School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 5�8—Twelve-year-old Norman Normann scores poorly on the Amalgamated Academic Independent City Schools Test, leading his parents to enlist a tutor to help him prepare for next year's exam. When his eccentric new tutor, Balthazar Birdsong, asks Norman to read the dictionary, the boy thinks his fun is over. But a disturbing discovery about his father leads Norman and his friends on an exciting and unexpected adventure. As Norman works his way through the dictionary, listeners are exposed to a "Winchester bushel" of new vocabulary words and Norman finds that he is no longer "diffident." A lengthy discussion of the dictionary terminology for defecation, a wee bit of pants wetting, the definition of nipple, and other bits of irreverent humor will have middle school boys howling. Jesse Bernstein voices a masterful range of madcap characters, including Norman's doting mother; his loving, but slightly dim-witted father; and the peculiar Balthazar. While the book's text is complex, Bernstein's spot-on narration will help listeners keep the characters straight and breeze through dictionary definitions, and raises the book to a whole new level of hilarity. Pair the audio version with Chris Raschka's book (Michael di Capua Bks., 2011) so student's can peruse the Caldecott winner's whimsical illustrations.—Lisa Hubler, Charles F. Brush High School, Lyndhurst, OH
Raschka is known mostly for his picture books, but words have been essential to him too, in a minimalist way. His first book for older readers, Seriously, Norman! though dotted with black-and-white spot drawings, is a novel through and through…and it's a very amusing one. But reading it is a visual, loopy, absurdist experience, not exactly like reading most novels, and less like looking at a picture than entering one…As for the split between the visual and the verbal, Raschka finesses it well, and ends up scoring very high in both categories.
The New York Times Book Review
Picture book master Raschka tackles his first novel, a loopy story full of interesting ideas, which sometimes struggle under their weight. Norman Normann, 12, bombs his high school entrance exam, so his daft but concerned parents, Orman and Norma, hire him a tutor. Balthazar Birdsong’s eccentric methods include daily sky observation and A-to-Z reading of a dictionary whose entries (occasionally illustrated by Raschka) seem to foretell events in Norman’s life. Norman’s focus, however, is less on school than on his father’s possibly shady business dealings. This intrigue culminates in a Christmas week trip to Singapore that begins as a rescue mission but ends up an intervention of sorts. Brevity being the soul of wit, the linguistic punniness goes on a bit long, but Norman is a companionable protagonist whose affection for his clueless parents is charming. Time with Mr. B is also well spent—the book is a veritable benefaction for readers’ vocabularies. It’s also easy to love a tutor who declares his mission “is to get your heads and noses out of your textbooks and back into the clouds where they belong.” Ages 9�14. (Oct.)
Publishers Weekly - Audio
Norman Normann is fairly normal, but when he fails an important exam, his parents hire tutor Balthazar Birdsong to help their son get into an advanced high school. With his tutor's idiosyncratic lessons, Norman quickly begins to see the world and his family in a new light. Narrator Jessie Bernstein creates a light and exuberant voice that is perfect for Norman. However, his narration is often too exaggerated. And while this performance may capture the spirit of the story, it proves a difficult listen. Additionally, other parts of the book don't translate well to audio, particularly sequences when Norman and friend Leonard engage in conversation while executing karate moves on inanimate objects and imaginary villains. While Bernstein's performance is spirited, the frequent cries of "EEEEEEYAAAAA!" will wear on even young listeners. Ages 9�14. A Michael di Capua hardcover. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Praise for SERIOUSLY, NORMAN!
