Ten-year-old Zoe Elias has perfect piano dreams. She can practically feel the keys under her flying fingers; she can hear the audience's applause. All she needs is a baby grand so she can start her lessons, and then she'll be well on her way to Carnegie Hall.
But when Dad ventures to the music store and ends up with a wheezy organ instead of a piano, Zoe's dreams hit a sour note. Learning the organ versions of old TV theme songs just isn't the same as mastering Beethoven on the piano. And the organ isn't the only part of Zoe's life in Michigan that's off-kilter, what with Mom constantly at work, Dad afraid to leave the house, and that odd boy, Wheeler Diggs, following her home from school every day.
Yet when Zoe enters the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition, she finds that life is full of surprises—and that perfection may be even better when it's just a little off center.
About the Author
Linda Urban's debut novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, was selected for many best books lists and was nominated for twenty state awards. She is also the author of Hound Dog True, The Center of Everything, Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, and the chapter book Weekends with Max and His Dad, which received two starred reviews. A former bookseller, she lives in Vermont. Visit Linda online at lindaurbanbooks.com and on Twitter at @lindaurbanbooks.
Read an Excerpt
A Crooked Kind of Perfect
By Linda Urban
Harcourt, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Linda Urban
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow It Was Supposed to Be
I was supposed to play the piano.
The piano is a beautiful instrument.
People wear ball gowns and tuxedos to hear the piano.
With the piano, you could play Carnegie Hall. You could wear a tiara. You could come out on stage wearing gloves up to your elbows. You could pull them off, one finger at a time.
Everybody is quiet when you are about to play the piano. They don't even breathe. They wait for the first notes.
And then you lift your hands high above your head and slam them down on the keys and the first notes come crashing out and your fingers fly up and down and your foot-in its tiny slipper with rubies at the toe-your foot peeks out from under your gown to press lightly on the pedals.
A piano is glamorous. Sophisticated. Worldly.
It is a wonderful thing to play the piano.
How It Is
I play the organ.
A wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ.
The Perfectone D-60.
The best pianist who ever lived was Vladimir Horowitz.
Well, maybe Mozart or Beethoven or one of thoseancient guys was really the best, but nobody knows because they didn't have CDs or television or anything back then. But once TV and recordings came around, the best guy for sure was Vladimir Horowitz.
I saw a show about Vladimir Horowitz one time.
I wanted to watch that old show on TV Land about the twins who are always switching names and clothes and playing tricks on their teachers and boyfriends, but my mom said, "Zoe, either you can watch PBS with me or you can go to bed." And she had popcorn.
Vladimir Horowitz was born in Russia. His mom played piano. The show didn't say what his dad did.
He was a prodigy, which means that even when he was a little kid he could play like a grown-up. When he was seventeen, he gave his first professional concert, and when he came to America a few years later, he played Carnegie Hall.
I'm ten. Almost eleven.
That means I have six years to get good.
I told my mom that I wanted to be a prodigy, that I wanted to play Carnegie Hall. I told her I wanted to play the piano.
"Take it up with Domestic Affairs," she said. That's my mom's way of saying, "Talk to your dad."
My mom is a controller for the state of Michigan. She looks after all the money and makes sure she knows how every dime is spent and that nobody is cheating or stealing or buying stuff they're not supposed to. I found all this out on Career Day last October. I didn't know before.
On Career Day, the other moms and dads were things that kids had heard of. Like Mr. Nunzio, who is a baker and who brought us all little chocolate cupcakes with Nunzio's Buns written in pink frosting. Or Joella's mom, Mrs. Tinstella, who is a host of a radio program on WPOP. She had her microphone and pretended she was doing her program while she was talking to us-putting in commercials and introducing songs and taking requests-and then she gave us red-and-purple WPOP bumper stickers. For weeks afterward all the cool kids' parents had WPOP bumper stickers on their cars, but we didn't because my mom says bumper stickers fade and peel and then your car has a big gummy rectangle that attracts dirt and anyway it's just a big advertisement for WPOP and they're going to have to pay us if they want us to advertise for their noisy excuse for a radio station.
When Mrs. Trimble introduced my mom and Mom started talking about being a controller and fiscal responsibility and keeping your ducks in a row, most of the kids looked really bored. Even Mrs. Trimble looked like she was going to need to head to the teachers' lounge, which is where she goes when she has had it and desperately needs a cup of coffee and a Tylenol.
