Growing up, our family had large dogs: a St. Bernard and two Newfoundlands. Though I recall little of getting the former, the images of kennels of puppies for the latter two dogs remain strong in my memory. All those dark brown eyes and pink (sometimes spotted) tongued smiled at my brother and me. Knowing one of them was ours filled us with joyful anticipation!
The young narrator in Caroline Adderson's new book Norman, Speak! gets his dog a bit differently. Visiting the animal shelter, he decides to pick the saddest dog of the twenty-four residents. The stray called Norman had been there the longest and was the boy's choice. Despite his initially sad appearance, that dog wagged and twitched. "His wag was a hula dance of happiness." The family agreed he was friendly and funny. Still, Norman just could not get the hang of basic dog commands.
Until they visited the dog park one day. Norman miraculously followed the commands another owner gave to his dog - in Chinese! And thus follows a series of Chinese lessons for the family so they can communicate with Norman.
I liked the boy's determination and perseverance as he tries to learn a new language (especially when his dad gives up) and his dedication to the dog he so badly wanted. With illustrations by Qin Leng that provide a variety of perspectives, the story unfolds with perfect timing, allowing the boy's voice to shine. Reading this aloud to children will require a few Chinese pronunciation lessons for me, but I know there will be many young volunteers ready to teach this library lady.