Roses are Blue by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Gabriel Evans (Walker Books Australia, 2104)
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
Previous verse novels by Sally Murphy (Pearl Verses the World and Toppling) have won swags of children’s book awards, so it’s likely her latest verse novel for children aged 7 to 10 years is likely to do well, too.
An issues-based novel, Roses are Blue is about Amber Rose coping with a ‘new’ mother, who it seems embarrasses her. Prior to a car accident, her mum was ‘normal’ but now she’s in a wheelchair, her head tilted to one side, her hand twitching; she’s unable to feed or clean herself and unable to make intelligible sounds.
Amber’s family is now living in a new wheelchair-friendly house and she’s at a new school. On the first day in the new neighbourhood when the family went on a walking expedition, a boy collided with Mum and looked at ‘Mum in disgust/before saying/Escape! Escape!/Robot cannot compute!’ When Amber’s teacher, Mrs Little announces Mothers’ Day is coming up and the class will present mums with a high tea, Amber is worried. ‘I don’t want her there,’ she says. She has been unable to tell anyone, even her new best friend Saffron, about her mum’s condition. Her ‘before’ mum was an artist and talented gardener, and a seemingly capable woman. Amber’s concern about revealing the problems with her mother are exacerbated by problems she had at her former school when she wasn’t part of Lola Jones’ ‘in’ group. At her new school, however, she has made friends including Jade, Ebony and Saffron.
Much of this book revolves around Amber telling how life was ‘before’. Now Mum and the family – Dad, younger brother Jack and Amber – are cared for by Aunty Fi. Amber confesses to her aunt her concern about her mother being seen by her new school mates. Her aunt replies, ‘Well, you only have to say/what your want to say./But if I was you,/I would tell them the truth./She’s still your mum,/and she might be different,/ but you love her very much./Don’t you? The climax of this story, of course, is the day of the high tea when Aunty Fi and Mum turn up and Amber’s shameful secret is revealed, as well as a surprise about a boy in her class, LeRoy Jamieson and an art competition which Mrs Little’s students have entered.
This book is sure to be loved by any mother who reads it as it’s really a tribute to motherhood and is sure to tug at heartstrings. Children who face the difficulties of being ‘different’ in some way, especially if they have parents who are don’t fit the usual stereotype, for example, who have physical or mental incapacities, are sure to recognise themselves. The book shows how the family treats Mum, but also highlights how Amber takes on added responsibility for her younger brother Jack. The book is also likely to be used in the classroom by compassionate teachers and is in line with the National Curriculum.
The fact that Roses are Blue is one continuous text and not divided by the more conventional naming of verses might cause a problem for the younger readers at whom it is pitched. Despite this, the book is sure to be widely read and enjoyed. It is also likely to feature in the Australian Family Therapy Awards because of its subject matter and the quality of its writing.