Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Quintessential Quirkiness

We go about our days expecting certain things to stay true to a pattern.  When they deviate, depending on the size of the difference, our reactions will vary accordingly.  As an educator standing in the hallway each morning as the buses unload and students walk down the halls to lockers and classrooms, most of the gals and guys will be carrying a backpack and wearing clothing in keeping with the current weather, particular season, the latest fad and the dress code.

There is nothing quite so fine as seeing one student who stands out in the crowd looking like they are ready for spirit week when it's months away or has already passed.  Their courage in expressing their individuality is a cause for cheering.  That I smile at them in admiration is a given.  Inside I am dancing with glee.

In Normal Norman (Sterling Children's Books, March 1, 2016) written by Tara Lazar with illustrations by S. Britt an orangutan is the object of intense scrutiny by a junior scientist, who also happens to be the narrator of the story.  She is in pursuit of a theory.  Step by meticulous step she is determined to complete her task.

Hello and welcome to "Normal Norman."
This is my first time narrating a book.
I'm a bit nervous.  I hope it goes well.
My assignment today is to clearly
define the word NORMAL.

An initial examination of Norman seems to indicate his attributes are consistent with other members of his species.  That assessment lasts for mere minutes when Norman consumes an entire pizza and looks at an offered banana with disgust.  Norman further upsets the status quo by actually speaking in English.  What kind of orangutan does that?  

He definitely does not want to sleep near a cave in a jungle either.  Taking the top on a bunk bed is more to his liking.  He also must have Mr. Scruffles; his toy stuffed anteater that our resolute narrator believes refers to his family.  She is stunned to discover Norman's love for Mr. Scruffles.  Her attempts at defining normal are in a shambles.  It's time to regroup.

When Norman's pal slithers into the room, the junior scientist is flabbergasted.  Her introduction of a more suitable friend is the final act causing Norman to escape from this fiasco as quickly as possible.  Dedicated investigator that she is our narrator follows Norman as he enjoys one exciting pastime after another.  Dune buggies?

Despondent at her failure to demonstrate normal, she breaks down in tears.  Tender-hearted Norman offers to help in the resolution of her presentation.  The results are not what you would normally expect.  They're better.

Page turn after page turns Tara Lazar builds her narrative beginning with cheerfulness backed by the firm assumptions of what defines normal.  As Norman breaks these preconceptions one by one the frustration felt by the junior scientist is escalated by specific words choices along with the addition of conversational exchanges between the two.  The disparity between what she believes to be true and how Norman really is generates lots of humor.  Here is a sample passage.

Just a second, Norman.
Who are you talking to?
My best buddy.
Your friend?  You cannot be friends.
You are natural enemies in the wild!
This is exceptionally strange.
Most.  Certainly.  Not.  Normal!

Drawn and painted by hand, then assembled digitally the illustrations throughout are composed using a blend of secondary colors giving the book a feel of joyfulness.  Norman and the junior scientist on the matching front dust jacket and book case start with an eager appreciation of each other.  To the left, on the back, surrounded by a frame of jungle leaves Norman is holding her as she takes notes for her assignment.

S. Britt uses a white background on the opening and closing endpapers extending the beginning and conclusion of the story with two large visuals.  On the first spot color is more prevalent.  On the second full color announces a shift in perspective.

The mixture of images sizes, single page, double page and smaller insets grouped on a page, flow flawlessly.  When Norman speaks the text is placed in an array of bright-hued speech bubbles.  The junior scientist's idea of normal is reinforced by labels on specific items.  Facial expressions on Norman, the junior scientist, the head scientist and all of Norman's friends leave no doubt as to the current mood of each.  Each of these details increase the pure fun of the illustrations.  You will find yourself smiling or laughing on every single page.

One of my favorite images is one of two on a single page.  Norman is buzzing through the clouds wearing a dual-rocket jet jack, a helmet with the initial N on the front and goggles.  Two seagulls are keeping him company on the right.  On his left side in the background is a small biplane flown by the junior scientist with the head scientist riding behind her.  When I see the grin on Norman's face I can't help but laugh out loud.

Normal Norman written by Tara Lazar with illustrations by S. Britt is a delightful journey of discovery in defining normal.  It's a tribute to being your best self, no matter what that is.  Plan on requests for read it again, especially if you use different voices for Norman and the junior scientist.  

To discover more about Tara Lazar and S. Britt and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  This link takes you to the most recent post about this title at Tara Lazar's website. It includes interior illustrations and an activity kit.  A blog tour is in progress beginning at Poetry for Children.   The tour is full of interviews and wonderful extensions like the one found at This Picture Book Life.  Enjoy!

UPDATE:  March 2016 Here's another interview of Tara Lazar at Geek Club Books


  1. Your blog about this wonderful book is almost as good as the book must be. You certainly reveal its \appeal for you and for us too, I'm sure. so glad your school still has a school librarian;they are rare here now. My cousin was one and she was an enthusiast like you. Thanks for the lovely read. I'd love to join your blog.
    jane Buttery now doing REFOREMO this year.

    1. Thank you Jane! This book is inspiring to everyone who reads it. Every school needs a certified librarian to keep the heartbeat of the school rhythmically moving forward creating a community of life-long readers, seekers of truth and innovative thinkers.

  2. Wow. What an insightful review. Your educator talent shines through. And congrats to Lazar and Britt for bringing to life a new character who is destined for big, not normal things.

    1. Thank you Carrie! Normal Norman is a huge hit with readers.