By Kate E. Stephenson
In this fourth week of May 2013, I hereby call to order the 20th meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every week, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, it’s easy to catch up.
Club members, this week meet Kate Feiffer.
Kate Feiffer is the author of nine popular picture books and two middle grade readers. Her books include Double Pink, Henry The Dog with No Tail, My Side of The Car, Signed By Zelda, and My Mom is Trying To Ruin My Life, which is being turned into a musical for the stage. Prior to writing for kids, Kate worked as a television news producer and made the documentary film “Matzo & Mistletoe,” which is an exploration of her secular Jewish identity. Her books and the film have won some lovely awards. For the past fifteen years, Kate has lived on Martha’s Vineyard island with her husband, daughter and their dog Henry, an Australian Shepherd with no tail. Kate is always happy to hear from fans and you can email her here and follow her on Twitter.
And now without further ado, Kate Feiffer answers our questions…
Who named you Kate and why?
When I ask my father, he says I was named after his favorite actress at the time of my birth, Katherine Hepburn, who went by Kate. When I ask my mother, she says I was definitely not named for Katherine Hepburn. She claims I was named for Kate in The Taming of The Shrew. My father is adamant that he would never have named me after such an unpleasant character. He’s sticking with Hepburn. My mother remains a Hepburn denier. Their marriage didn’t last.
How did you become an author?
I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1998. I arrived with a new baby and no real opportunities for work. I had been working in television production in Boston prior to moving to the Vineyard, but there was no production work here, so I started writing. I had thought about writing children’s books for a long time. I had in the past written a few stories, but nothing ever came of it. I guess I didn’t have the right inspiration or the nerve to try to get published yet.
What was the muse for your first completed/published book?
My daughter! I was that politically correct gender-neutral mother that denounced the color pink. That was until my daughter discovered pink and developed a driving passion for the color. Her love for pink made me start thinking about the important role that color plays in kid’s lives. When they ask, “What’s your favorite color?” it isn’t a gratuitous question. They want to know. My first picture book was titled “Double Pink” (Simon & Schuster 2005) and is about a girl whose love of pink goes too far. Bruce Ingman did the illustrations and they pop. Double Pink was recently released in paperback and over the years I have grown quite fond of the color.
What are you currently working on?
I am on my third round of major revisions for a middle grade novel about a girl who helps her Aunt win a wacky world record. I was hoping to be done with the book by now.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Sounds cliché, but raising a healthy strong daughter with a great sense of humor and integrity. Her love of pink endures.
What’s your favorite word?
Don’t have one.
What’s your least favorite word?
Who’s your favorite literary character?
What’s your favorite quote?
“My sister, my daughter.” (From the movie Chinatown. I usually embellish it with an extra round or two of my sister, my daughter.)
If you weren’t an author, what profession would you like to try?
A singer. Sadly, I’m tone deaf.
If you could do one thing in your life over, what would it be?
And now Book Clubbers it’s time to read! Kate Feiffer’s Signed By Zelda, a quirky comedy that proves penmanship is important, was released this month in paperback. This is a fabulous book to introduce children to a wider world that still only exists in pen and paper. If you want to know what your handwriting says about you, I highly recommend you read this book. It’s a hoot! Check it out:
Signed By: Zelda (Chapter 1)
THURSDAY, APRIL 1
West 68th Street, Apartment 8G
Grandma Zelda didn’t answer her doorbell the first time Nicky rang. The second time, he pressed down on the buzzer and counted to a hundred, although he knew that if Grandma Zelda didn’t have her ears in, he could count to a million and she still wouldn’t hear him.
Her note had instructed him to sneak out. She’d be expecting him. Nicky turned the doorknob and heard a gulping sound but wasn’t sure if it came from him or the door. He pushed. The door swung open, but the doorknob remained behind, in Nicky’s hand. “Oh, no,” he whispered to himself. “I hope I don’t get in trouble for this.”
Nicky had a bad habit of getting in trouble. Lately his Time-Out Average (TOA) had spiked to .750, which meant that he did something that earned him a time-out three days out of four. Grandma Zelda was pretty much the only person left that Nicky’s dad allowed him to spend time with. “I suppose you can’t do anything that will land you in too much hot water with someone so old,” his dad had told him.
Grandma Zelda wouldn’t care anyway. She didn’t believe in time-outs. During their afternoons together she fed Nicky slices of his beyond-favorite Zeldaberry pie and helped him make plans for a sail around the world. “If you meet a pirate, ask about his grandmother,” she’d advise. Or she’d tell him a story about the time she once swam under a pirate’s ship and scraped a nugget of gold off the keel. “It’s around here somewhere, if I could only remember where I put it,” she’d say.
Grandma Zelda hadn’t left her apartment in over a year, but she used to lead a life of adventure. Nicky couldn’t picture his tiny gray-haired grandmother doing any of this, but she once rode a camel across the Sinai desert, and twice she jumped out of an airplane and parachuted into Mongolia. Grandma Zelda’s left eye liked to wink when she talked, and she spoke with a Southern drawl, which was unusual for someone who’d grown up in the North. She had so many stories to tell that Nicky figured she kept telling them even when she was alone, even when she was asleep.
Nicky clutched the doorknob and stepped inside Grandma Zelda’s apartment. Her walls were covered with photographs and paintings. She kept every picture that Nicky and his sister, Stella, made for her and hung several of them next to paintings by better-known artists. It never felt messy in her apartment but always seemed busy.
Nicky called out for her. “Grandma Zelda?”
“Grandma?” he called out again after he didn’t get a response. “Grandma. Grandma Zelda?”
He walked into the kitchen. He waved to the pigeon squatting on the windowsill. He checked for Grandma Zelda in the bedroom. He saw her viola d’amore resting on the bed, alone. Nicky looked around the sides of her bed, in case she had fallen off it. He looked under the bed, in case she’d rolled under it.
He looked for her in the bathroom, the shower, and the cabinets.
He pushed his way into her two closets, behind her housecoats and dresses.
“Grandma? Grandma Zelda?”
Back in the hallway.
“Grandma Zelda, is this an April Fools’ Day trick?”
“Grandma Zelda?” Nicky called out one final time.
will land you in too much hot water with someone so old,” his dad had told him.
Book Clubbers, I already know what happened to Grandma Zelda and I’m not telling! Until next time…
Kate’s Book Club is a column on Kate-book.com featuring interviews with authors named Kate, as well as reviews of books starring Kate characters. It runs on Kate-book.com every other Wednesday at 10:30am, and is written by the self-admitted bibliophile Kate E. Stephenson, who you should follow on Twitter here. Oh, and write to Kate to suggest authors and books we should read for future columns.