? I started making a list -and this is what I came up with. 

The poetry of a verse novel relies on
 shorter lines and line drops to create a rhythm that approximates human speech without the use of complex punctuation;
 fewer words to convey atmosphere and plot;
 imagination. It asks the reader to experience the story in a way that does not tell all, and relies as much on the space between the lines as it does on the words themselves;
 voice to get convey emotions, details, and nuances in a way that prose can’t always accomplish.

According to Emma Dryden of Dryden Books,
‘A verse novel is, and should be, first and foremost a novel, with a compelling storyline and plot, richly developed characters, and a distinctive narrative voice. … A good verse novel has a such a strong and mesmerizingly compelling story line, characters and voice that the reader does not even recognise they are reading poetry at all.‘

Having read both of Sally Murphy’s verse novels - ‘Pearl verses the World’ and ‘Toppling’, I would have to agree.

You may like to check Sally’s blog at

Look at this!
Poetry in mo...  toppling

1 comment:

  1. I've never quite got into verse novels - must check out Sally's stuff!