One of my repeated assertions is that picture books are much more than what they seem. They are more than just cute pictures and easy words to read to children before bedtime; they are in fact powerful works of art that can reveal deep truths to people of all ages. Picture books are for everyone.
That’s Not Normal! is one such picture book. Written by Mar Pavón and illustrated by Laure du Faÿ, it centers on an elephant with an unusually long trunk, which he twists and bends in unusual ways. He zigzags it into a set of stairs to help Old Monkey climb trees, for example, or curves it into a hammock to rock Little Antelope to sleep. Each time the reader sees just how Elephant uses his very long trunk, an offstage voice yells “That’s not normal!” The voice belongs to Hippopotamus, who never forgets to remind Elephant that he and his trunk are not normal, the other animals’ appreciation of the pachyderm’s kindness notwithstanding.
While preoccupied with Elephant’s long trunk one day, Hippopotamus does not notice that Baby Hippo has run off after a bounding grasshopper, straight into a lake full of hungry crocodiles! This is the moment when Hippopotamus learns firsthand how necessary it is to not be “normal.” Elephant, through his kindness and bravery, shows all of us how.
First published in Spanish by NubeOcho, this English translation by Martin Hyams is a fun yet poignant tale of acceptance and being nonjudgmental to those who look or act differently from what we expect, or who do not conform to sometimes calcified norms of what is “normal.” If Elephant had had a trunk of normal length (according to what Hippopotamus thought was appropriate for an Elephant) that he used in commonly accepted ways, this picture book would have a different ending indeed.
That’s Not Normal! would fit in beautifully in a variety of library story times, including ones about animals, kindness, or diversity. In a classroom unit, this book could serve as a springboard for students to write their own animal tales. What can we learn from animals—and people—who dare to stand out?
Title: That’s Not Normal!
Written by Mar Pavón
Illustrated by Laure du Faÿ
Translated from Spanish by Martin Hyams
Awards: The White Ravens, 2016 (for Spanish edition)
You can purchase this book here.*
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Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. In recognition of her work, she was named a 2021 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker.” Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.