In Print: Feiffers in the pink
December 1, 2005
By Perry Garfinkel
"Double Pink" by Kate Feiffer, illustrations by Bruce Ingman. Simon and Schuster, 2005. $15.95. 32 pages.
While many Kate Feiffer fans have been eagerly awaiting the completion of her endearing autobiographical documentary, who among them knew she had other coals in the fire?
Namely, Ms. Feiffer (a.k.a. Ms. Versatility) — TV producer, filmmaker, freelance newspaper and magazine writer, erstwhile curator and publicist, erstwhile artist in residence at the Tisbury School — has just published a children's book.
"Double Pink," by Ms. Feiffer, with illustrations by Bruce Ingman, was brought out this month by the Simon and Schuster children's imprint, Paula Wiseman Books.
In the spirit, a "Pink Party" — including a reading, signing and "other pink fun," according to Ms. Feiffer — will be held at the Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven on Friday, Nov. 25, from 3:30 to 5 pm. She will also do a reading at the bookstore on Dec. 16, at 7:30 pm.
Not so loosely based on the color tastes of one seven-year-old Madeline Alley, the daughter of Kate and her husband Chris Alley, "Double Pink" tells the story of a young girl named Madison (sound familiar?) so obsessed with a certain (pink) color that she disappears into the (pink) woodwork of her (already pink) room. How is she found? That (pink) plot point will not be revealed here, remaining to be discovered by children aged three to six and the parents who love them enough to buy the book.
The journey from idea to actual book in hand began quite a while ago, said Ms. Feiffer, who lives in Oak Bluffs. "I was thinking about writing children's stories even before I had a child," she said. One early attempt, called "The Shoe Schnook," apparently didn't have enough sole.
Then the idea of one kid's love of pink came to mind and she wrote it. But she was still struggling with the opening. Walking their dogs one day, her friend Michelle Ratté, also of Oak Bluffs, related that her first spoken word was "pink." Ms. Ratté's anecdote was written into Ms. Feiffer's story.
That was three years ago. Not long after submitting it to several publishers, she got a call from Simon & Schuster's Paula Wiseman, who said, "This is my lucky day."
"No," replied Ms. Feiffer, never slow with the comeback line, "this is my lucky day."
Why it takes three years to get a 32-page book in print is part of the mystique of publishing, or so publishers would have you believe. For one thing, it took a while to find the right illustrator. Though Ms. Feiffer never met Mr. Ingman, who lives in London, she immediately liked his work when she saw it.
Ms. Feiffer had given some thought to the question of whether her book reinforces gender stereotypes by associating pink with girls, and the whole question of how parents perpetuate gender roles in other ways as well. "I was one of those parents who was adamant about raising my child gender neutral," she recalled. "No girlie stuff for her. But apparently I erred in the wrong direction."
Pretty in Pink
Maddy, as she is called by all who know and love her, "took notice of the color pink at the age of three," recalled her mother. "Notice quickly turned to obsession, passion, adoration. Everything had to be pink. It was as if this desire was coming from the inside. I spent a lot of time thinking about how this happened."
But to no avail. Well, to one avail: the current book.
Ms. Feiffer still ruminates on the kids-and-color conundrum. "Color is important to children," she observed. "Within five minutes of meeting, they ask each other their favorite color. Like other kids, Maddy knows all her friends' favorite colors." Why that is is unclear. Anyone?!
It is clear that Ms. Feiffer, an accomplished adult, has a high affinity for the way kids think, being in such close touch with her own inner child, as anyone who knows and loves her can attest. And she will put that child's mindset to good use, it seems. She has one more children's book already under contract with Ms. Wiseman. This one will be in collaboration with her father, Jules Feiffer, no publishing slouch himself. Mr. Feiffer, the summer West Tisburyite whose skewering of hawks, right wing zealots, lovable neurotic dancers and all things bourgeois in the Village Voice (and in syndication), has warmed the cockles of many liberal hearts since the 1960s. His plays, films and his own children's books have done the same. Now his cachet will rise measurably by providing the illustrations for Ms. Feiffer's next children' book, based on the family Australian shepherd, Henry the Eighth.
How did she select her father for the project? Two qualifications, she said: "He draws wonderful dogs — and he is one of the few people who likes Henry." Not even a dogged reporter could extract the plot of the Henry story from the author.
The aforementioned film, by the way, entitled "Matzo & Mistletoe," explores Ms. Feiffer's Jewish identity, or lack thereof. Applying her wit, her interviewing ability and her well-honed skill of tracking down vintage film footage, she examines how a nice Jewish girl from New York, born to two Jewish parents (both completely unaffiliated with Jewish rituals other than going to the deli), makes sense of religion altogether. Among those interviewed are her father; her mother, Judy Feiffer; Mike Wallace, the "60 Minutes" anchor who summers off Hatch Road in Vineyard Haven; attorney Alan Dershowitz, the summer Chilmarker; and even Maddy. In the film, early family footage shows a bouncy five-year-old redhead who looks remarkably like Maddy does now. The work in progress is seeking funds to help complete it.
With books and other multi-media extravaganzas in the works for the Feiffers, and with Maddy working double-time providing inspiration and perspiration for her mother's books, the forward guard of Feiffer/Alley fans now looks to see what media project the retiring Mr. Alley might have up his sleeve.