A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW NOTABLE CHILDREN'S BOOK
"Appealingly quirky and adventurous; a celebration of the power of thinking outside the box."--KIRKUS REVIEWS
"This rousing tale contains strong wordplay and a lot of humor."--HORN BOOK
"A visual, loopy, absurdist experience."--THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
Children's Literature - Carol Mitchell
When Norman fails an important exam, his parents hire the unusual Mr. Birdsong to tutor him. Mr. Birdsong's unorthodox teaching methods focus on improving powers of observation and vocabulary. These skills prove to be extremely useful to Norman when he and his friends try to uncover the truth about Norman's father's business dealings. The children are launched into a series of adventures that take them from the U.S. through Europe and as far as Singapore. The story ends with the parents slightly more conscientious and Norman much more confident as he approaches his second attempt at the examination. The adults in the story are portrayed as a bit goofy, unfocused and irresponsible; these traits might appeal to teen readers who see this as a familiar caricature of how they view their own parents. The plot takes a while to unfold, and this may discourage readers. The language is purposely complex. For example, Norman's tutor speaks, to use his own description, with a "rather baroque turn of phrase." This language permeates the book increasingly as the end approaches. Although there are lots of context clues, readers may begin to find it tedious. Reviewer: Carol Mitchell
Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
When Norman Normann fails the entrance exam for a prestigious high school, his dad hires Balthazar Birdsong as a tutor in hopes of raising Norman's score by the following year. Balthazar is an unorthodox educator. The two pillars of his tutorial methodology are observation and imagination. He gives Norman a dictionary with the instructions to read through a letter of the alphabet every two weeks. Balthazar happily includes Norman's best friend Leonard and twin neighborhood girls in many of his "lessons" as they fly kites, walk across New York City, and meet in his apartment with his pet crow and pet ratdrinking lots of coffee and hot chocolate along the way. During the summer Norman travels to Austria with Leonard and later all four friends go to Singapore. Norman is concerned that his dad's karma is suffering because he is obsessed with acquiring lots of money and he is selling used bombers to small nations. Two guys from Alfur with long mustaches and wearing tall fur hats are of special concernespecially when it seems they have kidnapped Norman's father. The complicated text is humorous if the reader can decipher the mangled metaphors, the prickly puns, and the whacky word play. The quick paced absurdity may appeal to erudite scholars in middle and high schools. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5�8—When 12-year-old Norman Normann "craps out" on a test, his successful businessman father says, "I want to see a turnaround in the fortunes of that hot little prospect I call my son." So Norman is sent to an eccentric but likable tutor named Balthazar Birdsong, who ends up entertaining and educating the boy and his three best friends. Before long, they learn that Norman's father sells bombers, not airplanes, and they set off on what becomes a worldwide mission to dissuade him from this risky business. This novel, the first for renowned picture-book artist Raschka, has a lot going for it, especially in its use of wordplay and the type of sarcasm middle-school kids enjoy. There are some great pieces of advice along the way, too ("If you want to avoid danger, don't get born"). Raschka's small black-and-white pictures throughout add bright and funny touches. The book isn't without a few flaws, though. For instance, some of the philosophical bits go on too long, a few of the more-madcap events take on a somewhat random quality, and often the voices of Norman and his friends sound alike. But overall, avid fans of offbeat humor will enjoy the story.—Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL
A gently satirical and ultimately liberating look at modern education.
Norman Normann's well-meaning dad finds a tutor for him when Norman's scores on his first go at the high-school entrance exam are less than stellar. The tutor (the best his parents could find at the last minute), Balthazar Birdsong, has nearly Holmesian powers of deduction, along with a pedagogical philosophy of observation, imagination and finally action. His tutoring method informs the loose-seeming collection of activities that follow, among them kite-flying, sky-watching and, for Norman, an A-to-Z reading of the dictionary that becomes almost oracular. Birdsong's trust in his young students (he enfolds Norman's friends Leonard and twins Anna and Emma under the wings of his singular, slightly zany tutelage) includes his assumption that they will not be harmed by long walks, new ideas or perhaps (though he isn't present for the conversation) even by discussing their discovery of the word "shit" and its etymology in the dictionary. The year is so empowering that when Norman and his friends, his mother in tow, set out for Singapore to rescue Norman's cash-hungry used-bomber–salesman father from mysterious fur-hatted Alfurnian agents, the children are able to greet all challenges with equanimity. The author's diminutive, bold-lined drawings, inserted intermittently, by turns emphasize and elucidate the narrative.
Appealingly quirky and adventurous; a celebration of the power of self-directed learning and thinking outside the box. (Fiction. 10-13)