You know how life is full of loose ends that never get tied up? Well, the other day, I received the most incredible letter, one that tied up a loose end from almost a decade ago — tied it up not just with parcel string, but with the most glorious big red bow, and I wanted to share it with you all.
Some backstory: several years ago when I was an as-yet-unpublished MFA student, I wrote a picture book manuscript about a little girl who uses her nearsightedness to solve crime. It was called Iris Spectacle: Accidental Private Eye, and I had a deep, amused attachment to it. It skewed old for a picture book, especially these days, with 1500 words and a main character who was eight or nine years old. Still, the story had a certain something; it won a blind picture book manuscript competition that Candlewick Press (not yet my publisher) sponsored through Vermont College. But Iris didn’t sell; at the time, I just wasn’t able to either trim the story to make it younger and drop the crime-solving plot, or expand it into a chapter book. So she sat in a file.
A while later, a librarian on a children’s literature listserv I subscribe to put out a call for books about girls who love their glasses. I sent her a copy of Iris to share with her patron. I never heard whether or not the child liked the story. In fact, I suspected that perhaps Iris hadn’t resonated with the young reader and the librarian just hadn’t had the heart to tell me. Over the years, from time to time, I wondered about the little girl with glasses — the only child who had ever read Iris.
Fast forward almost a decade to the other day, when the most spectacular, funny, beautifully written email arrived in my inbox from that little girl, now seventeen years old. Here is what she wrote (reproduced with her permission):
I’m not expecting you to remember me at all, so don’t worry if you don’t. I’d just like to start with that. Anyway. When I was eight I had already spent the previous six years of my life unable to see more than one foot away and even then not very clearly. With some great technology and fabulous doctors I was given these enormous larger-than-harry-potter glasses that barely fit on my face. And I could see, which you think would get me leaping for joy at figuring out the sky is blue, and that there actually is a sky, and all sorts of things. But I was terrified. The world was too big to fathom and I’d rather just make myself a small nook and stay there forever. And then I learned to read. Reading was perfect because I could be in a giant world at the palm of my hands. And I was happy, which I mean was more of a confidence booster to my parents who had this weirdo kid depressed about seeing.
(I’m getting to the part where you come in soon, just hold on.)
Soon I started to love my glasses and being able to see so much that I would not take them off at bedtime until my eyes were closed tight. But as I kept reading with my new-found vision I ran into a problem. There were great children’s books about girls and how great they were and there were great books about boys with glasses and how great glasses were, but nobody seemed to have combined the two. Being an avid fan of both girls and glasses I begged my parents to get me books about girls who had glasses AND loved them, like me. Of course, my parents are not literature experts and had nothing for me, so I enlisted the help of one extraordinary world-class children’s librarian Charlotte Rabbit.
(Okay now I’m getting to your part.)
Mrs. Rabbit found me what was about half a dozen published works that to be honest, eight year old me found really really REALLLLLY REALLLLY boring, as only eight year olds can. So then Mrs. Rabbit sends me something that most definitely isn’t a book. It’s a bunch of white paper clipped together. She told me the book hadn’t been published but I got to read it early. This being the coolest thing that had ever happened in my eight years (besides the whole being able to see thing, which had gotten kind of old at this point) I read Iris Spectacle: Accidental Private Eye about three times in a row. And I loved it. And I brought it to school and bragged about my connections in the literary world and basically felt invincible. Hopefully you remember the book but if not, you wrote it. Anyway finally I had written proof of how cool girls with glasses are. And also a good starting point for my two year detective/spy phase, but that is a whole other story.
Now it is almost ten years later and after some handy dandy googling, I found you and I had to email you to thank you. Even though I guess the story never got published, that’s the least important thing in my mind. Because even if I was teased for having four eyes or I couldn’t make friends because glasses made me look weird, I had that book to read when I got home and know that glasses were good and the world knew it, even if the third grade didn’t know it. Now I am a rather confident high school junior President of a slew of clubs including theatre, and the leadership team, and captain of my ski team. I am a confident actor and very happy in my weird glasses-wearing skin. And I owe a lot of that to you. You and Iris Spectacle were my first friends who didn’t mind the glasses and I can’t thank you enough for that.
Anyway now my long lame-o story is over and I really appreciate that you took the time to read this. And I hope you know that your book, published, unpublished, whatever — it made a difference in my life. Which is all you need to take away from this. If you don’t remember eight year old me or Mrs. Rabbit or that manuscript I stole, it doesn’t matter. This is just a simple thank you.
(Now back to me, Elizabeth.)
Isn’t Sylvia fabulous? This is a kid with moxie, and a way with language. I fully expect to host her at an author signing at the bookstore some day. And if that happens, I will still be glowing from this gift of a letter.
I can’t tell you what it means to an author to hear that her story has helped a young reader in some small way. This is the privilege of writing for children — the joy of connecting with the best people on the planet, through stories and humor and our best attempt to share our hearts on the page.
Thank YOU, Sylvia, for taking the time, all these years later, to find and write to a stranger who once sent a bunch of white paper to a librarian and a little girl far away, and wondered about her. And thank you, Universe, for tying up one of your loose ends.
