"Who says you can’t go home again?” asks Michael di Capua, who in his 50th year in publishing will return to the place he got his start—Farrar, Straus and Giroux—to publish a new book by Jules Feiffer.
“This is a fitting way to continue the celebration of Michael’s 50th year in publishing and the 25th year of having his own imprint,” said Jon Yaged, president of the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. It’s also a reunion for the trio, who collaborated on Feiffer’s picture books while Yaged and di Capua were both at Hyperion Books for Children. “When Michael showed me the dummy, I just fell in love with it,” Yaged says. “It’s super cute, which is not always what Jules does, and it’s Feiffer and di Capua. Who could say no?”
For Feiffer, it’s a chance to fulfill a long-held dream. “I always wanted to get a dancer into a children’s book,” he says. “I just didn’t know it would turn out to be a cat.”
Rupert Can Dance, tentatively scheduled for release in winter 2014, tells the story of Mandy, a girl whose feline best friend slips into her ballet shoes when she turns in each night. Eventually, she catches Rupert, but embarrassed, he retreats under her bed, refusing to dance again.
Dancers have been a hallmark of Feiffer’s work for many decades, since he began drawing his comic strip for the Village Voice in 1956. He often used a modern dancer’s choreography as the vehicle through which he mused on politics or cultural anxieties. His attraction to dance, Feiffer believes, stems from a childhood fascination with the elegance embodied by Fred Astaire.
“I grew up in the Bronx during the Depression, and Fred and Ginger were symbols of a world of possibility,” Feiffer says. “I never recovered from that.”
Cats, however, have never held quite the same allure for the artist. “I’ve owned three cats in my life, but never of my own doing.” His current cat, Daisy (a black-and-white tabby), belongs to his daughter Julie, but is boarding with Feiffer while she’s at school.
A Lively Duet
What di Capua especially likes about the new work is the energy that Feiffer, now 83, unleashes when Mandy and Rupert finally perform their pas de deux.
“[The story] climaxes with seven nearly wordless pages that are a series of ecstatic images of these two characters dancing,” di Capua says. “Even in the rough sketches, it’s like an orgy of dancing.”
He also thinks there are plenty of girls out there like Mandy, who never walk when they can plié, sashay, and leap through their day. “Normally I don’t even consider how kids will respond,” di Capua says, “but in this case, I think the story will strike a chord with those incorrigible little dancers who cannot possibly stand still if there is music playing anywhere in the house.”
Rupert Can Dance will be Feiffer and di Capua’s 11th book together. The two met in the early 1990s after Feiffer wrote a draft of what would become his first children’s book, The Man in the Ceiling, and asked a friend in children’s books if he could recommend an editor. The friend, Maurice Sendak, introduced him to di Capua.
Di Capua continues to head his own imprint at Scholastic, which he joined in 2006, but the chance to go back to FSG and do one last book seemed a fitting way to cap what has been a remarkable career. “FSG was always run like a family,” Yaged says, “one that is happy to welcome Michael back into the fold. It’s a lot of fun to be able to make this happen.”