Like many of Sally Murphy’s stories, Toppling started with a character. John is a boy with the slightly nerdy hobby of domino toppling. He has a very stable, happy home life, and a good strong friendship group at school. But Sally started to wonder what would happen if something went wrong in John’s life.
Using the metaphor of toppling, Sally decided that John’s best friend is in danger of toppling. He has cancer, and John and his other friends need to figure out how best to support Dominic while still carrying on with their own lives.
John is a year six boy who is pretty normal. He isn’t a big fan of school, but likes the chance to hang out with his mates. He has a big sister who rubs him up the wrong way.
John is honest and he is a first person narrator who can be self-deprecating, and admits to insecurities.
Toppling is for middle and upper primary aged children but is also being used in secondary schools because of the subject matter and the verse form.
It covers a tough topic, but kids will enjoy that it is a positive story, which offers hope. Also, it has humour, and lots of slice of life scenes. The verse novel format makes it very accessible to readers.
I found the verse format of Toppling very easy to read and engaging and as Sally says,
When I see how kids love this format I wonder why there aren’t more verse novels made available to them.
WHAT SALLY ENJOYED MOST ABOUT WRITING THIS BOOK
I had fun weaving domino toppling through the book, and trying to weave just a little humour into what was, by necessity, a fairly serious tale. The humour helps to ease the tension.
THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THIS BOOK
Writing on such a heart-wrenching topic – childhood cancer – can make the process very emotional. I cried when I wrote it and still get teary when I read certain scenes.
Toppling is published by Walker Books
This book sprang from two words – fluff and gruff – which ended up being the first two end rhymes in the story, which is told in rhyme. Sally wrote the first two lines when they sprang to mind, then had to sit down and plan the rest of the story.
It’s about a teddy bear – Pemberthy – who doesn’t know how to have fun, and a doll, primula, who is determined to get him to join in her games.
It’s mainly for kids aged 2 to 6, although Sally says she has shared it with much older kids (even high school boys).
It’s a feel-good book, with beautiful pictures by talented illustrator Jacqui Grantford. And, because it is written in rhyme, it makes a good read-aloud for story sessions.
Kids are amazed when they realise that the bear on the cover is an illustration, not a photo. The artist is so clever!
Pemberthy Bear is covered in fluff but, as the opening page reveals, he is mean and gruff. But really, he isn’t so tough – he’s just shy and a little insecure, and he learns to be braver.
Sally says that the hardest thing about writing Pemberthy Bear was getting the rhyme and rhythm just right. Writing in rhyme is far more difficult than many people think.
I wrote many, many drafts of this story to get it just right.
Pemberthy Bear is published by New Frontier.