By SYDNEY BENDER
Children’s books are magical. Just ask Island author Kate Feiffer, who debuts her latest children’s book, Signed by Zelda, on Thursday, April 5, at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in downtown Vineyard Haven.
Her last book, No Go Sleep, arrived in book stores just last month.
Signed by Zelda is Ms. Feiffer’s eleventh book but her first written for the tween-age. It is also her first book done without illustrations. The pictures in some of her previous books, But I Wanted a Baby Brother!, Double Pink, and My Side of the Car, were illustrated by Diane Goode, Bruce Ingman and Ms. Feiffer’s father, Jules Feiffer, respectively.
In Zelda, Ms. Feiffer uses different fonts and breaks up paragraphs with samplings of signatures, which is an integral part of the plot. Many of the signatures are from the fourth grade students at the Oak Bluffs School.
Zelda is the story of two very different eleven-year-olds, Lucy and Nicky, who are neighbors living in a New York city apartment building. Lucy dreams of one day being an expert handwriting analyst, while Nicky spends most of his time either getting into trouble or trying to avoid it. When Nicky’s pie-baking grandmother, Zelda, goes missing, the kids, with help from Pigeon, a talking bird, get on the case, the only clue being an evasive handwritten note from Zelda.
At the end of Zelda there are interactive extras such as handwriting quizzes (which of the two Thomas Jefferson signatures below was done by a forger?) and a recipe for Zedaberry pie, inspired by seasonal resident Anne Ausubel.
Ms. Feiffer’s book is an entertaining mystery story but it also raises real issues faced by both parents and children.
“What would you do if you suspected one of your parents was doing something truly awful, how do you deal with that?” asked Ms. Feiffer in an interview at her home on the Vineyard. “Do you remember the first time you caught your parents in a lie? It rocks your world.”
Parents can learn a lot from reading to their children and books can act as a communication gateway, suggested Ms. Feiffer. Stories, both illustrated and not, allow children to encounter experiences and ponder questions without even leaving their bedrooms.
No Go Sleep, Ms. Feiffer’s other new book (a collaboration with Jules Feiffer), tells the story of a baby in pajamas who, as the title suggests, won’t go to sleep.
“One of the greatest joys of having a child is snuggling up with them at the end of the day and reading with them,” Ms. Feiffer said. “My hope is that this book is great for that snuggle time. To have them go to sleep. Because that bonding time is so delicious.”
No Go Sleep is lyrical and lovely, and for Ms. Feiffer, it evokes memories, both from her own childhood and her time with her own daughter, Maddy.
“The end of the day is a great time to tell stories, to get engaged in a separate narrative,” Ms. Feiffer said. “Experts say picture books are great for kids but it’s also great for the parents. It builds literacy but also, for parents who read to their kids now, it’s just an extraordinary time.”
Ms. Feiffer referred to Maddy, now an equestrian loving 13-year-old girl, as “one of the best editors I have.”
Kate Feiffer will read from her new books on Thursday, April 5 at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven. The reading is part of the kickoff party for the in-store book fair. Sharing the stage will be Coleen Paratore, reading from her new book, Dreamsleeves, and Gregory Mone reading from his new book, Dangerous Waters: an Adventure on Titanic. The event is from 6 to 8 p.m. and the book fair, designed to help all seven Island schools build their permanent library collections, runs through April 15.