Harper, Charise Mericle.The Trouble with Normal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
2003. $15.00. ISBN 0-618-15626-7. www.chariseharper.com
The Trouble with Normal, written and illustrated by Charise Mericle Harper, is the endearing tale of Finnigan, a squirrel who yearns to become a secret service agent. The story is told by Doug Smarts, a boy who lives in Normal Towers across the street from Finnigan's tree. Finnigan begins to practice his secret service skills by spying on Doug and his neighbors. After he observes some suspicious activity (the resident in 3B always eats birthday cake for desert and the resident in 5B wears a dish towel as a cape), he writes a report and sends it off to the president. Although the president determines that the residents of Normal Towers are perfectly normal, he still invites Finnigan to join his secret service.
Although most illustrations serve to enhance the text, Harper has created a book in which the illustrations and the text are interdependent. For example, the first page states, "This is a story about my friend Finnigan." The illustration covers the entire page and the text sits just under two portraits reaching towards each other, labeled "Me" and "Finnigan." Using mixed media and collage, Harper depicts everything in the text and then some. Readers will love inspecting the contents of Finnigan's report, the president's letter, and a miscellaneous letter to a birdie, all depicted in full.