Monday, November 19, 2012

A Boy, A Pigeon, and the Girl from Savannah: Signed by Zelda by Kate Feiffer


Lucy believed this as much as she believed the sun was hot.

Eleven-year-old Lucy Bertel has a passion for forensic graphology--handwriting analysis. Back home in sunny Savannah, her whole class was into it, but now that her parents have moved her to the big city, into a fifth-floor apartment, there is no one to share her interest. Her new classmates even refuse to give her samples of their penmanship, claiming violation of personal privacy.

In the bedroom above Lucy's is someone who THUMP, THUMP, THUMPS the floor constantly. It's Nicky, also eleven, whose TOA (time-out average) is batting .750 at school and even higher at home. Since his mother left the family, his father's communications with Nicky pretty much consists of four words, "You're in time-out," so Nicky spends most of his time in his room, trying to learn to fly by jumping off his bed and flapping his arms.

Would it make more sense to know that Nicky is inspired to fly by his only friend, Pigeon, who chats with  him constantly from the ledge outside his window? Since his sister Stella seems to want to pretend he doesn't exist and he's in time-out most of the time at school, Pigeon is Nicky's only reliable contact...

...Except for Grandma Zelda, who lives in the apartment above Nicky and keeps him well supplied with Zeldaberry Pie and hugs, along with plenty of stories about her adventurous life and who shares his close relationship with Pigeon.

And then, Grandma Zelda goes missing from her apartment on April Fools' Day. The only clue Nicky can find is a cryptic note, apparently dropped in the hall.



Nicky needs help. First he needs a handwriting expert, and luckily he finds one, on the elevator on the way down, and when Lucy sees the shakily written note from Grandma Zelda, she brings all her forensic skills to solving the disappearance of Grandma Lucy.

Pigeon helps with aerial surveying, and the mystery is finally solved by a seemingly blank front page of a legal pad by the graphology detective Lucy in Kate Feiffer's off-beat semi-fantastical story of a mystery missing person, a talking pigeon, and an unlikely friendship, in her Signed by Zelda (Paula Wiseman Books) (Simon & Schuster, 2012) Known for her picture books done with her legendary artist father, Jules Feiffer, author Kate shows off her ability to spin an absorbing family mystery out of some quirky characters and the sharp forensics of Lucy, with a comforting conclusion that ends with a family-centered flourish. "A quick and steady story for readers who like some substance to their mystery but are not quite ready for the complexity of Blue Balliett" says Kirkus Review.

Feiffer appends a recipe for Zelda's special zeldaberry pie and an intriguing section on handwriting analysis, violas-d'amore, and how she was inspired by the FBI graphologists who helped solve the case of heiress Brooke Astor's allegedly forged will. Clearly, Feiffer is an author with admittedly eclectic interests. Who knows what's next for her?

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