But then my mom started walking down each row and asking each kid's name, and she'd say, "Lily. Nice to meet you, Lily. Here is a quarter. Buckley. Interesting name, Buckley. Here is a nickel." She talked to each kid and gave them money and then went back up to the podium and kept on talking about how a controller has to know where every penny is and not get distracted by emotion or politics or home life or what's on the radio. Which made Joella Tinstella turn around in her seat and stare all mean at me for about five minutes. Everyone else was watching Mom. Hoping she was going to hand out more money, probably.
"In any organization there are distractions. Personalities. Drama. It is a controller's job to ignore these distractions and focus exclusively on the money," said my mom.
Then, with her eyes closed so we wouldn't think she was cheating, my mom said, "Lily, quarter. Buckley, nickel. Colton, quarter. Ashley, dime." She named every single kid in the class and said exactly which coin she gave them. "I got them all right, yes?" asked Mom and we all said yes and clapped. Mrs. Trimble said, "Thank you very much," and started telling my mom how much we all enjoyed her talk. My mom interrupted her.
"Before I go," Mom started. And my stomach started aching and my hands started sweating and I knew that every kid in my class was about to hate me.
"Before I go," she repeated, "I'll need you to pass those coins up to the front of your rows. Every penny counts. That is fiscal responsibility!" Mrs. Trimble made us all pass our coins up and Mom counted them at the end of each row, and when one quarter was missing in row three she said, "Wheeler. My quarter." Wheeler Diggs pretended that he had already passed it up to the front and then faked like Sally Marvin dropped it on the floor and he had to crawl around under his desk before he handed it over.
Later, after music class, Wheeler Diggs stopped me in the hall and looked all mean at me and I thought he was going to punch me in the stomach and I threw up and I missed my bus and my mom had to come back to school and take me home.
The first time I told my dad that I was supposed to play the piano, he harrumphed. The second time, he rubbed his chin. The third time, he said, "That's a big commitment for a little person." My dad knows about big commitments. He has twenty-six framed diplomas from Living Room University.
"I am destined to play Carnegie Hall," I told him.
"Baby steps," he said, pulling a flyer from the stack of junk mail on the counter. It was from the Eastside Senior Center, and in it was an ad for More with Les, a revolutionary method for learning the piano. Six weeks of lessons with Lester Rennet, Award-Winning Music Teacher and Trained Motivational Speaker! Specializing in Children and Seniors! No Instrument Required!
The senior center had one piano, and it was not grand. It was an almost-upright. It leaned to one side. I guessed it had been donated by a school because there were initials carved into its legs, and if you lifted the yellow scarf off the top, you could read all about a Mrs. Pushkin who smelled like fish. The bench was bowed from years of supporting senior citizen backsides.
The More with Les students sat at folding tables. There were nine of us. Me and eight seniors, including Mr. Faber, who was ninety-two years old and slept through most of our lessons. He was not motivated by the More with Les philosophy.
"My philosophy is simple! My method revolutionary!" said Lester Rennet.
"Save it for the brochures," grumbled Mr. Faber.
"This is your More with Les songbook." The cover featured an out-of-focus photo of Lester Rennet surrounded by kids who appeared to be holding up homemade accordions. SIMPLE! it said. REVOLUTIONARY!
Mr. Rennet told us to turn to the back of the More with Les songbook. There we would find the revolution.
What I found was a piece of perforated cardboard folded over on itself a couple of times. There was a piano key design printed along the bottom edge.
"Voilà!" said Mr. Rennet.
"The More with Les paper keyboard!"
The blurry kids on the songbook weren't holding accordions at all.
Lester Rennet pulled his own paper keyboard from his briefcase and unfolded it. "As you can see," he said, holding it up to the tired piano at the front of the room, "your More with Les paper keyboard is exactly to scale. It has black keys and white keys, just like a real piano except, of course, that they make no sound when you touch them! The More with Les paper keyboard is the perfect practice instrument! No worrying about plunking out wrong notes in front of your friends! You can practice anywhere. At the kitchen table! At Bingo Night!" Mr. Rennet pointed at me. "You can practice in the school lunchroom!"
Had Lester Rennet ever seen a school lunchroom? Did he understand that the lunchroom is a jungle, where sixth-grade beasts stalk the weak and the dorky? Unfolding a revolutionary paper keyboard would be like picking a scab in a pool of sharks the scent of blood would cause a frenzy.
Lester Rennet continued. "Each week you will be assigned a piece from the songbook. I will play it for you here à la piano while you play along on your More with Les keyboard!" Then we'd go home and practice-the More with Les recommendation was twenty minutes a day-and at the following week's class we would each take a turn in "performance" at the real piano, hearing for the first time the songs our fingers had trained for all week.
