Petaluma Profile: Patty Norman, local bookseller and open water pilot
“Books will solve the world’s problems if you read enough of them,” says Patty Norman. “I really believe that. From books, you learn empathy and understanding. And you can’t unlearn that.”
Norman is best known, to thousands of young Petaluma readers (and their grateful parents), as the “children’s specialist” at Copperfield’s Books. In that role — which she has held for nearly 16 years — Norman does more than just help kids find the perfect books. She also organizes all of the children’s and young adult’s author visits at the store, including off-site events at local schools, where visiting writers and illustrators frequently appear at student body assemblies to share their experiences of being a professional storyteller.
“Developing the authors’ program has been so fun,” Norman says, “finding different ways for the kids to meet authors and illustrators. It’s been so great to watch kids discover that writing and drawing books is a real thing, that real humans actually do that. That if you like to write, then you can write. I think that’s super important.”
On a recent Friday afternoon, Norman was busily planning a scavenger hunt for that weekend, as a tie-in to a planned visit by author Mac Barnett, author of the “Mac B., Kid Spy” books. She’s also been working hard to finalize a schedule of other 2019 author appearances, all while (“slightly”) worrying (“a bit”) about her son’s upcoming trip to Thailand.
“He’s going with friends,” she explains. “It’s a mom thing, worrying about stuff like that.”
Norman is the mother of two adult kids, Taylor, 30, and Jack, 27.
What many don’t know about Norman is that she also works as an online digital artist for Athleta, a women’s sports clothing company originally founded in Petaluma. When Athleta was purchased eight years ago by the Gap, the local company’s offices were moved to San Francisco. Norman now commutes into the city a few days a week. This serves her other passion — kayaking as a “pilot” for open water swimmers in the San Francisco Bay.
“The piloting thing is where I can clear my head from both jobs,” Norman allows. “Piloting is an amazing challenge. You are guarding the swimmers from other boats, while making sure they don’t get off track, because with goggles and waves they can’t really see where they are.”
She primarily pilots at Aquatic Park, working with swimmers from the South End Rowing Club, where she says a surprising number of Petalumans go to swim in the open water of the Bay.
“It’s such a huge community of good people,” she says. “They are authors and attorneys and firemen and on and on. Their love is swimming, and my love is being able to support the swimmers. I go places I would never go on my own in a kayak.”
She does it several times a month, and last summer, was part of a team assisting an athlete who set out to swim the length of Lake Tahoe.
“She started at 9 at night, at Camp Richardson, and she swam until noon the next day at Incline Village,” Norman says. “No breaks. If you are a marathon swimmer, you have to keep going, and you can’t hold onto the boat. We had to throw her food every now and then. It was insane.”