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!!!

NYC trip looming

Here is a unique idea in the world of gallery shows. “Fill in the Blanks” marries art and performance art by providing canvases, frames and lumps of clay for artists to develop over the course of the show dates. Mary Brooking of the Maine Illustrators’ collective will be one of the featured artists.

I am busy prepping for my trip to New York. The SCBWI conference does not start until Friday, the 8th but I am going early to show my portfolio to Art Directors and do research at the New York Public Library and meet up with friends and family. A week away from home! ACK! I’ve thrown myself into a whirlwind of laundry, packing, and list making. Lists for portfolio revisions, lists for what to take, lists of addresses and phone numbers, subway maps, amtrak timetables… I like traveling, love the train, and can’t wait to visit the city but I am a little nervous too.

A list:
1. Remember to breathe
2. Work on Chapter 2, Ballet
3. Revise cat montage
4. Finalize portfolio, make sure you have 2, dummy books attached
5. Pack clothing
6. Pack sketch book, traveling drawing kit.
7. Confirm appointments
8. Mapquest directions for Providence train station
9. Highlight relevant subway routes.
10. Check on subway passcard for the week
11. Society of Illustration hours?
12. Breathe.

John Bisbee Opening

    Last night was the opening for Bright Common Spikes: The Sculpture of John Bisbee at the Portland Museum of Art. I happened to be in the museum a couple of weeks ago and met John as he was installing hundreds of flat metal pieces to the wall. John saw me watching his work and cheerfully introduced himself. John lives in my town and works in the art department of  Bowdoin college. Thin, athletic and 42, John has the spirit of Santa and the beard to match. He is effusive and welcoming and invited me to attend the opening. Last night, he paid as much attention to my six and eight year old as every other grown up who wanted to shake his hand. 
    Each metal sculpture in the show is fabricated from nails. In the piece I watched John install, the nails resemble sunbeams radiating from a center screw that mounts the piece against the wall. Unlike a kid’s drawing of a sunbeam or the original nail, the pieces are organic and curvy. One piece flows into the other. Some are mounted two layers against the wall and the result is a graceful intertwining lattice that winds it’s way up a huge three story wall. The piece is framed by the rectangular white spaces the artist has created by the absence of metal. My older son commented that the piece seemed to seep from the ceiling and drip down the wall.
    The opposite wall showed pieces that seemed to climb like vines and sprout from the wall on which they were hung. Spiky and twisted, these sculptures reminded us of the thorny vines that would have grown around Sleeping Beauty’s castle wall.
    The exhibit is extremely kid friendly. My younger son had fun finding patterns, and naming otherwise abstract designs. “This looks like bamboo.” When we viewed a huge airy ball of thin, welded nails he mentioned that he thought he could just roll it away. I asked if it would be heavy or light. He said light. In reality the piece probably weighed a ton but Bisbee has created a sculpture that uses white space as effectively as the skillfully welded nails that are his medium.
    Nails, a common object that anyone can relate to are turned into beautiful (yes beautiful) sculptures. I was constantly amazed that a nail, something so manufactured and tough, could evoke the feeling and look (Seed pods, cocoons, vines, a husk) of something organic.  The exhibit is on display from January 24th through March 23. If you need an excuse to come to Portland, this is it. Don’t forget to bring your children. After viewing the Bisbee exhibit you can take them to the Portland Children’s Museum next door.