"And now," said Lester Rennet dramatically, flipping my More with Les songbook to its paper keyboard page, "let us begin!" And with that he tore out the magical paper keyboard that was supposed to be my ticket to Carnegie Hall. For the first and only time, the paper keyboard made a sound: rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip.
We have 432 rolls of toilet paper in our basement. Four hundred and thirty-two. This is enough to last until I'm out of high school, my mom says, provided we are conservative in our usage. She figured it out. Family of three-one of us gone almost all day every day at her office and one of us at Eastside Elementary five days a week-goes through about one roll of toilet paper a week. That means we will use fifty-two rolls in a year. 52 x 8 (the number of years until I go to college, as long as I don't flunk a grade-not likely-or skip a grade-even less likely) = 416. That leaves sixteen extra rolls for emergencies.
We have 432 rolls of toilet paper because my dad went shopping by himself. Dad is not supposed to go shopping by himself, but sometimes he gets all worked up about how he should be able to go shopping like everybody else. And then he gets to the store and there are lots of people around and if it is noisy or there are flashing lights-like maybe a blue flashing light announcing an extraspecial, limited-time offer on toilet paper-my dad gets really jittery, and if somebody notices and tells him something like "This is a once-in-a lifetime deal that will not last," my dad will say, "I'll take it," and the people with the blue light will be very happy to help him. If he says he is going to take all of it, they will even offer to deliver it to the house. And all Dad's jitters will fade and he will believe that he has done a very smart thing, making sure that his family has enough toilet paper to last for eight years.
And then he will forget all about it.
Until the delivery truck comes to the house.
The Perfectone B-60
My dad was supposed to buy me a piano.
But instead of going online or calling Rewind Used Music, he went to the mall and it was crowded and noisy and he was walking by the big fountain with the stone hippo in the middle and he heard this sound.
This boompa-chucka, boompa-chucka sound.
And his toes started tapping and his hips started wiggling. The man at the store that sells Perfectone D-60s saw my dancing dad and waved him over.
Dad told me everything that happened after that. But he didn't need to. I could have figured it out for myself.
"You look like a man who knows fine music," Mr. Perfectone said to my dad. Boompa-chucka, boompa-chucka. "Do you play?"
My dad laughed. He was supposed to say, "My daughter is about to have a concert at Carnegie Hall. I just need to buy her a piano so she can start her lessons." But Dad was mesmerized by the boompa-chucka-boomp.
"Go ahead," said Mr. Perfectone, slithering around behind my boompa-chucka dad. "Press a key." Chucka-boomp.
Dad pressed a key. A Cuban nightclub act sprang out. That's what my dad said. A single key and he could hear bongos and trumpets and guitars.
Mr. Perfectone flipped a switch. "Again," he whispered in my dad's ear. Dad was bold. He touched two keys. An entire orchestra tumbled out of the speakers. "Not bad, Mozart," Mr. Perfectone said, sliding a sales slip and a pen from his sleeve.
Two weeks later, instead of an elegant piano slick as black ice, two hairy guys dropped off a wood-grained behemoth.
Now, the Perfectone D-60 is mine.
Excerpted from A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban Copyright © 2007 by Linda Urban. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a great book...... for children who do not need a large challenge. It has very relatable characters, yet the plot is a little off structure, I liked it personally! A wonderful book for Book Clubs, it will really get a discussion going! It is always good to be a little crooked kind of perfect!
This is the best book ever. I am ten and i had to read this book for battle of the books. I thought it was going to be boring but it is the best book ever.
I LUV YHIS BOOK SO MUCH. Its a good book for young children.
Great book i read the sample and it was good so i can imagine the whole book will be good .......this book would be good for a high leveled fourth grader and a fith and mabey a sixth grader!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I read this book (paperback) and loved it
This book show that you can't always get what you want, but if you work hard, things might just turn out your way. Life can be a crooked kind of perfect.
All Zoe wants is to learn to play the piano. She can just picture herself playing a glossy grand piano, wearing a sweeping dress, on the stage of Carnegie Hall. Instead, her eccentric father purchases a Perfectone D60-an organ with all the trimmings. Between living with an agoraphobic father (that means he is afraid to leave his house) and an exacting accountant mother, Zoe can barely keep her life together, much less perfect. But she soon learns that there are different types of perfect, and the perfect you didn't even imagine can be just as great as the perfect you did.I have one quibble with this book: Zoe is supposed to be ten, but she comes across as a precocious 12 or 13. If you don't get hung up on that, this is a fun little book about learning to love what you have, and that every family is different. Funny and well-written, students will enjoy reading about Zoe's exploits, which are sometimes funny and sometimes poignant. Readers will be able to recognize the feelings of frustration that Zoe experiences when she begins to learn that life doesn't always take you on the path you thought it would. This book is especially great for perfectionist girls.For ages 9 - 13.
