Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life cover

By Beverley Brenna & Tara Anderson

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

A poignant and humorous middle-grade novel for fans of Flora and Ulysses

It’s not every day you encounter a hamster experiencing an existential crisis, but Sapphire has spent her short pet-store life convinced that she’s waiting for…something. At first she thinks it’s to be FREE, but it may be possible that life has a greater purpose in store–a purpose Sapphire will discover thanks to a nine-year-old girl whose family is changing in ways she doesn’t quite understand.
Jeannie’s dad has moved out, her mom is always tired and snappish, and her older brother just wants to play video games in his room all day. Jeannie doesn’t understand what’s going on, but she knows one thing: she really, REALLY wants a hamster. Her mom promised she could buy one with her Christmas money, but it’s been WEEKS since the holidays and Jeannie’s beginning to worry she’ll never get her pet. But maybe if she does, her dad will come to visit. Maybe a hamster will make everything better.

With a cast that includes a transgender neighbor, a father coming out as gay, and a realistic protagonist who will appeal to fans of Ramona Quimby, Brenna’s latest offering is an age-appropriate introduction to some difficult subjects that also abounds with humor and poignancy.

Narrated by Jeannie and Sapphire in alternating chapters, Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is a touching middle-grade novel by award-winning author Beverley Brenna that explores themes of family, friendship, togetherness, and self-identity.

Available In


Ages 7-11
ISBN: 978-1-77278-069-7
List Price: $19.95 CAD / $16.95 USD
Hardback with reinforced binding & with printed dust jacket
Trim Size: 5.50 x 8.00 inches / 13.97 x 20.32cm
Pages: 160

Distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press

Distributed in the U.S. by Ingram Publisher Services

Carton Quantity: 39

About this book

Awards and Honours

  • 2021 Joan Betty Stuchner — Oy Vey! — Funniest Children’s Book Award (Winner) (Canada)
  • 2019 RedRover "Recommended Books with Humane Themes: Domestic Animals" Reading List selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards (Winner) (United States)


Praise for Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

2021 Joan Betty Stuchner — Oy Vey! — Funniest Children’s Book Award shortlist

2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Winner

2019 RedRover “Recommended Books with Humane Themes: Domestic Animals” Reading List selection

“Alternating narrators Jeannie and her pet hamster exude an endearing impetuousness in this novel about family and finding one’s true self….Brenna expands on themes of identity and acceptance by introducing Anna, Jeannie’s mother’s transgender friend, and Robin, the man who is Harvey’s new partner….Fetching portraits of Sapphire by Anderson open each chapter.”—Publishers Weekly

“This slice-of-life Canadian import is more than just another ‘I want to get a pet’ tale….Sapphire and Jeannie narrate alternating chapters, and neither is completely aware of all that is going on around them. Sapphire, especially, reports dialogue and action she does not fully understand, adding an additional layer to this tale of understanding difference.”—Kirkus Reviews

Sapphire the Great is full of zest….Throughout the novel, the theme of gender-nonconformity is present without being explicitly broken down or didactic….Brenna’s novel also directly challenges young readers to think beyond cisgender norms. These original stories would be very helpful classroom resources to provide an entry point for anti-bias and inclusive language and to open up important conversations on gender, self-identity, and inclusivity.”—Quill & Quire

“Rating: 5…[Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life] teaches acceptance of differences and of being who you are. These themes are presented in an age-appropriate and sensitive way….The book grabbed me right away and had me laughing at the end of the very first chapter.”—Youth Services Book Review

“Ever attuned to evolving social dynamics, Brenna presents a family in which the father has left to be with his male companion, and his mystified two children and angry wife are given comfort and cheer by a very large, mannish woman named Anna Conda….Brenna understands a child’s need for warm limits and presents a modern family trying to work its way to safety, comfort, and mutual respect.”—Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is far greater than a story about a girl getting a pet hamster. It’s about struggling to find your place….Beverley Brenna’s text is enhanced with the adorable illustrations by Tara Anderson which head each of the forty-two chapters….A perfect early reader for kids who love animals, Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is actually more about giving significance to managing our own stories.”—CanLit for LittleCanadians

“Brenna hit a homerun with [Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life]! It grabs you…and pulls you in on the very first page and doesn’t let go of your heartstrings until the last page.”—HW Book Reviews

“Dealing with themes of divorce, homosexuality, and transgender adults, this book takes a gentle approach to some big issues….Beverley Brenna is known for creating diverse characters and this book is no exception. Illustrator Tara Anderson adds some cute hamster sketches to round out the book. It could be a welcome read for a student who is struggling to understand gay and transgender issues with an adult in their life.”—Kiss the Book Jr.

“This book exposes children to a variety of family types, and opens the door to discussion in a positive way of these differences. A great addition to any library.”—Canadian Bookworm

“For such a small book, there is whole lot going on…There is a lot of things I liked about the book, including Sapphire, who learns about what is important in life and shares that knowledge with the reader. I like Anna and how she teaches the children about kindness and friendship and I like that Jeannie is not caught up in what should be or shouldn’t be, but rather she accepts people who they are.”—Book Time

Look inside gallery

Additional Resources

Teaching Guide

Back to top