Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Normal Norman - Riding the Blog Tour Train

Normal Norman, written by Tara Lazar and illustrated by S. britt, is a study in normalcy ... or not. I hear that word normal a lot, and in education, it's not a good word. What is a "normal" student? When we see unexpected behaviors you'll hear "That's just not normal." One size fits all doesn't work in the classroom, and it certainly doesn't work in the real world. And that's really an important point in this book, because normal means being true to yourself, not to the expectations the world holds for you.

We're at the tail end of this blog tour, and lots of other folks have written great reviews of this book (see schedule at end of post for links), so I want to take this in another direction. Here's where my mind went when I first read this book.

The front endpapers - As soon as I opened the book I knew I had a great example my science class. Have you ever taken the DAST? The DAST is the "Draw A Scientist Test." It is designed to get students to think about who scientists are, what they do, and where they do it. Most students draw something similar to what is seen in the front endpapers. What most picture when they hear "scientist at work" is a space similar to a chemistry lab, with beakers and test tubes, equations on the wall or board, the periodic table, etc. This scene is no different. That's okay, because I like breaking down the stereotype.
The opening - The book opens with this introduction.
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 world NORMAL.
On the facing page is a picture of the Head Scientist (a man sitting behind a desk bearing a sticker that reads I science) and the Junior Scientist, our intrepid narrator. Clearly, the goal here is to come up with an operational definition. This can be a tricky concept for students, as an operational definition is a clear, concise detailed definition of a measure. By the end of the book it's clear that one does not exist for the word normal.

The narrator - Most students completing the DAST draw men at work in science, not women. I love that the junior scientist and "humble narrator" is a young girl, tasked with observing and describing Norman.

The science - Science experiments and demonstrations sometimes don't go as planned. They often provide unexpected results. They can be frustrating, particularly when they don't go your way. Our narrator learns this lesson very quickly. Scientists can't make results go their way, no matter how hard they try. And boy, does the narrator try to get Norman to act normal.

The language - I'm quite taken with the way Lazar has managed to use context clues to help define terms. Here's an example.
In fact, we selected Norma because our
scientists found Norman to be the most
average animal on earth. Regular.
Ordinary. A common, everyday creature.
Return from the brief interruption - Not all work scientists do happens in a lab. In fact, quite a bit of it happens in the field. When Norman asks the junior scientist to join him and his friends in their natural habitat, she naturally says yes, and the scene moves outdoors.

The ending - The fact that the head scientist picks up the clipboard and writes in some results is most satisfying. I won't, however, give away this perfect ending.

The back endpapers - The head scientist and junior scientist look a bit startled to find that Norman is now observing them. I had to chuckle. It was a wonderful contrast to the front endpapers.

Text ©2016 Tara Lazar, all rights reserved. Illustrations ©2016 S. britt, all rights reserved.

I thoroughly enjoyed NORMAL NORMAN and can't wait to share it. Thanks to Josh Redlich for including The Miss Rumphius Effect in this tour.

1 comment:

  1. Science is for girls too, and I also love the message about failure! My husband's a scientist, and that's par for the course: failing and persevering!