Tara Lazar (rhymes with bazaar) is a creative mother of two who writes quirky, humorous children’s books−picture books and middle school novels−that kids (and adults) love. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 and she has lost feeling in her feet and legs. She’s a woman who is overcoming her chronic illness to achieve her goals and dreams.
Tara is a children’s author powerhouse who speaks at conferences and events, and teaches workshops to help other children’s authors achieve their dreams of getting published. Her new children’s book “Normal Norman” is delightful tale with a message that will resonate with the autism community.
Tell us about your book.
What is “normal?” That’s the question an eager young scientist, narrating her very first book, hopes to answer. Unfortunately, her exceedingly “normal” subject—an orangutan named Norman—turns out to be exceptionally strange. He speaks English, sleeps in a bed, loves his stuffed toy, goes bananas over pizza, and even deep-sea dives! Oh, no: what’s a “normal” scientist to do? A humorous look at the wackiness that makes us all special— and a gentle reminder that “normal” can’t ever be defined!
What inspired you to write it?
One day the name “Normal Norman” popped into my head. I don’t know from where and I don’t recall what I was doing. But I wrote it down and I thought about it. A lot. When I finally sat down to write, it seemed natural to introduce Normal Norman via a junior scientist, because I knew that he would in no way actually be normal, much to the young researcher’s chagrin. He would do the opposite of whatever we threw at him. It would be messy! He just decided to be his normal self and I followed his lead. That’s how it is sometimes when I write; the character carves his or her own way and I just record it for posterity.
Who’s your illustrator and why was he perfect for capturing the spirit of your book?
The illustrator for Normal Norman is S.britt. Many people don’t know that authors do not pick our illustrators. The editor and art director at the publishing house decide upon an overall look for the story and then pick an artist whose style best matches that vision. Maybe they chose Stephan for his quirky sensibilities and retro flair, because they wanted to lend this book a classic, Saturday-morning-cartoon feel. (When I tell my kids that cartoons were not on TV 24/7 when I was a kid, they think I lived in times of great hardship. Pioneer days.) None of us knew what kind of animal Norman was, but Stephan figured it out in the form of a purple orangutan in nerdy glasses. His illustration technique is to hand draw, paint and then assemble the layers of artwork digitally. Stephan’s bursts of color and texture are such delicious eye-candy, I simply can’t imagine anyone else doing Norman justice.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
Anyone who doesn’t feel quite normal is the ideal reader. And, honestly, I think almost everyone has felt like the oddball at one time or another! I see the book being used to elicit laughter followed by a conversation about how being yourself is the only way to be.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
That there is no such thing as “normal”. I want children and adults alike to see our differences as strengths.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your book?
It has been a lifelong dream to be a children’s author. I love hilarious, laugh-out-loud picture books and that’s what I strive to write as well. Nothing tickles me purple more than being able to give a child and adult special time to read and laugh together.
Do you have a proud moment, inspirational story, or moving fan feedback you’d like to share?
My publisher, Sterling, emailed me three months ago asking if I knew anyone who could MAKE a stuffed Norman. I didn’t, but Stephan did! His sister Jill Lynch creates dolls and she took on the job. When she was finished, she sent me a photo of Norman sitting on her couch and I thought—how adorable! He seemed to be about a foot-and-a-half tall. I thought he was a small stuffed animal. A week later, I received photos from the Sterling team featuring Norman. HE WAS HUGE! His head was nearly the size of my editor’s entire body! Then a couple weeks later, Norman arrived on my doorstep. He is the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen. It is tremendously cool to see your characters come to life in illustration, but then you simply get blown away when they’re in all their 3D, furry purple glory! It’s been a blast taking him to schools, libraries and bookstores with me. The kids love giving him high-fives and taking pictures with his long arms wrapped around them. It’s too cute for words (although I just gave you a buncha words there).
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
It would be my dream if this book brought new friends together, that if two children who saw the other as “different” reached out to find out more about each other. I hope they giggle together over Norman’s silly antics and find friendship in laughter.