What does the word "normal" really mean? Our narrator, a junior scientist has a new assignment: define the word normal. To do so, she has to study an "exceedingly normal orangutan named Norman". He has been chosen because "scientists found Norman to be the most average animal on earth. Regular, ordinary. A common everyday creature." He has a normal head, normal paws, Norman indeed is a normal orangutang... but is he?
The book takes an exciting twist when our little scientist narrator discovers Norman eating pizza when he should, of course, be eating bananas instead. He then starts to talk... and his natural habitat is far from what one would expect. Our little scientist is quite disturbed and discouraged by Norman's absurd behaviour, and feels she has failed her assignment. In the end though, Norman will teach her an important lesson. After all, doesn't being normal just mean being yourself?
Tara Lazar's writing makes it very easy to act out the text while reading it. So much is expressed both by the words Lazar uses, and the way they are literally written in the book.
The illustration by S. Britt are also beautifully drawn and really add to the story. I love the characters broad range of expressions, as well as the colours and textures that she uses to bring them to life.
I also love that the book shows how prejudice can be quite strong, and how sometimes it takes a little while to see past our pre-fabricated versions of reality to the truth. The little girl fights with what she thinks is "normal" and tries to "force" Norman to do things as she thinks he should—like eating bananas instead of eating pizza! It takes her time to accept Norman as he is and let go of her bias. What a wonderful quality to teach our little ones—to be able to see past our existing beliefs and accept people as they are in truth.
In addition to showing how we are all special and that "normal" can't be defined, I love that Tara Lazar chooses a little girl scientist as her narrator. It shows little girls that being a scientist is an option for when they grow up. Kids' literature needs more books like this one, that show little girls they too can be scientists or writers. I greatly appreciated Tara Lazar's interview on the subject:
"Girls can do anything.
This is something I just didn’t realize as a child. No one bothered to tell me that I was responsible for my own path in life, my own success. I thought life was something that just happened to you, something that you couldn’t control. Becoming a scientist, a mathematician or an astronaut never entered the realm of possibility for me. I didn’t see it for other women, so I didn’t imagine it for myself.
It’s so important for young girls to witness the extraordinary achievements of other women. That’s why I love picture book biographies like The Mermaid Queen by Corey/Fotheringham and Ada Byron Lovelace and The Thinking Machine by Wallmark/Chu. They tell the stories of women who achieved despite the odds, besides being told they couldn’t or shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, I don’t write picture book biographies. I do fiction. Silly, hilarious, laugh-out-loud, ludicrous fiction.
When the idea for Normal Norman shot into my head, in title alone, I immediately knew that this perfectly-named creature could not be normal, not in the least bit. And to amp up his antics, I paired him with more than just an inquisitive child—I pit him against a junior scientist with an important assignment, to demonstrate the word “normal” for the book’s readers. And that scientist happens to be a young girl. (While she isn’t named in the book, in my head I call her Marisol. Shhh, don’t tell, that’s a secret.)
She examines everything about Norman: his body, his home, his eating and sleeping habits. Even his route of escape. And nothing turns out right.
Or does it?
I think everything turns out just fine. Norman and his friends prove to be their Normal selves. And the junior scientist completes her assignment with flying colors—literally!
In this book I’m not only showing that normal is impossible to define, I’m also showing young girls that they can do anything. They can be scientists, they can be intelligent and question the world around them. Hey, they can even be a picture book author…like me!"
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