By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Catholic children’s author and elementary school teacher Andy Allen said the best compliments he receives about his Stormin’ Norman books are from parents who say they are tired of reading them. “It means their kid really enjoyed the story and wants them to read it again and again!”
Allen, an Iowa City native and graduate of Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City and St. Ambrose University in Davenport, just released his second children’s book, “Stormin’ Norman — The Bark in the Park.” Allen tackles the topic of bullying through the eyes of his 8-year-old lab/boxer mix, Norman.
In the book, Norman takes a trip to the dog park. Once there, he sees many different kinds of dogs playing together. One dog, however, is not playing well with the rest — in fact, he isn’t playing at all. “He’s being mean” to the other dogs, Allen explains.
In response, Norman chooses to use “the golden rule,” treating the bullying dog, Frank, with respect and sharing his golden frisbee. Both Norman and Frank are transformed in the course of the story.
Allen teaches religion and social studies at St. Jude Catholic School in Cedar Rapids. He felt bullying would be a relevant topic to write about, partly because of how misunderstood and complicated bullying situations can be. Bullies are often seen as one-sided characters in need of a punishment when in reality they may need love and guidance. “I try to formulate some empathy toward the antagonist. Maybe Frank was having a bad day, maybe there was stuff going on at home that he couldn’t control. Maybe he couldn’t control his emotions as much as other kids and couldn’t properly verbalize his feelings.”
He admitted that the book took many rewrites because of the complexity and relative maturity of the topic. Because the book is targeted to pre-kindergarten through second-grade students, he needed to keep the story and its lessons simple and fun. “That’s what took the longest time, to convey the message and have the important aspects I wanted, but not have it be so deep that it’s difficult for kids to understand. The ultimate goal was to put the values of the golden rule and empathy into kids when they are younger, so as they grow, they will still have those values and may not have those bully issues because they understand people are different. It’s OK if people are different.”
Allen chose to use the same publishing company and illustrator as his first book, “Stormin’ Norman — The Soggy Doggy,” which has now sold about 4,000 copies. He admits that the sales of his books are less important than the ability to make children happy and teach them a lesson or two along the way. He’s also enjoyed the opportunity to read his books at schools and answer questions the children have. On March 25, he returned to Regina to read to the students there.
Regina Principal Celeste Vincent said the students were “glued to the pages” as Allen read to them. They also offered a number of ideas for new Stormin’ Norman adventures. Allen said he hopes to write a Christmas adventure next.
Regina teachers said the students left not only entertained and enriched by the storytelling, but also inspired to do some of their own. Fifth-grade teacher Jan Rudolph said some of her students have started writing stories at home. “One girl has even expanded her story into chapters and is now on chapter 15!”
Librarian Kristen Downes said, “I think the author’s visit helped students revisit a love for reading and writing and he inspired an excitement about each process that only great authors can do. He is welcome back anytime.”
First-grade teacher Doug Vollstedt said, “Andy did a tremendous job telling the students about his books. Andy taught the entire audience that anyone can be an author if they work at it.”
Stormin’ Norman book series
Regina Catholic Education Center and St. Ambrose University graduate Andy Allen’s books can be purchased at Barnesandnoble. com, amazon.com and www.andyandnorm.com. He is also available for school visits; e-mail andy@andyandnorm. com for more information.