Saturday, May 14, 2011

Norman does Nothing by Jen Storer illustrated by Andrew Joyner

I have set myself a challenge to read all of the Aussie Bites and Aussie Nibbles in our school library over the next month. This is partly because so many new titles from these two terrific series have arrived, partly because one Nibble - The Deep End, has been short listed for the CBCA awards and partly because I want to expand my repertoire (meaning the titles I read to classes and the ones I regularly recommend to readers) past Poor Fish, Hot Stuff, Green Fingers, The Horrible Holiday, One Night at Lottie's House, The Bugalugs bum thief, Moving House, The Princess who hated it and the Too tight Tutu.

Tonight I read Norman Does Nothing and even now, hours later, I am still smiling. This book is just charming. Norman is a gnome who lives patiently in the garden of Mr Goodfellow. Everything Norman knows about the world comes from Mr Goodfellow, listening to his radio, his television, talking books and his lovely piano playing. Then one day Mr Goodfellow is driven away in a fancy car with not one but two suitcases! "The driver swung the suitcases into the boot and slammed it shut... Norman waited for Mr Goodfellow to wave goodbye. But he didn't. He waited for Mr Goodfellow to look back. But he didn't".

Norman's life is about to descend into chaos. A young girl - Norman calls her Darling - and her mother arrive at the house. His lovely regulated environment is totally disrupted. Darling rides her roller skates down the front path, she plays with a hoop and worst of all she uses a skipping rope like a lasso. "He feared for his life ... was this to be his fate? Lassoed and strangled by a rope wielding squatter cowgirl?"

Then comes the biggest shock of all. Darling picks Norman up and she takes him for a ride in her doll pram. Their first adventure is 'out the back' where he endures a humiliating tea party with the dolls. Next stop is the kitchen where Darling gives him a range of accessories including a Rasta hat and finally Norman is put into a bike basket and he rides to the park with Darling at 500km per hour. This is party exhilarating and partly terrifying. Disaster strikes, though, when Darling has a bad fall from her bike and Norman himself sails through the air landing far away.

As with all the Aussie Bites there are only 85 pages in this little chapter book and yet Jen Storer manages to give her readers a taut and hilarious story. It is also exciting to have a book in which the briefest reference is all that is needed to piece together so many aspects of the story for example the relationship between Darling, her mother and Mr Goodfellow. The illustrations deserve a special mention. They are by Andrew Joyner - my students loved The Terrible Plop from the CBCA awards in 2010.

I now also see that Jen Storer is the author of Tensy Farlow which I also reviewed on this blog and by coincidence a student in Year 4 was just talking to me about Tensy Farlow yesterday and explaining why this is the first book that has totally hooked her in as a reader - she loved the cliff hanger chapters and the sinister elements. Tensy Farlow is a far more sophisticated novel and it is impressive to see that Jen Storer is such a versatile writer.

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