By: Amber Leventry
That’s not normal.
Can you just act normal?
It’s totally normal.
Fitting in can be no easy task, especially if we and our children are always trying to live up to normal standards. But what does it mean to be normal anyway? Author Tara Lazar explores this question in her newest children’s book called Normal Norman, illustrated by S.britt. A young female scientist, thank you very much, has the job of defining the word normal. To do this she inspects and takes notes on Norman, who she thinks is an exceedingly normal orangutan. Norman, on the other hand, does not like the expectations the young scientist thinks he should be meeting.
“Hold on, Norman. Animals do not sleep in bunk beds. Here is a pile of leaves and branches. Please lie down. This is normal.”
“Your friend? You cannot be friends. You are natural enemies in the wild! This is exceptionally strange. Most. Certainly. Not. Normal!”
Both the young scientist and Norman are baffled. The girl feels like she has failed; everything she thinks she knows about Norman is far from accurate. And Norman feels frustrated and misunderstood while he continues to do what is normal for him. Spoiler alert: Norman helps the girl discover that everyone is happiest when they are his or her normal self. Her scientific conclusion is that normal is impossible to define.
In a real scientific study, however, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that among students in grades 9-12 in 2013, 17% of them seriously contemplated suicide within the year. In the 2015 report, the CDC also reported that suicide is the third leading cause of death in kids ages 10-14 and second in young adults 15-34.
The Trevor Project, “the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24”, reminds us of these heartbreaking stats: lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, while questioning youth are three times more likely.
Bullying, cyber bullying, rejection at home, stress, and abuse are real causes of suicide. Some of these things are harder to know or prevent than others, but we are all in a position to make every kid on the playground, in the classroom, or at soccer practice feel accepted. Kids, whether gay, straight, or somewhere in between, need to feel that any deviation from what everyone else thinks is the norm is still normal.
I will forever be an advocate of putting books like Normal Norman front and center of every library, bedroom, and classroom. Books teach kids what the world can and should be: compassionate, accepting, and worth living in. Kids who don’t feel like they fit in should NEVER feel like they need to find a way out. Books can give kids characters to relate to and hope to hold onto.
I know books made of fiction and ideal scenarios are not going to solve all of the problems of the world or make people immediately drop ignorance and fear, but they are a great place to start. And we need to support authors like Tara Lazar who write books that celebrate differences and challenge gender stereotypes. With their help, we can increase the number of kids who feel safe and accepted and drop the number of those who think suicide is the only option.
Please remember this: we should not be asking ourselves or our kids what is normal. We should be asking what makes us and them happy and then supporting the journey for all of us to get there. Normal may be impossible to define, but happiness is always possible.