• It’s the birth date of Ford Madox Ford (1873–1939) The Good Soldier; John Kennedy Toole (1937–1969), founder/publisher of The English Review, author of A Confederacy of Dunces; and abolitionist and poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).
  • It’s the first flight date of the Douglas DC-3 plane (1935) whose size and range helped establish the airline industry, and of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet (1947), which led to modern jet design for airliners.
  • It’s National Maple Syrup Day. Read Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Christopher G. Knight.

Today I am recommending a book to chase the holiday blues away. Sometime during this joyous, or not so joyous, season, people find themselves a bit depressed. When that feeling comes upon you, make sure you have a copy of Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect nearby.

Urban’s first novel, published in 2007, provides easy reading for ten-year-olds on up. In it she has gathered one of the most eccentric casts of characters to grace a recent novel. The protagonist, ten-year-old Zoe Elias, dreams of playing piano. Her father, who suffers from a severe form of agoraphobia, attempts to buy one for her but instead secures a pump organ. But in a family adept at making lemonade out of lemons, Zoe applies all of her talent to playing the organ, with a book of hits of the seventies at her side.

At school Zoe loses her cool and wealthy best friend, Emma Dent, and finds herself included in the lunch table of Wheeler. Unlike the proper Emma, he and his friends exchange belches during the meal. These details feel completely authentic; Linda Urban has not forgotten what being in school actually can be like.

Wheeler eventually starts coming home with Zoe and spending time with her father—who has been working his way through several courses from Living Room University. Since Mr. Elias has trouble being around new people and strange settings, he has to occupy his days while his wife works as a controller for the State of Michigan. About half way through the book, these hilarious misfits appear to be destined to a life of failure and frustration. But slowly, by sheer determination and pluck, they begin to change their fate. Zoe manages to compete in the Perform-O-Rama—it may not be Carnegie Hall but it is satisfying in its own way. Mr. Elias becomes such an excellent baker that he finds a job that fits him. Wheeler and Zoe develop a friendship, hinting at romance, that rests on solid support for each other. And readers cheer them on, every step of the way.

The book, with a lot of wisdom, breezy writing, and short chapters, encourages young readers to accept who they are and then flaunt it—a message much needed at this time of year. I myself picked up A Crooked Kind of Perfect on the day after Thanksgiving and found myself laughing away the post-holiday blues and a case of the flu. The book will also encourage you to tinkle the ivories, play the pump organ, or sing and make music however you can during this holiday season.

Here’s a passage from A Crooked Kind of Perfect:

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.


Originally posted December 17, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Family, Humor, Music, School
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for A Crooked Kind of Perfect


  1. Sam Musher says:

    Yay! I adore this book. “Forever in Blue Jeans,” indeed.

  2. Kim Baker says:

    So glad you featured A Crooked Kind of Perfect today! It’s one of my favorite middle grade novels of all time.

  3. Eliza says:

    I went into this book a little skeptical, quickly was charmed, and ended delighted. Great book – funny and poignant. I just love the relationship that develops between Wheeler and Zoe’s dad.

  4. stephanie says:

    I’ve been doing this book with my fourth grade literacy groups for several years now. I’ve never had a student that didn’t love it. Last year, as we were coming to the end of the book, one boy said he was sad because he didn’t want the book to end. This book is full of love, warmth, and humor. And I can especially relate because I had to take organ lessons in sixth grade, when all I really wanted to play was the guitar!

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