A Crooked Kind of Review

    I just spent the last half hour sitting in my van. I wasn’t alone. I sat in my van with my nine and seven year old boys listening to the end of Linda Urban’s, Crooked Kind of Perfect. We couldn’t stop listening (or laughing) because the voice of the main character Zoe Elias, read by Tai Alexandra Ricci, keeps you wanting to know the outcome of this lovely story of imperfections.

    Urban’s masterful use of voice, dialogue and humor keeps the conflicts light yet we know they would fill a firkin for Zoe. Zoe dreams of playing a baby grand piano at Carnegie hall but has to settle for a wheeze-bag organ.  Her loving father has to overcome a fear of people, Anthropophobia, and his fear of leaving home, Agoraphobia. These fears are never spelled out as such, but developed in such a subtle and masterful way that the listener understands that this is just the way Zoe’s father IS without it being weird or bad. Zoe’s mother, a perfectionist in her work, learns to temper her expectations and find time for her daughter.

    As in so many wonderful children’s novels, it is the careful use of detail, the sprinkling of realism, that places the listener in Zoe’s world. From the goings on at the Performorama! (Exclamation point!), to the endless list of cookies her father bakes, to the hysterical but sad flying lessons from Living Room University, Urban captures the surroundings of this working-class Michigan family beautifully.

    Because I was listening to the book, instead of reading it, I was unsure of the format of the book. At times, the short chapters and rhythmic prose sounded more like poetry and I wondered if it was formatted in that way. Ricci does a great job capturing the almost-elevenness of Zoe. While she does not use “voices” for the other characters (like those on Harry Potter) her inflection is true to each character and Urban’s dialogue makes it easy to follow the the story.

    My boys were hooked on the humor and the story. Because isn’t that what a good book is all about? Good story. Thank you Linda! and congrats! for making it on to the Maine Student Book Award List! for 2008-2009!!!

Chug, chug

More writing this morning. Went well. Today I’ll be subbing (that’s substitute teaching not submitting) and then tonight there is a family poetry reading at my kids’ school. Here is the one I plan to read from a larger collection of poems entitled DC for Me. It is a non-fiction poetry book about DC neighborhoods. Very difficult to get published as it is pretty narrow in scope but you’d think that I book on our nation’s capital would be of interest to all.

My Neighborhood
By Anna J. Boll

After school,
my neighborhood
Shepard Park.

Kickball games
four square and
double dutch

Double ropes
slip,slap the black.
Feet dance, trip,
over the ropes
just in time.

Next in line,
then dinner time.

Festival of the Book and an update

Dear Friends, if you find yourself in Portland, Maine this weekend you will want to take a look at the Festival of the Book celebration. The schedule for kids includes programs by the amazing Lynne Plourde (who did a wonderful presentation at our NESCBWI conference), our own live journal friends Carrie Jones & Robin Merrow MacCready, Rochelle Draper, Phillip Hoose, and Maria Padian. Lisa Bossi, Scott Nash and many more will be signing in the signing tent.

On the moving front: my husband is working vigorously on completing unfinished home repair projects in order to have our home ready to rent. This is good. He built our home and when we decided we needed health care more than trim on the doors he started a regular job that took him away from completing the last bits. We’ve lived comfortably in this home for the last three years. However, it is frustrating that the new screen porch, the master bed/bath, the attic playroom, and linen closets (and the trim), will be completed and we will not get to enjoy them. (This is a vast understatement of my disappointment and his but will have to suffice for now.)

The offer is signed, sealed and delivered. We will move to the PAX river area sometime this summer. I’ve told our current school that they do not have to place my kiddos in new classes. This makes me so sad. We have enjoyed a wonderful elementary experience. The school is truly a learning community based on respect, and cooperation between all stake holders. I am open to whatever the future holds but I realize that we have it really good here. My kiddos have revealed more emotion about the move in the last week. I’ve held them as they cried but I also know that kids are resilient and imagine that a few weeks at the local pool will bring new friendships before school starts.

Writing is going along. I feel a little like the “Little engine that could…” chug-chugging up the mountain looking forward to the zoom toward the end of draft one. (did the engine know that he’d have to circle around and do the whole route again?) Draft 2 is on the horizon. The dummy of Roar is in its millionth draft. (I exagerate.) I’d like to get it secret agent man by the end of May.

Another chapter

Don’t miss this great “Docublog” with my Chautauqua buddy Brian Anderson author of the Zack Proton books. While he makes the publishing thing sound easy, he’s had his share of headaches getting all three books through the publishing process. If your kid loves Captain Underpants, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid they’ll love Zack in his intergallactic misadventures.

And now another chapter in that timeless saga of Creative Chaos II… Will Anna and the family be moving? When last we left the Boll family they were traveling 600 miles to southern Maryland so Hubby could interview for a job.

    Young boy 1: I need to go to the bathroom.
    Young boy 2: Are we almost there yet.
    Mother: Stop eating those snacks, we just had lunch.
    Hubby: Leave Daddy’s chair alone when I’m driving. I said, Don’t kick my chair.
    Mother: Let’s put in a DVD

You don’t want to hear that part… let’s fast forward to the job interview. (squeak, whir, tape forwarding)

    Wife: They took you out to lunch?
    Hubby: Uh-huh
    Wife: They sent you to human resources?
    Hubby: Uh-huh
    Wife: So we need to start packing our stuff?
    Hubby: Uh-huh
And so the company sent the Hubby an offer and he took it and the Boll family found out that after 14 idyllic years in Maine they will be moving to St. Mary’s County, Maryland. It is a welcoming community on the confluence of the Patuxent  and Potomac rivers, closer to Anna’s family.

