16 March 2010


by Sally Murphy

Walker Books. Australian, Junior. Paperback rrp $15.95

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

It’s hard to talk about cancer even when you are an adult, so how can kids comes to terms with their fears? Toppling is a gently paced verse novel that helps.

Everyone in John’s class is affected by Dom’s absence. It’s one thing to vomit and stink the place out, but something much more serious when you don’t come back to school. Emotions run high with unknowing.

What do you do when you know something is wrong but you don’t know exactly what? John spends hours arranging dominoes in elaborate patterns, then sets them toppling in an instant. It’s his way of finding stillness in confusion. Sally’s visual descriptions let me join John, bum up and head down, as he sets up domino after domino.

However, each little tile must stand vertically within reach of the next for a toppling to work. Life’s a bit like that. Just as friends are interconnected and affected by each other, those who are missing, even for a little while, put the rest out of sync. It takes just one domino to be out of whack for a toppling to fail.

In the gentlest of ways, Sally broaches the tough questions. Does cancer always mean a death sentence? No one ever really knows. When it does, loss and grief can affect those left behind for many years. Making new friends and sharing the pain is a bit like toppling. Reconnecting with others can make things right.

Toppling is a fantastic way to broach the subject of serious illness with children in Primary School. Even though there are no easy answers, Sally Murphy opens doors to discussion. She also alludes that difficult kids can have their reasons for being so. She builds another bridge to understanding and reconnecting: another successful toppling.


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