MY SIDE OF THE CAR. By Kate Feiffer, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Candlewick Press. Somerville. April 2011. 32 pages, illustrations. $16.99 hardcover.
In their new book My Side of the Car, author and Oak Bluffs resident Kate Feiffer and her father, Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning illustrator Jules Feiffer, hand the reader the quintessential and timeless story of the father-daughter relationship. Written with the purity of childhood memories and illustrated with graceful humor, the Feiffers have hit the nail right on the head.
Based on actual events from their lives, the Feiffers tell the story of Sadie and her dad as they try to take what ought to be a simple trip to the zoo. Easier said than done. One ill-timed, family-induced situation after another ends with Sadie at the hospital, the woods and a museum — a far cry from her one determined destination. Finally, one day, Sadie and her dad are actually in the car heading to the zoo and nothing can stop them. Then, in the midst of the two “having the best time ever,” Dad quietly says, “Sadie, it’s raining.” With an unbelieving stare out of her side of the car, Sadie corrects him. “No, it’s not,” she says. On her father’s side of the car the rain starts pouring, the windshield wipers become exhausted and things progress from wet to wetter. Yet on Sadie’s side of the car, lawns are being watered with hoses and people in sunglasses are “heading to zoos all over the world.”
Eventually Sadie does notice that there is a drop, actually half a drop, of rain on her side of the car. Then, after splashing through a puddle created by Dad’s side of the car, Sadie can no longer see all the people riding bikes and eating ice cream. When the road on Dad’s side of the car has turned into a virtual river, the two finally arrive at the zoo. In a becomingly succinct way that denotes the patience and fortitude of the singular father/daughter bond, Dad announces: “We’re here.” Sadie hops out of the car; her father asks her what she thinks.
She thinks it’s raining hard on his side of the car and that he should not get wet. So they head home. So along some boring roads they go, when suddenly Sadie’s dad says, “Sadie, I was wondering if it’s raining on your side of the car, because it stopped raining on my side of the car.” With bare feet, wide eyes and rejuvenated enthusiasm, Sadie quickly gazes out her window. Do they make it to the zoo? Or will yet another intrusive dilemma rear its head and stand in the way?
Warm, funny, loving, refreshing, respectful and honest — the list of accolades for this book could go on. Ms. Feiffer’s noteworthy ability to write in the true narrative of a youngster is handsomely complemented by Mr. Feiffer’s ability to illustrate the story line with no detail left behind. The bond between author and illustrator is clearly rich, as might be expected in this case. The photograph on the back jacket flap alone is worth a million words.
My Side of the Car is of course more than a story of a trip to the zoo; it is the story of a father and daughter in a life where individual realities are readily accepted, and of people who find one another flawless, as so many fathers and daughters do. Their love is resplendently displayed through choice words and detailed pictures. Dad’s patience and willingness to carry on against the odds for his daughter’s sake. Sadie’s persistence and truth to herself and desire to care for her dad. Both shine. And, eventually, so does the sun.
In an age when it is fashionable for children’s books to address world issues or take on seemingly insurmountable conflicts or channel aggression to betterment or break down differences, some may find this book somewhat old-fashioned. And thank goodness for that.
My Side of the Car takes us back to remembered values, where love and acceptance come first. Love conquers all, goes the old adage, perhaps transformed today to acceptance conquers just as much. In a time when some children and adults alike are often quickly corrected and shown the advisable path in life, Ms. Feiffer allows her characters to remain the individuals that they are, have always been and should always be.
She renders young Sadie capable enough to work through the situation at hand at her own self-educating speed. The end result is a character that is the embodiment of personal strength and knowledge — qualities that parents can instill in their children by standing back and allowing their own thought processes to come full circle (easier said than done).
My Side of the Car will hit the spot for readers of every age. Anyone who is, will be or ever has been a dad, and anyone who is or has ever been a daughter will truly enjoy this book.
It has pureness and perfection — and it’s a great read.