Monday, January 14, 2013

NOT NORMAN: A GOLDFISH STORY

 
Written by Kelly Bennett
Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

(Candlewick Press, 2005)

What do you do when your pet isn’t fun enough, cuddly enough or adorable enough? What’s the point?

That’s how the boy in this story feels. Norman, his pet goldfish, is just not enough. How can a goldfish compare to a puppy, a kitten, a gerbil or a lizard? The boy decides there is no comparison. He’s trading in Norman for a real pet.

If you are an animal lover, the premise will keep you invested throughout the story. Will the boy really give up the goldfish? And why is the fish all alone in a tiny fishbowl?

Poor Norman!

Other pets in the story get more attention. Austin has a dog with lick-everything puppies. And Emily has a snake that get’s EVERYONE’S attention. Norman? He just glug-glugs water and stares blankly from his bowl. Why would anyone notice him?

Thankfully, the boy does begin to notice little things, endearing things. Nonetheless, the boy doesn’t back down from taking the goldfish to the pet store. Oh, my! Surrounded by cats and birds and hamsters, how does Norman stand a chance?

The illustrations are digitally created and have the same strengths and weaknesses I see in so much digital art. While the main images are appealing—I particularly like the silhouette images of the other musicians during band practice—the backgrounds often seem like nondescript afterthoughts, reminding me of the old “Flintstones” cartoons as Fred and Barney would run on and on through a never-ending interior with the same plant and painting in the background. The lack of interest affects the overall impression of the illustrations. I am curious if other picture book fans have also noticed this as a trend. I encourage you to add your thoughts in the Comments section after the post.

This is a story that had me wholly invested from the start. Having volunteered at the SPCA, I was horrified by the concept, yet too aware of how realistic it is. People abandon their pets too easily. The pets get too big, too chewy, too whiny, too piddle-prone. It is all too easy. Drop off and drive away.

Not Norman should trigger a great deal of discussion about pet ownership and pet care.

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