SIGNED BY ZELDA is now in paperback!
Kate Feiffer's Signed by: Zelda (with wonderful cover art by Kelly Murphy) is her second novel for young readers and comes on the heels of nine pictures books, four of which are illustrated by her father, the great Jules Feiffer. Besides her own great track record as a children's book author and her wonderful lineage, I was intrigued by Signed by: Zelda because one of the main characters is a budding graphologist!
Feiffer brings together two very different eleven-year-olds, a talking pigeon and Grandma Zelda who has lived an amazing life all over the world but has not left her apartment in over a year. Lucy, the graphologist, is the daughter of a surgeon and a teacher and she and her parents have moved from Savannah, GA to New York City for her mom's "great job at a great children's hospital." Lucy immediately notices that "great" has become a throwaway (a word that you use when you don't want to say what you really want to say) word for her parents. Lucy moved into apartment 6D. Directly above her (and much to her annoyance as he practices flying every night which is not much more than jumping off his bed and making loud thuds on the floor - Lucy's ceiling), in apartment 7D, is Nicky Gibson, his older and usually mean sister Stella and his dad. Two years ago his mom got on a plane to India and has not come back and Nicky has not grown at all since then. Things have gotten pretty and he finds that his TOA (Time-out-average) has risen significantly - both at home and at school. In apartment 8G lives Zelda who bakes Zeldaberry pie, spends as much time with Nicky as she can and talks to Pigeon. And Pigeon talks back. In fact, Pigeon is the flying link between these three characters when, on April 1, Zelda disappears.
Lucy yearns to use her skills as a handwriting expert (and her well outfitted laboratory) to solve a crime. She gets that chance when a few mysterious notes come her way and she finally has a reason to go upstairs and talk to Nicky. The two uncover some pretty dastardly, Roald-Dahl-esque deeds by Mr Gibson, Stella and Nicky's dad and Zelda's son, who seems to be a pretty mean guy a few thin excuses for his shameful treatment of his kids and mother. The plot didn't quite hang together for me throughout the entire book, but I was so excited to read about a character who analyzes handwriting and I grew to love Nicky's bad luck and bad decision making that it was easy to overlook, as I'm sure it will be for young readers. Feiffer includes some great extra information, including a handwriting analysis test and notes about writing the book. Signed by: Zelda reminded me often of a less intense, less socially complex version of Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy that also came out this year and took place mostly in a New York City apartment building and involved the solving of some possible crimes.
Other books by Kate Feiffer
Picture books by Kate and Jules Feiffer
My Side of the Car (click for my review)
Picture books by Kate Feiffer and Diane Goode