Not So Normal Norbert

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Not So Normal Norbert Book Poster Image
Fun fantasy/sci-fi blend combats dystopia with laughs.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A few vocabulary words like "pantomime" and "improv" explained. "Docile" isn't explained or defined but a character says it's a nice-sounding word.

Positive Messages

Being different is OK, even fun. Embrace the ways you're different and find ways to express them creatively. Don't scare yourself or work yourself into a state by dwelling on "what-ifs"; stick to what is and deal with what's actually in front of you. Overall creativity and imagination are encouraged because they're fun, and the comedy show the kids put on brings about important changes to society, but the encouragement is undermined slightly by mandatory participation under the threat of banishment to a life sentence at hard labor.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Norbert easily works himself into a fright by imagining or worrying about worst-case scenarios, but he learns to control those tendencies and calm himself down by being more positive. He's a good friend and successful leader, even reaching out to those who don't like him and finding a way to work together. Kids have diverse-sounding last names like Chung, Garcia, and Rubenstein; physical features or skin color aren't mentioned. The only kids who express themselves using objects or gadgets are boys. The girls provide emotional support, romantic interest, and friendship and show their imagination and creativity by acting.

Violence & Scariness

Some mild scariness from fantasy creatures, scary aliens, poisonous snakes that are imagined by Norbert.

Language

"Butt" and rare, mild bodily function humor, such as "Whoever smelt it, dealt it."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Not So Normal Norbert is a lighthearted blend of fantasy and science fiction for reluctant readers by publishing juggernaut James Patterson. The mild content is fine for big kids and up. Tweens and middle-schoolers will especially relate to the themes about the pressure to conform vs. the expression of creativity and individuality. Norbert is separated from his parents, who've disappeared, but lives with loving relatives. He imagines scary what-ifs like poisonous snakes, scary aliens, and fantasy creatures, but they stay firmly in his imagination. An adult couple kiss a couple of times and Norbert (12) gets his first kiss on the lips, but they're not described. There are vague romantic feelings, kissing on cheek and forehead, some holding hands, and hugging. There's no strong language but rare bodily function humor and a few uses of "butt." Norbert's a positive role model for leadership qualities and for learning to not let his fears get the best of him.

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What's the story?

NOT SO NORMAL NORBERT is set in a future Earth under an authoritarian dictator where conformity is king and imagination is insanity. Everyone wears the same drab gray jumpsuits, and everyone is always under the watchful eyes of the Truth Police -- and of Loving Leader, who sees all and knows all. Twelve-year-old Norbert finds life pretty dull, but he cares more about finding his parents than making waves -- until one day in class, when he gets fed up and dares to stand in front of the class and and do a hilarious imitation of Loving Leader. Faster than you can say "Zorquat 3," Norbert finds himself whisked off to that very planet, where imagination and creativity are not only allowed to run free, they're mandatory. Stuck on a planet far from home, how will Norbert ever track down his parents now? 

Is it any good?

James Patterson and Joey Green create another fun, funny middle school book that reluctant readers, especially boys, are sure to enjoy. But don't be fooled by Not So Normal Norbert's grim-sounding setup of a dystopian future and a kid looking for his lost parents. Big kids and up will find a lot of laughs, suspense, and adventure waiting for them among the "Astro-Nuts" of planet Zorquat 3.

Zeroing in on the anxiety and pressure kids feel to be like everyone else, the novel encourages them to let their imaginations run wild and to express their individuality and creativity freely in constructive ways. The authors keep it light here; there's not a lot of depth, and most characters besides Norbert are more types than real-seeming and relatable. But the humor, adventure, and lively illustrations will make this book enjoyable for reluctant readers, and hints about a future rescue mission will have them eagerly hoping for more from Norbert.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how society in Not So Normal Norbert is dystopian. What does "dystopian" mean? How is this book different from other dystopian books you've read, or movies or TV shows you've seen?

  • What are some of Norbert's character strengths? What about weaknesses? What do you like about him?

  • Do you like the illustrations in the book? Are there too many? Not enough? Do they enhance the story or get in the way?

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For kids who love science fiction and middle school tales

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