Many years ago when I was a young lad visiting the Corning Public Library, I remember checking out “Norman the Doorman” by Don Freeman. In fact, I remember checking it out and keeping it for about a year or so past the due date.
I have a vague recollection of bringing it back, and imagining a six-kabillion cent fine being levied against me. I figured I’d get my name in the paper under the headline “Returned at last!”
But that wasn’t what happened. I was fined, but it maxed out at something like $4. (A fine I distinctly remember being about the cost of a Star Wars figure.)
But what made keep this lovely book?
For one thing, there’s a certain dynamic quality to Don Freeman’s art that really appealed to me as a kid. It still appeals to me now, in fact.
Additionally, Don had a keen idea of exactly what I liked.
The story of “Norman the Doorman” features a handsome white mouse who serves as the museum guide (and door-mouse) to a human museum of art. But he doesn’t stand guard at the front door, he’s on duty at a tiny mouse-sized hole on the side of the building. There he greets all creatures interested in taking a look at the fabulous artwork inside.
But beyond life as a tour guide, Norman has a creative twinge inside his little heart, and he longs for an opportunity to un-twinge it.
Thus the story begins to unfurl and we see Norman taking his place among the art world’s most creative minds.
As a kid, I enjoyed “Norman” for its David vs. Goliath aspects and because I sympathized with Norman’s desire to create. In fact, I still feel that creative pulse practically every waking moment.
Themes aside, I also love the art by Don Freeman. His characters are lively and dynamic. His own samples of “what the art world thinks is art” has an amusing touch to it. And, my oh my, Freeman is a master at expressive faces. As an added bonus to the six-year-old version of me, he even had Norman living in a suit of armor. What’s that? Armor, art and mice? Clearly Don Freeman was a mind reader as well as a children’s artist.
I can’t tell for sure, but this art looks as if it was done with pastels, oil crayons or maybe even colored pencils, but Freeman creates a unique look in several panels, including murky lighting, quick action and juxtapositions between big people and little mice.
Looking at this book years later, I also appreciate that “Norman the Doorman” has a multi-layered story. It’s a smidge more sophisticated than one might expect.
And in the end of that story, one mouse — one mighty mouse — stands above every big person in the book. It’s certainly a message that we should be happy to share with our children.
AUTHOR: Don Freeman
ARTIST: Don Freeman
TOUGHEST WORDS: “Trapeese,” museum, splendid, examined
DENSITY OF TEXT: Medium
COMIC BOOK-NESS: Great action poses and well-drawn facial expressions. No speech balloons
WOULD IT BE A GOOD MOVIE? Yes, there’s enough in this book that it would make a great one without too much padding.
THEMES: Making art, showing art, mutual respect.
WEBSITE: Don Freeman (With lots of info on the artist and his works!)