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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey is a memoir about a boy named Nathaniel Newman who has Treacher Collin's syndrome -- which causes craniofacial differences like the main character in Wonder has -- and has to endure many surgeries to help him with basic functions like breathing and eating. These functions are described in graphic detail, such as the cleaning his trach tube many times a day (for a dozen years) lest he suffocate. Nathaniel's fed through a tube in his stomach, called a g-tube, which allows him to have food and nutrients put directly into his body. His eyes are sewn shut for a few days after a surgery and his jaws sewn shut for four months. Over his lifetime, he has trouble eating, and there are many descriptions of him vomiting through his mouth or trach tube. He has to wear a halo that has "screws that need to be tightened daily to slowly expand my bones." The tightening causes him intense pain, and he bleeds from the screw insertion points. All of this is to say that the medical aspect of the story is graphically rendered, and it's meant to illustrate what Nathaniel has had to go through in order to physically function better. His mother also describes her own health issues, which include details of her battles against cancer. There are near-death experiences and a beloved dog dies.
What's the story?
In NORMAL: ONE KID'S EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY, authors Magdalena and Nathaniel Newman recount the challenges that Nathaniel experiences, having been born with Treacher Collins syndrome. These challenges, told from both his mother's and his point of view, are described with brutal honesty. Magda recalls thinking, "This is the worst day of my life," when she saw Nathaniel for the first time. Her truthfulness serves as a baseline as she and her family endure nearly 70 surgeries to help Nathaniel do basic things like breathe, eat, and hear. Nathaniel is pretty immune to the looks and comments that people make when they see him for the first time. He lets it all roll off his back, knowing what real challenges -- and real friends -- look like. When the book Wonder comes out and then is made into a film, he's asked to play a special role in making the movie realistic. His family continues to advocate for people who are different, making the world a little more "normal" for every unique person.
Is it any good?
This is a fascinating and graphic memoir of a family's struggle to live with a child's severe craniofacial impairments. Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey is really two stories -- Nathaniel's almost impish account of his life to date, and a survival story told by his mother, Magda. There are flashbacks to her childhood in Poland and also her struggle with cancer. These sidelines are interesting, but they aren't always relevant to Nathaniel's story or his personal experience.
One of the things that makes Nathaniel's story incredible is his ability to accept his situation for what it is. He speaks about not knowing anything other than life as he's lived it. His mother's narrative serves to show how much labor has gone into raising a child with severe challenges. Her point of view is graphically detailed. She's brutally honest with herself and challenges those who don't show compassion. Whether her side of the story is really compelling to kids is questionable. But as real-life superheroes go, Nathaniel has definitely earned his status.
Talk to your kids about ...
Parents can talk about the role that kid -- and adult -- bullies play in Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey. How does Nathaniel cope with people's reactions to his facial differences?
Nathaniel loves playing video games when he is in the hospital. When is screen time helpful? When is it too much?
Nathaniel and his family notice a big change in peoples' reaction to his facial differences after the movie Wonder comes out. How do movies have the ability to change opinions and behaviors?
- Authors: Magdalena Newman, Nathaniel Newman
- Genre: Autobiography
- Topics: Activism, Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: January 14, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 336
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: January 26, 2020
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