A gently satirical and ultimately liberating look at modern education.
Norman Normann’s well-meaning dad finds a tutor for him when Norman’s scores on his first go at the high-school entrance exam are less than stellar. The tutor (the best his parents could find at the last minute), Balthazar Birdsong, has nearly Holmesian powers of deduction, along with a pedagogical philosophy of observation, imagination and finally action. His tutoring method informs the loose-seeming collection of activities that follow, among them kite-flying, sky-watching and, for Norman, an A-to-Z reading of the dictionary that becomes almost oracular. Birdsong’s trust in his young students (he enfolds Norman’s friends Leonard and twins Anna and Emma under the wings of his singular, slightly zany tutelage) includes his assumption that they will not be harmed by long walks, new ideas or perhaps (though he isn’t present for the conversation) even by discussing their discovery of the word “shit” and its etymology in the dictionary. The year is so empowering that when Norman and his friends, his mother in tow, set out for Singapore to rescue Norman’s cash-hungry used-bomber–salesman father from mysterious fur-hatted Alfurnian agents, the children are able to greet all challenges with equanimity. The author’s diminutive, bold-lined drawings, inserted intermittently, by turns emphasize and elucidate the narrative.
Appealingly quirky and adventurous; a celebration of the power of self-directed learning and thinking outside the box. (Fiction. 10-13)