It's the summer holidays and we know you'll be looking for some brand new summer reads to share with your little readers. We review Perfectly Norman a thoroughly recommended new read hitting bookshelves in August.
‘Diversity in publishing’. The buzzwords on everyone’s lips. In 2017, never has it seemed so vital that readers see themselves reflected on the pages of the books they’re buying. Even more important perhaps is the idea that young readers are engaged in stories which are about children like themselves that depict champions for every person and promote positivity.
Step in Perfectly Norman the eighth picture book by writer and illustrator Tom Percival. Amidst an array of arresting and utterly compelling Illustrations, meet Norman who has always been perfectly normal… until he suddenly finds himself in possession of a pair of wings…
Norman tries to hide his wings – wearing a coat in all weathers and standing out all the more, but he just doesn’t know what to do. Nobody else has wings…or do they?
This is a delightful tale about self-identity, acceptance, friendship and freedom. Exploring what it means to be brave enough to be different this charming book delivers a stunningly illustrated story of a little boy who realises that being bold enough to embrace being different is what leads to his happiness. By taking an element of every child’s (and a fair few adults) wish fulfilment – who doesn’t want to fly? Tom Percival has created a brand new character who has the power to uplift the spirits of the readers and spark conversations about a sense of place in a world that be confusing and difficult to navigate, but that by being yourself can be enjoyed. Needless to say, Norman’s enviable wings will be making us revisit this story over and over again.
Perfectly Norman is published on 10th August by Bloomsbury Children’s.
We caught up with writer and illustrator Tom Percival to find out more about his new book and what comes first, the words or the pictures...
What inspired you to enter a career in children’s book illustration and writing?
I was inspired by the fact that drawing was pretty much all that I wanted to do when I was a child. Then I discovered a love of music, graphic design, animation and finally writing. So in many ways it was inevitable! The adage says, ‘Do for a living what you did for fun as a child’ and I’ve pretty much stuck to that (although I don’t do much professional tree-climbing.)
In terms of your own picture books, what comes first the story or the illustrations?
The main concept of the story comes first. I need to have a clear idea to explore before I can start doing any drawings. So once I know what my core idea is going to be, I work the story up using very rough scribbles alongside equally rough text to make sure that the overall shape of the book is going to fit in a standard picture book format. Then I work up a more concrete text and create ‘proper’ roughs for the artwork.
That rough version of the book is then tweaked with the help of an editor and art director at the publishers and once we feel that we have got every element in the right place (both text and images) I then finally work up the coloured artwork. By the time I get on to creating the final art, all the hard work has already been done. At that point it’s just a case of rendering the ideas as clearly as possible.
Perfectly Norman, your upcoming book, has a beautiful and timely story celebrating diversity, but also being yourself. How did you come up with the story and were Norman’s wings symbolic in any way?
The story came about from just looking at everyday life, and the challenges that face people who feel ‘different’ in any way, shape or form. It’s terribly sad that anyone should feel the need to hide themselves or their true feelings away and I wanted to represent that in this book. And yes, the wings are symbolic—of freedom—once you allow yourself to be open and honest about who you really are, you can fly free. Plus I’m sure that everyone has dreamt about being able to fly at one point or another.
Can you describe a typical day in the studio/ at your desk illustrating and writing?
It depends if it’s the school holidays or not!
A normal day involves dropping the kids off at school, making a (strong) cup of coffee and going through emails. Then at about 09:30 I usually start work on whatever is the most pressing project that I currently have on. I’ll work solidly on that until about 13:00 when I get some lunch and nip out to the gym or for a quick run. I’ll start work again at about 14:30 and carry on until about 16:30 (presuming that Liz has been able to collect the kids from school, otherwise I skip the gym and pick the boys up at 3:15) then we all have dinner together and I’ll hang out with my family until 19:00 when the boys go up to bed. After that I’ll usually squeeze another hour or two out of the day before I collapse on the sofa with Liz and we read/watch a film/have a beer (delete as appropriate, depending on how tiring the day has been!)
On a school holiday day, it’s just chaos.
If you could give prospective illustrator/ authors of children’s fiction one tip what would it be?
Love what you do, and do what you love. If you are truly passionate about your work, then even if it doesn’t set the world alight, you will ALWAYS feel proud of it. I appreciate that it isn’t always possible though. I’ve had to do A LOT of projects over the years that I was less than passionate about because I needed to earn a living and support my family. But wherever possible, do what you love!
Can I squeeze in one more tip? Don’t compare your work to anyone else’s. Just try to focus on improving what YOU do, not worrying about where it stands in relation to anyone else. Another adage that I’m very fond of is, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’—for me that says it all.