Joey Green Interview

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YA and Kids! BooksCenter Interview with Joey Green

Today we’re excited to chat with Joey Green, co-author of Not So Normal Norbert!

What do you like most about the cover of Not So Normal Norbert?
Joey: That it’s on the front of the book. And not accidentally printed upside-down. All seriousness aside (did I say that right?), I love the cover! It really pops! And Artist Hatem Aly totally captured the perfect combination of Norbert’s exuberance and sense of humor. I also love how Norbert is posing for a mug shot and, despite his apparent arrest, he remains defiant, holding up two fingers to make the letter L—for “loser.” Is Norbert making fun of himself? Or is he making fun of whoever arrested him? And I love how the measurements behind him are various levels of craziness and Norbert seems to measure in at “!?!?!” What could that mean? It makes me want to read the book to find out, which is strange, since I already know.

If Norbert could recommend a book, which one would it be?
Joey: Does Norbert know any great books? On earth, he’s a citizen of the United State of Earth, run by a dictator, where everyone has to conform, blend in, and wear the same dreary gray jumpsuits. Anyone creative or imaginative is considered a crazy criminal. Creativity is crazy! Imagination is insanity! Different is dangerous! So while he’s living on earth (where any cool books have been banned and burned), he finds all the books dull and dreary, like The Conformity Manifesto or Loving Leader’s Guide to Mediocrity (I just made those up). When Norbert, who doesn’t realize how funny and creative he is, gets arrested and sent to Astro-Nuts Prison on a planet in the Orion Nebula, only to discover that everyone at Astro-Nuts is creative and imaginative, he’d be thrilled to discover books that capture his imagination, keep him on the edge of his seat, and make him laugh out loud—like A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

If you were to set foot in the Astro-Nuts Camp, what kind of activity would you do immediately?
Joey: For starters, I’d love to throw some paint balloons to make cool artwork. Then I’d love to participate in a comedy improv group. In high school, our youngest daughter Julia joined ComedySportz, an extracurricular activity coached by a drama teacher who trains the kids in comedy improv. The kids put on a competitive improv comedy game show once a month in the school auditorium. My wife Debbie and I went to every show. One night at the dinner table, Julia told us that ComedySportz was having a parents’ night, where parents would perform on stage with their kids. When she invited me to participate with her, I nearly fell off my chair. I mean, most high school students would die from embarrassment if they had to perform comedy improv with one of their parents on stage in front of an audience of their friends. Awed by her courage, I immediately said yes. So we went to rehearsals together. The drama teacher taught comedy improv techniques and games to all the volunteer parents, and a few days later, we performed on stage together. It was really fun. I wove that experience into Not So Normal Norbert.

Which character from Not So Normal Norbert would you like to sit down with and get to know better?
Joey: Norbert. I love his sense of humor, his jokes, and his witty perspective. He gets pretty anxious, like a lot of kids do over tests or oral presentations in school, so I’d like to find out why he what-ifs so much and lets his imagination blow things out of proportion. I think Large Marge gives him some excellent advice in the book that can help a lot of kids. I’d also like to get to know Charlene Gordon. She’s funny, smart, clever, and caring. I’d like to know what she did that got her arrested and sent to Zorquat Three. Could it have something to do with chopsticks?

Is there a particular scene in this book that you have been saving for a while?
Joey: Nope. Everything in the book is brand-new and fresh, created just for this story. When I was eleven-years old, I did go to sleep-away camp for what was supposed to be four weeks at Camp Ocala in the Ocala National Forest in Florida, about a five-hour bus ride from our house in Miami. I’d never been away from home before and I was incredibly homesick. My first letter to my parents read: “If you love me so much, why did you send me here?” A week later, my parents drove up for visiting day, prepared to take me out of camp and bring me home. By then, I loved camp and didn’t want to leave. I stayed the entire four weeks. So I tapped into that experience for Not So Normal Norbert. When Norbert arrives at Astro-Nuts Camp, he desperately wants to go back home but, at the same time, he’s discovering a place filled with kindred spirits who nurture and encourage his creativity. So he’s being pulled in both directions simultaneously. I think a lot of kids can relate to that..

Not So Normal Norbert

Which quote from Not So Normal Norbert best describes the message you hope readers get from it?
Joey: Wow, great question. The first line of the song that Crazy Swayzee sings at the first Love Fest is “You gotta be sane to be crazy.” Later in the book, Swayzee sings the same song, but changes the first line to “You gotta be crazy to be sane.” I love how the line works both ways. Being creative and imaginative is awesome. Suppressing your creativity and imagination is nuts. The world has no shortage of grown-ups who try to stifle the creativity and imagination of kids. But fortunately, there are plenty of wonderful teachers, camp counselors, and scout leaders who nurture and encourage creativity. That’s what Not So Normal Norbert is all about.

Is Norbert’s story over or can we expect to see more of him in the future?
Joey: That all depends on whether readers want to see more of Norbert and his friends. Let us know! We’d love to hear from you!

What is the most important thing for you when it comes to storytelling?
Joey: The most important thing to me is getting kids excited about reading. I filled Not So Normal Norbert with jokes, kooky characters, crazy inventions, and wild adventures to make it as funny and wacky as possible because I want kids to laugh out loud and have fun reading it. If you enjoy what you’re reading, you automatically become a great reader without even realizing it… because you’re having too much fun to notice. When kids read Not So Normal Norbert, I want them to love the book so much, they don’t want the story to end, but they can’t stop turning the page and reading more. And when kids finish the book, I want them to say, “Wow! That was awesome! Please give me another book!” Becoming a great reader is vital to every kid’s success. But becoming a great reader doesn’t have to be torture. Kids shouldn’t be forced to read boring books. That kills their desire to read. Reading should be outrageous fun. Like my pal James Patterson says, “There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books.”

What’s your best and worst writing habit?
Joey : My best writing habit is that I write all the time, which is also my worst writing habit. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So, every day I go for a walk around the block, which is a mile and takes me about twenty minutes. I don’t walk to get exercise or take a break from work. I go for a walk because while I’m walking, my mind wanders freely and I come up with my best ideas and solutions—and I just so happen to be exercising, getting fresh air, and taking a break at the same time. Albert Einstein would go for walks all the time for the same reason. I figured, hey, if it worked for Albert Einstein, maybe I should give it a shot. I haven’t come up with anything as brilliant as the Theory of Relativity, but I did invent the divergent gibberish transducer for Not So Normal Norbert. It’s a start.

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Copyright Ⓒ 2018 by Joey Green. All rights reserved. Reprinted from YA and Kids Book Central.