Bullying is an ongoing problem in all schools. Taking a little time to write and think about what exactly is “normal” might go a long way to defuse the primary source of the issue. Students are bullied for being “different.” Yet the criteria for being “different” varies from one community to another. A child from Latin America may be considered “different” in a small town in the midwest. While a child from a farm might be misunderstood in a metropolitan city. Tara Lazar’s Normal Norman can be a great discussion starter for this topic.
In this picture book, a child scientist tries to demonstrate how “normal” a purple orangutan named Norman is. Yet it turns out that Norman sleeps in a bed with a stuffed animal and likes pizza better than bananas. One revelation after another demonstrates that Norman’s behavior is not what is expected for an orangutan. The young scientist is distraught. Norman’s abnormally large heart and breezy acceptance of himself saves the day as the young scientist finally accepts that “normal” cannot be defined.
After reading Normal Norman, discuss why it is so difficult to define “normal.” Does everyone have the same body type, eating habits, or sleep patterns? Are members of the same family exactly the same? Would you even want them to be? Would you want to spend the day in a classroom of “normal” students exactly alike? Do a ten minute quick write. Can you describe what a typical school day would be like if everyone looked and behaved the same way? For added inspiration, you could read a short passage from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle describing the planet where all the children behave in a mechanistic way, like robots.
Next, provide your students with a dictionary definition of “normal,” meaning ordinary, standard, typical, etc. Contrast that to the definition of “unique” meaning unusual or special, unlike anything else. Ask your students to write a short essay on the topic. Would you prefer to be “normal” or “unique?” What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
What’s normal for one person or family does not suit another. We are indeed all different. Normal Norman celebrates individuality, an important topic to think and write about.