When I picked out this book I did not think beyond the fact that it sounded interesting, I liked the socks on the cover, and I wanted to read about someone learning how to play the organ. My decision was not premeditated. I had just recently finished reading something about The Phantom of the Opera and so just the word organ caught my interest. I had thought that it would be interesting and if it was not, oh well, I spent less than four dollars on it. What I was not expecting was a book that made me laugh and want to be able to know more about her family. Not only her dad that spends all day at home getting diplomas that he would never use but the mother who actually gave a fourth grade class money only to take it back.A couple of reviews that I have read said that because she started to learn the organ everything in her life begins to go wrong. I didn't see the book that way. I saw it as when she started to learn the organ she began to shake free of her bubble of how she thought everything was. She stops living in a fantasy world where everything is parties and sunshine and starts to see that not everything is how she thought they should be. Every time before her dream bubble is popped she shares with us how she thought they would be and even as you read it you know it is wishful thinking. In the end I like the reality better than the dream. The book is cute and funny. Because of the fact that Zoe is ten there is not really any romance. There is a short crush or two but that is all.My other favorite character had to have been Wheeler Diggs. However, while I did learn more about him than say the mother I did not learn what I had been biting my nails for since they alluded to it from the beginning: his home life. They make little mentions of how his home life might not be the best and how he is surprisingly skinny but the author never confirms or denies if anything is going on there.Finally I wish I could try some of the delicious cookies that are mentioned in the book or that I was able to learn how to play an instrument as fast as Zoe seemed to be able to.
This is a very sweet little story about a young girl, Zoe, with a desire to play the piano. Not only does she want to play the piano, she wants to be a maestro! So her dad buys her an organ. She embraces her new instrument with as much enthusiasm as she can as she and her teacher prepare for her to perform in a competition. The story is about how a family that doesn¿t quite fit the ideal, is actually pretty perfect in their own way. It¿s very good and I highly recommend it.
It was okay. I think its one of those books that is over-advertised and is judged by its cover. I don't think there is much of a story line.
Zoe is a 10-year-old girl who dreams of one day playing the piano at Carnegie Hall... but when her father comes home with a strange organ instead of a baby grand, Zoe's dreams fall flat. But rather than indulge their daughter and take it back, they make a deal with her to pay for lessons. She may be learning organ versions of old TV hits, but it's still something! Meanwhile, her mother is a workaholic and never at home, and her father has severe agoraphobia and is terrified to leave the house (and spends his time at home getting diplomas from all those strange study-at-home courses you see advertised in magazines and on TV). So, things are far from perfect. But what I love, love, love about this novel is that -- even as strange as the characters seem -- the parents are real, make logical choices, and their daughter is a good kid who has clearly been raised right. Instead of taking the organ back, or Zoe raising a tantrum about it, they find a solution as a family. Zoe's parents also remind her that she wanted lessons and needs to practice because of it, and Zoe recognizes her parents' authority, even when she doesn't want to do what they say.In other words, we have a real family here that clearly loves each other. The parents aren't perfect, but they're trying, and how often do we see that in children's books these days? I also thought the idea of an agoraphobic parent was highly unique, as I've never seen that concept brought into a novel before. In fact, Zoe's father was one of the best characters I met in a book all year, and he has a fantastic sense of humor.And even better? The voice is perfect. I felt like I was reading something in a 10-year-old's voice, and not once did it seem to venture into 'older' territory. Very well done.I picked this book up on a whim at a Scholastic warehouse sale (I think it was $3), and didn't know what to expect. After reading it, I think this may be one of my favorite children's books, not just of this year, but ever. I wrote an email to the author to thank her for such a unique and wonderful story, and I hope to buy more copies to give away to my friends' children once they're a bit older. I hope to see more from this author in the future!
Do you play the piano or organ? Do you have a wacky dad?If you do you relate to Zoe in a Crocked Kind of Perfect. Thisis a great book for fourth graders.
Zoe Elias is not a popular girl, her father's neuroses keep him tucked into the house, and her mother is a workaholic. Although Zoe hopes to learn to play the piano, her father buys a low end organ. Yet, learning to play the piano unleashes a series of events that changes the lives of Zoe, her mother, and her father. A easy, breezy read.
