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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Norman the Slug with the Silly Shell

Author and illustrator: Sue Hendra
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 2011

Norman the Slug with the Silly Shell makes an ideal one-off read-aloud to a preschool or reception class. It's laugh-out-loud funny on the first read, not quite so funny on subsequent reads as the 'big reveal' at the end is then anticipated. It's bright, bold graphics can be seen clearly from afar; a bit garish up close mind, especially as the icing and sprinkles on the doughnut motif is repeated throughout. 

I suppose any book that makes me sympathise with a slug is worth its salt (pun intended!), because as a gardener I can't bare these little critters. The concept of a slug being shunned by a group of snails for not having a shell, is amusing. Bullying, and being able to get back at the bullies is a theme here, as is expressing yourself, and doing things your own way, positive life affirming messages for little ones.  

I also like the juxtaposition that 'slug' in this book is not drab, dull, and seeking a dank dark place to live (as in reality) but is fun, enthusiastic, seeking thrill and colour- again, how endearing, and why earth am I on the side of the slug?!  The distinction between slug and snail isn't always quite so clear for little ones though, so a lot of the humour in this book goes over younger children's heads (though kids do tend to laugh when adults laugh, so the book still works). The adult aligned humour continues when Norman tries out different shells; a tennis ball, alarm clock, maggoty apple and then...a doughnut, all ending in eager and funny calamity.    

'Fitting in' is harder than Norman finds, as while the snails now except he is a snail, a bird then targets Norman's fantastic edible looking shell, and carries Norman and this shell away. Norman then relies on his old snail ways to rid himself of the bird slipping free of his shell by squirting out his slug slime. The message here is more 'be yourself', 'embrace who you', so again, thematically, some lovely ideas to bring to preschoolers.  Moments of peril, with Norman in the birds mouth and then falling through the sky, are quite gripping for the target 3-5 year old age range here. Again, the big reveal, of Norman wishing he now had wings (this is comedy genius!), and this flakiness in mood is of course very reminiscent of toddlers themselves, so there's humour galore in this short picture book.  

The illustrations let the book down a little, feeling a bit under-invested. Edie (3) is bothered by the re-occurrence of the red bird that she sees has previously had Norman in its beak, being back and close to Norman at the end. Little inconsequential illustrations like this make big difference to very inquisitive, processing children, so young child reception of this book was quite mixed in our house. 

All in all though, a fun read perfect for a big audience. 

If you like this, you might also like:   Meg's Castle by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski

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