Review: Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson

norman speak

Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng

A boy and his family adopt a dog from the animal shelter.  The boy has a hard time choosing a dog and finally decides to take Norman, because he’s been there the longest.  Norman was a stray and doesn’t really have a tail, more of a stump, but he can wag it along with his entire backside.  Once they got home, they discovered that Norman did not follow basic dog commands at all.  He just tilted his head sideways and didn’t do anything.  The family realized that Norman was just not smart, but at least he was funny and friendly.  Then one day in the park, a man was playing with his dog and Norman started to follow the commands!  But the boy couldn’t understand a word of what the man was saying, he was speaking in Chinese.  Norman spoke Chinese!  Now it was up to the family to figure out how to communicate with their Chinese-speaking dog.

Adderson’s gently humorous text leads readers to simply believe that this is the story of a rather slow dog being adopted into a family.  The twist of the language appears abruptly, changing the course of the book and the reader’s opinion of Norman in an instant.  It works tremendously well thanks to the set up in the text before that.  Perhaps the best part of the book is the family’s attempt to learn Chinese so they can speak to their dog.  I love that the solution is changing themselves instead of changing Norman.

Leng’s illustrations have the same quiet humor as the text.  They feel like glimpses of real life moments, unstaged and candid.  Done in simple lines and quiet colors, they support the story and help tell it.

A celebration of diversity and differences in doggie form, this picture book is just as clever as Norman.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.