Hilarious! Great for any reader who puts up with a lot from their parents and patiently waits for the opportunity to realize their dreams.
How often do you come across young adult novels that feature organs? Come on! I mean the Perfectone D-60! And even more rare - how many young adult novels feature heroines that actually enjoy playing the organ? Well, not many - that's how many. But A Crooked Kind of Perfect is one - and it's a good one. From beginning to end it feels novel (as in original) and refreshing and fun. Here is a book that really IS for middle school girls. Not for their moms or their teachers or their librarians, but for them. It's got the snotty ex-best friend, the cute "bad-boy", the cool new friend, the odd but lovable teacher, plenty of baked goods, and the Perfectone Perform-O-Rama!
Zoe Elias dreams of playing the piano at Carnegie Hall. She's certain that just given the chance, she might turn out to be a prodigy. She's picturing playing recitals on a grand piano while elegant people dressed in their finest sit in the audience. Imagine her surprise when, instead of the piano she was so hoping for, her parents get her an organ. An organ that comes with lessons from Maybeline Person and her book of organ songs... Hits from the 70s. It's laugh out loud funny and be sure to scoop this one up if there's a young musician in the family. Or if there isn't. :)
A Crooked Kind of Perfect captures the voice of a ten year old girl- her anxieties, prides and mundane mental workings - with vivid, prose that's easy to identify with. The story moves swiftly, with very little schmaltz and is both funny and a little poignant. A great book for mother daughter book clubs and anyone who soon will be or ever was a 10 year old girl.
A deceptively easy and funny read for 4th to 6th graders with real emotional depth. It's about family, former BFF's, cliques, new friendships, and new possibilities.
Zoe wants a piano. In her mind she considers herself a piano prodigy waiting to be discovered. She's just a baby grand away from Carnegie Hall. But when her easily-distracted dad is charged with procuring the instrument he returns home with a cheesy Perfectone D-60 organ, complete with electronic rhythm sections and lessons that feature television theme songs in its practice book. When her teacher discovers that Zoe has some talent she convinces her to enter the annual Perform-O-Rama competition. And much middle grade hilarity ensues.No, actually, it doesn't. What happens is much anxiety ensues, as Zoe is forced to attend the competition with her agoraphobic father who leaves poor Zoe in the care of her music teacher who, in turn, passes her off to another family she knows while he cowers in a hotel room. In that respect the book takes an unsettling turn because it really does feel the girl is at sea in the end. I'd like to say I thought this was a case of good writing but I can't imagine the author intended for the reader to feel anxiousness over her well being instead of the suspense of the competition.It's funny, because until I sat down to write this I hadn't thought about how unnerving the end of the book was. In fact, I'd read recently that some consider this to be the best middle grade book released this year, and I might have given it that if I hadn't started thinking about it. Finishing the book my only qualm had been that there is an inconsistency between Zoe being told there was no classical music available for her organ, and no music beyond the 1980s, when in fact both appear throughout the competition with little mention. I thought it too minor to point out.But what of the subplot at the beginning, where her best friend from the school year previous has dumped her ceremoniously for not being, well, Bratz enough? In the end it seems the only reason for her inclusion is for the sudden appearance of a certain baby grand at the end of the story and a good graphic for the cover. And what of that other strange subplot, the one with the boy who might be her boyfriend who hangs out with her dad all the time in the kitchen baking? Wait a minute, doesn't Zoe's mother use a mirror to read scores over the judges shoulders so she can calculate scores in the competition?Now that I think about it, I haven't encountered this much head-scratching since... The Higher Power of Lucky! This book is exactly what a librarian might consider to be the perfect middle grade reader after all! There aren't enough "serious issues" to really make this award-worthy, but if the Newbery committee proves me wrong you read it here first.So here's the thing. I read this because my youngest was hungry for something light and fluffy, something to read quickly between larger books, something to cleanse her palate. After I read it and felt I could recommend it to her she devoured it pretty much in a single sitting. It was perfect for the moment and easily forgotten when the moment was over, which was exactly what she wanted. I think that's good enough.
This book was ok. I like books that have something really big or surprising and this book didn't really do that. It felt short too, like it didn't have enough, if you know what I mean.
I read this book and I absolutely loved it! Its not very big but its a good read! I think you should read it! :P
This book is great, especially is your a music lover. If you ever feel like ready a book that involves music pick up "A Crooked Kind of Perfect"