“My Side of the Car,” Kate Feiffer, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Candlewick, April 26. 32 pp. $16.99.
When an acclaimed children’s book author and her Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist father collaborate on their third children’s story, it’s bound to become a joy ride for readers of all ages. Their latest effort, “My Side of the Car,” written by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, is a 28-page homage to an extraordinary real life father/daughter relationship bound by love, respect, and humor.
Ms. Feiffer, a former photographer and television news and documentary producer, turned to writing children’s books after making the Vineyard her full-time home 13 years ago. Her daughter, Maddy, now 12, apparently provided irresistible fodder for her mother. “Double Pink,” Ms. Feiffer’s first foray into the children’s book world, was inspired, she says, by Maddy’s “absolute devotion to pink,” an addiction so powerful, Ms. Feiffer says, tongue firmly planted in cheek, “that it threatened to consume our lives.”
Now, after producing such popular titles as “President Pennybaker,” “My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life” (also adapted to the stage by The Vineyard Playhouse last summer), “The Problem with Puddles” (coming out in paperback), and “Henry the Dog with No Tail,” Ms. Feiffer is back in the driver’s seat once more with “My Side of the Car.” Derived from a real life experience when she was a child spending time with her then-divorced Dad, daughter and father agree that the story was begging to be told.
“I was a single parent taking Katie here and there,” Jules explains. “She loved Felix Neck [Wildlife Sanctuary] and I enjoyed taking her. On the way there one day, I could see that it was raining but Katie insisted it wasn’t raining on her side of the car. I don’t even remember if we actually made it there but it became a mischievous game and one that we’d still tease each other about years later.”
“My heart was in the incident,” Kate says. “It was to be an exciting day with my Dad and, at the time, the drive from our summer home in West Tisbury to Felix Neck seemed like a long journey.” While she concurs that the actual outcome of the trip was forgotten years ago, she says that she knew she wanted him to illustrate her recollection as a children’s tale.
“My Side of the Car” features the ebullient redheaded Sadie, eagerly propelling her father to the zoo. While a series of previous dilemmas has prevented them from making it to their destination, today is the day that nothing will stop them. They’re having “the best time ever,” during the drive when her father notices that it’s raining. “It’s not raining on my side of the car,” replies the ever-optimistic Sadie. The book, with its colorful, whimsical illustrations, showcases Sadie’s resourceful determination and her father’s patient, loving response.
Both Feiffers remain enthusiastic proponents of one another. “We always have a ball working together,” says Mr. Feiffer. “Katie’s a very funny, witty and perceptive writer. She gets into her characters and gets the humor.”
“Working together has helped our relationship grow in ways I would have never expected 10 years ago,” Ms. Feiffer says. “It gives us a connection through something we’re both very passionate about. And it’s fun!”
Next up for the daughter/father team is their fourth joint project, a children’s picture book entitled “No Go Sleep,” being published this summer by Simon & Schuster. A collaboration in every sense of the word, Mr. Feiffer explains that he unearthed Kate’s two- to three-page story concept last year as he was searching through his file marked “Kids,” seeking ideas for a new project. He recognized it as Kate’s and remembered how much he enjoyed it when he’d read it several years ago. On a whim, he drew up a finished dummy of the book and sent it to Kate as a surprise. Delighted with his interpretation, they agreed to send it to Mr. Feiffer’s long-time publisher. “They loved it,” Mr. Feiffer says simply.
While Kate embarks on promotional events for “My Side of the Car” and gears up to launch “No Go Sleep” this summer, she has also put the finishing touches on a new children’s novel, “Signed by Zelda,” a mystery featuring a missing grandmother, a boy in trouble, a bad dad, and a young girl who, inspired by her FBI agent next-door-neighbor, has become a handwriting expert.
If her’s seems like a full schedule, Mr. Feiffer, now 82, is a tough act to follow. The winner of a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, and an Obie, he is recognized as one of the most influential editorial cartoonists of the 20th century. Presently completing a graphic novel as well as a children’s picture book about a dancing cat, Mr. Feiffer is also teaching at Stony Brook University in New York, and gearing up for exhibitions of his work in New York City and in Amherst this summer. As for when he might make it to his seasonal home on the Vineyard, he answers: “I’ll be running around a lot, but we’ll get there.” Retirement, however, is not in his vocabulary. “Only after death,” he promises.
“My Side of the Car” party at Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven, Saturday, June 18, from 10 to 11 am. Ms. Feiffer will share her new children’s book. A reading, games, activities, and outdoor car decorating are all on the agenda. Free. bunchofgrapes.com.
Story Time at West Tisbury Free Public Library. Join Ms. Feiffer on Friday, June 23, at 10:30 am, for a special reading of “My Side of the Car.” Visit westtisburylibrary.org for more information.