cover image Seriously, Norman!

Seriously, Norman!

Chris Raschka. Scholastic/di Capua, $17.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-29877-3

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.)