February 20, 2014

Norman, Speak!

by Caroline Adderson
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
Release April, 2014

It takes a big heart to adopt a stray at a shelter because he's been there the longest.  And the joy he exudes, wagging his whole rump, is so clear that the young boy and his parents are sure that they've made a good choice.  Norman is funny, he's friendly, and he's happy.  However, his lack of responsiveness to their commands have them thinking that, "He just wasn't very smart."

But an incident in the park reveals that smartness isn't what Norman lacks: it's English.  His language of understanding is Chinese!  Admirably, mom, dad and son sign up for Chinese classes at the local church.  Surprisingly, "We didn't feel very smart the next Saturday morning in the basement of the church.  Or the Saturday after that.  All the other kids were smart."

Fortunately, Norman loves them anyway.

With Norman, Speak!, award-winning author Caroline Adderson has expanded her repertoire from early readers (Very Serious Children, Scholastic Canada, 2007), middle-grade fiction (Middle of Nowhere, Groundwood, 2012), young adult fiction (Film Studies, Annick, 2010) and adult fiction (The Sky is Falling, Thomas Allen Publishers, 2010) into picture books and we're so glad she has.  Her versatility has provided her the skills to tell important stories in age-appropriate media.  And with Qin Leng's familiar colourful, but never bold, fountain brush and ink illustrations, the message of "smartness" not being equal to understanding is told without judgement or fear.

This message is an important one for children to learn, especially if they perceive that they themselves are not regarded as smart.  This would be especially hard to deal with if that impression is given by a parent or teacher or other respected individual.  Too often, we misjudge and attribute lack of comprehension to lack of intelligence.  Wrong!  Caroline Adderson brings this revelation to Norman's people slowly but they get it in the end. They may have been quick to judge Norman but they learn soon enough that understanding has nothing to do with "smarts" but rather familiarity and regular opportunities for practice. Thankfully Norman doesn't hold their lack of Chinese against them.  Ultimately they are a perfect match, like Caroline Adderson's text and Qin Leng's illustrations, but one based in acceptance, not achievement.

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