    Anna: Good thing writing and illustrating are portable as are my lovely friends on LJ. I can always stay in touch with my writing friends using email.
    Writing friend: But what about the New England conference?
    Anna: I’ll still direct it and come back for meetings so if you want to volunteer you’ll see me through SCBWI.  Actually, a lot of the conference is already planned out as I thought I might be leaving.

Next time: Will the young boys let their mother get rid of toys they’ve out-grown? How will Mom pack up her office? Will hubby melt in the hot weather? Will secret agent man make a sale this summer? Stay tune for this and other chaos on… Creative Chaos II. *

*Notice the different voice when I’m Mother, Wife and Anna? Three distinct characters really. That’s kind of interesting isn’t it.

Sunshine and Through lines

The rain that caused major flooding throughout Northern Maine stopped Monday morning and we have had two straight days of Sun. I do not live in Northern Maine and I send my good wishes through cyber space to those who are dealing with loss in this difficult time. To those who might want to donate you can follow this link to the Pinetree Red Cross.

Rain and reading go well together. I love to curl up in my living room next to a good light. We even have some new chairs. I’ve been reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon.  We took this on for my bookclub last month but I missed the meeting and have renewed the book twice. The book is 400 pages long and takes on a noir murder mystery, a love story, an alternative history that requires creating a believable Sitka, Alaska populated by Jews resettled in 1941, and a new Messiah.  The writing is so poetic that I tend to reread the paragraphs to take in the strings of metaphors. This is definitely me reading as a writer. Another observation. Grown-up books have so much back story. Most of my children’s writing friends know the backstory of their characters. They create journals for their characters, pictures, notes, maps, but they don’t include it all in the book. Chabon gives you everything. I look forward to this book as a movie. The Coen brothers are working on it but I don’t think there is a release date.

Sunshine brings me back to work on my own writing. Huge thanks to my writing buddy Katie who helped me plot out the ending of my novel. I’d like to say that was all I needed to get me chugging along the first draft track. But I also looked to Nancy Lamb’s, Crafting Stories for Children. Her chapter on the mid-story crisis, was quite helpful and made me refocus on the through-line of the book. This made me think of my main character and his concrete and abstract wants. I feel that these are not clear in my book, probably because they are not clear to me. More on this when I revise. For now, I’m plugging away at getting the first draft done.

Poetry Friday: Sonnet

Spring romances a poem. A sonnet.
By Anna J. Boll

At night lambs cuddle under wooly coat,
By day the maple sap begins to flow.
The snowman sheds the red scarf from his throat,
his inhibitions melting like the snow.

The air is filled with noisy north bound geese,
and water trickles over rocky ledge.
The scent of soil fills my heart with peace,
I turn and venture toward the garden edge.

A tender greenish shoot pokes from the ground.
Leaves grow, roots tunnel down and twine about,
Thoughts bud and swell ‘till lyric words abound.
A gay bouqet of poems begins to sprout.

I catch a scent of sweetness in the breeze,
And write about the music of the bees. 

This is my first and only attempt at a sonnet. Hope you enjoy it. Tonight was the May Day festival at the kid’s school. There were maypole dancers in white with crowns of flowers, pink cupcakes, and a May baskets raffle. More about the completion of Prints & Poems week later.

Stuck in the middle

I haven’t disappeared. I’m here, but working. Writing each morning from 5:30 am until 7:30 then getting my kids out the door. But right now I’m stuck and I figure that if I just keep my fingers moving an idea might come. I’m in the middle of my novel. Page 55. That middle point just before the climax where I need to start ramping up the action but I’m not exactly sure what the climax is so I’m typing, but not really liking the results.

This week I’ve been leading a poetry workshop for a first grade classroom. I love being with them, their excitement is infectious. This class is my son’s class and his teacher is fabulous. She spends the entire month of April celebrating Poetry Month. I am the finale to their month of reading and writing. This week we’ve looked at their own class-written poetry noticing figurative language that they are already using to “paint pictures in the reader’s head.” We are focusing on metaphor and alliteration and the writing process. I explained how I am constantly revising my work. I showed them drafts and notes and drawings in my sketch book that informed my poetry. When I  got the kids settled at their desks for some writing time, Mrs. K leaned over to me and said, “First graders don’t really like to change things.” I had to laugh. As a substitute teacher I know that first graders are the most inflexible of creatures. They always correct you explaining that, “That’s not the way we do it, Mrs. Boll.” So getting them to revise has been difficult.

The other thing is that they have been working all year on writing complete sentences. Their poetry tends to be a couple of really nice sentences without the rhythm or song of poetry. They can find rhyme and alliteration and metaphor in poetry that is already written. Now they need to be able to transfer that knowledge into their own writing. Anyone who writes poetry knows that is no easy task.  Now they have two rough drafts. One done on a rainy day and one done on a sunny day. I’m hoping that they can take their ideas and build it into a piece they feel proud of.

Tomorrow is poetry Friday. I’ll post the sonnet I made for the Prairie Home Companion contest. Happy writing and re-vising.