Kim Norman recalls a big-family childhood in Virginia, long vacations at Lake Kezar in Maine, and a love of art which grew into a profession as a graphic designer. But Norman reflects that her teachers talked more about her writing than her art. From an early age Norman absorbed the sound and flow of language through fairy tales, poetry, and the old Uncle Remus tales (despite their racial overtones). “I loved the cadence of the language,” she says. “I used to have dialogues in my head, conversations almost like a TV script, hearing two people speak.” Norman knows now that her dialogues were all about the rhythm of the words.
In her work as a graphic artist for her local newspaper Norman never entertained the notion of becoming an author, but words continued to impress her. She found her way into writing as an adult, first with light verse, then romance novels because she heard it was easy to break into the field in that genre, but her heart was not in it. “I didn’t like to read [romance novels] so I didn’t like to write them,” she says. With the birth of her first child, Norman borrowed books from the library. As she read them aloud to her first, and then her second son, she learned to appreciate the rhythm, the rhyme, and the conciseness of the stories. When Norman tried her hand at writing picture books, she says, “I felt at home with [them].”
Norman wrote her first book, Jack of all Tails, in prose because she had heard at writers’ conferences that editors do not like rhyming picture books, but Norman is drawn to rhyme. “It’s the one kind of writing that sucks me back to the desk. Other kinds of writing feel like homework.” When someone (she has no idea who) came up with the name Crocodaddy in her backyard pool, she recalled her days at the lake with her father. “He was the one who would roughhouse and throw you off his shoulders,” she says. Her mind turned the word over and over until she came up with the lighthearted “Crocodaddy, Crocodaddy, watcha gonna do?” But one line does not make a book, and Norman says, “You have to have some tension, conflict, how is he going to stalk [Crocodaddy], how is he going to tame him.” Children love the humor in Crocodaddy, but parents appreciate the sweetness of the father/child interaction.
Ten on a Sled started as a title—a take-off on the song “Ten in a Bed.” “The title just came to me and I said to myself, ‘Oh, that’s good.’” Her first draft of the book followed the song closely, but one of her critique partners who is also an illustrator told her to remember the animal characters are careening down a hill on a sled, not rolling around in a bed. He suggested turning the book into a race. A stroke of brilliance with visual and rhythmic appeal. Norman set the book in the Arctic and researched several native species, finally selecting ten. Although the sheep in the story comes across as a generic sheep, Normans says, “I know personally that it’s a Dahl sheep.” Despite the snow on the ground, Ten on a Sled takes place in the summer on a mountaintop in the Arctic so the illustrator could incorporate the various colors of the animals’ summer coats. “Winter in the Arctic is dark and most of the animals would be white,” Norman says.
Norman’s forthcoming I Know A Wee Piggy Who Wallowed in Brown is her homage to the song “I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly” using the same rhyme scheme. “I always wanted to do a version of [that song],” she says. “I was laying in bed one morning and you know when you wake up your head’s a little muzzy, I thought ‘You know a wee piggy who wallowed in brown.’” Instead of food, Norman’s story focuses on colors as her wee piggy visits the county fair.
Song plays a large role in Norman’s life. Not only are two of her picture books based on children’s songs, but she used to sing professionally on stage. “I am a Broadway geek,” she says with a laugh. Her rich alto voice belted out songs filled with emotion when she performed. School children get a small taste of Norman’s talent during school visits when she performs her “Storytime Boogie.”
Norman writes from her home in Smithfield, Virginia and describes her writing process as eclectic. On her more disciplined mornings she starts right in on a story. “Sometimes I get up hours before anyone else and tuck myself into bed with my laptop on my lap.” If she is working on a longer manuscript she says, “I can go days and weeks without turning out new work.”
When Norman’s sons were small, she read each of them three books at naptime and three books at bedtime. That’s 4,380 books a year. One parenting fact that sticks in her mind is a child who has read 1,000 books before starting school enters with a big advantage. Norman hopes that she helps you meet your reading goal by writing fun, rhythmic books that your children will love.