Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Cover: Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life Author: Beverley Brenna Illustrator: Tara Anderson

“Alternating narrators Jeannie and her pet hamster exude an endearing impetuousness in this novel about family and finding one’s true self….Brenna (The White Bicycle) 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. Represented by different fonts, the emotive narrative voices are distinctive and wryly limned….Fetching portraits of Sapphire by Anderson (Rhino Rumpus) open each chapter.”

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Quill & Quire“She persisted: Two early reader chapter books show preteen girls going after what they want”

“In two new middle-grade novels about modern tweendom – with LGBT themes – feisty young protagonists face grown-up problems with strength and conviction….

Written by award-winning Saskatoon author Beverley Brenna, and illustrated by Tara Anderson, Sapphire the Great is full of zest….Throughout the novel, the theme of gender-nonconformity is present without being explicitly broken down or didactic….

Both these books contain positive LGBTQ characters and themes. Sibby mentions Charlie Parker Drysdale’s ‘two moms’ and, in Sapphire, Jeannie’s dad has a new boyfriend. 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.”

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Kirkus Reviews

“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.”

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Youth Services Book Review

Rating 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review): 5

What did you like about the book?

This is a touching and funny story mainly about a girl and her new hamster, but it is also about a family dealing with significant change….The story 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. The chapters narrated by Sapphire are amusing, I loved the stream of consciousness feel as Sapphire finds her way in the world and tries to figure out the meaning of her life….Almost every illustration at the beginning of each chapter is the hamster character, these are excellent black and white pencil drawings which illustrate the personality and emotion of the animal….

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes!”
Valerie Trantanella, Norman E. Day School, Westford, MA

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Saskatoon StarPhoenix

“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. Helping little Jeannie navigate her way through this tricky territory is Sapphire, her new hamster, who not only poses intriguing philosophical questions but is co-narrator, with Jeannie, of this story….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.”

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CanLit for LittleCanadians

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. Jeannie is a pretty good caregiver for Sapphire but she’s trying to figure out why her father isn’t keeping in touch, whether her parents are ‘getting put back together’ (pg. 40), why her little brother seems stressed, how to be a friend, why her Mom’s new friend Anna Conda seems reserved though really cool, and the questions that kids want answered but no one will respect them enough to tell them the truth. Meanwhile Sapphire is recognizing how nice her new home is, singing when pleased, and beginning to understand freedom, especially after a dangerous escape outdoors in frigid January….

It’s perfect that Jeannie’s story and Sapphire’s come together to become something bigger and better. Just as the two are better for having each other in their lives, 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.”
—Helen K

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HW Book Reviews

“The story is told through short alternating chapters between Jeannie and Sapphire the Great (her hamster).

We join Jeannie, Alistair (her brother), and their mother three weeks after Christmas and two weeks after their father left, Harvey, left the house. Everyone is dealing with the separation in different ways. Jeannie yells everything, Alistair has turned to video games, and their mother is feeling very stressed….

This book has left me at a loss for words in a very good way. The characters are so engaging, honest, and real that you forget you are reading a book….The story is complete, satisfying, and just feels right…..

Overall rating: ♥♥♥♥♥”

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Kiss the Book Jr.

“Dealing with themes of divorce, homosexuality, and transgender adults, this book takes a gentle approach to some big issues….Author 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.”

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Canadian Bookworm

“This children’s novel is told from two points of view. One is that of nine-year-old Jeannie….The other point of view is that of Sapphire, the hamster that Jeannie gets….We watch how Jeannie struggles with her own feelings, sometimes erupting in frustration, anger, or sadness. And we watch how spending time with Sapphire calms her, and others in her household.

The idea of freedom extends beyond Sapphire into others in the story, who are struggling with the freedom to be who they really are, despite how others may react to them. It’s about being able to have that freedom to be comfortable in your own skin, to be happy with your life, and to see that life in a positive way….

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.”

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Book Time

“For such a small book, there is whole lot going on in Beverley Brenna’s Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life…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.”

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