What a great story! Yes, Sylvia is an incredible young woman, and yes, the Universe did her job.. Congratulations on this fabulous manuscript review that honored your story and the power story to enrich and transform lives.
What a great story! Yes, Sylvia is an incredible young woman, and yes, the Universe did her job.. Congratulations on this fabulous manuscript review that honored your story and the power of story to enrich and transform lives.
Awesome letter and story.
You’re lucky–you found out about your making a difference. Just think of all the others who also make differences but never get the loose ends tied up with even a broken rubber band. So cheers to all of us who write and read, and the librarians with spectacular memories who work hard at getting the right book to the right reader, even when overwhelmed with other mundane tasks! Lovely story!!!!
Oh, Elizabeth……….You DO touch so many and this letter and story touched this heart so deeply……Keep up your wonderful writing!!!!!
Hugs from all of us at Mallett School in Farmington!
So sweet, and so well-deserved. Two great tastes that taste great together: children’s books, and gratitude. I hope Sylvia will become a writer. Her writing gift, and the unique point of view her life story have given her, would make hers a compelling voice.
Well, I was feeling all grim and depressed until I read your post and this AMAZING letter! Thank you for sharing and congratulations to you, Elizabeth, on making a difference in someone’s life and to that young woman Sylvia for writing a drop-dead wonderful piece of correspondence.
still wiping the tears away….what a beautiful story and ending…
You can die happy. What more could any of us ask of life.
Made me cry. If any of us writers, librarians, etc. ever wonders if what we do can have a positive impact, here’s the proof.
This is just wonderful, and I agree w/you, Elizabeth, Sylvia could definitlely have a writing career ahead of her. Perhaps my favorite line in her letter: “Hopefully you remember the book but if not, you wrote it.” HA! Wry and witty, beyond her years at 8 or 17! Thanks so much for sharing this with everyone.
What a wonderful post and a wonderful letter – thanks so much. Made my day. And reaffirms to us why you never know who is influenced by your work. Really just lovely!
As a glasses wearer since age 4, I also looked for characters in books that wear glasses. Thanks for writing the book and thanks to Sylvia for her letter also.
Time to publish that book!
This really IS the best author letter ever! Wow — totally made my day. Thanks for sharing it, Elizabeth. <3
Thank you for touching this girl’s life and making a difference. I know it wasn’t your intention at the time, but the world works in mysterious ways. Isn’t it wonderful that it does?
I see great things ahead for Sylvia. Be proud and humbled for your part in her life.
The real question here is – are you gonna publish the book NOW? Other little girls with glasses want to know.
Sniffling here, too. Beautiful story.
Tremendous. Love every little bit of this (except maybe that it was never published). What an amazing gift you gave her, and then she gave you one in return. 🙂
Love this, E! (and I love that the librarian’s name was Mrs. Rabbit!)
How absolutely wonderful! Its inspiring to know that ones writing can have such a deep impact on another human beings life. Lovely story.
Doesn’t get any better than that, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing.
I would have bought that book! This is a great story, even more wonderful for being true.
I had to remove my glasses to wipe my eyes. (It’s clearly very dusty in here. Clearly.)
That was just the loveliest letter EVER.
And I hope the rest of us get to read Iris someday.
I started sobbing halfway through. — Mrs. Rabbitt
Perfect letter. Perfect.
The magic of touching a new reader with your words is like Fairy Dust. It sprinkles sparkly sweetness far and wide for decades. I’ve only been able to share an author’s words with a young people second-hand as a librarian (never being an author myself). But I know how full-hearted it makes me to hear a “short person” gush excitedly over a book that touched his/her heart. Those glowing eyes and excited words that tumble out of the mouth in a jumble of appreciation, THAT must be the best reward ever for an author. Revel in it!
Wonderful, Elizabeth, thanks for sharing this.
I think Iris Spectacle ought to be published in full, with Sylvia’s letter as the intro. What a beautiful tying up of loose ends. Magical. I’d buy several copies.
You’re right–this IS the best author letter ever!
Wonderful letter! Publish your book! There should be a very strong niche market for it at all the optometrist shops and opthamologist’s offices throughout the country! Go for that market and you’ll get zillions of such letters from a very thankful readership! I was given glasses in 5th grade but never wore them until college, instead I’d sit up front in the classroom but as a result of going without glasses I could never recognize people in the hallway until they were close up.
Beautiful story — how wonderful is that young woman? And yes, I’m in with everybody else — PLEASE publish “Iris Spectacle”! (I’ve been a glasses-wearer since third grade, and I try always to include glasses-wearing kids in my illustrations.) A story: my own, then second-grade daughter got glasses for the first time and, after putting them on, said “Have you guys been seeing like this all the time?” First time she saw leaves on the trees. Hooray for you, Elizabeth! You rock!
Wow. Just wow.
This brought tears to my eyes! Sylvia’s fabulous letter also brought back my own near-sighted memories of that first pair of glasses and the my utter joy in discovering that trees had leaves.
I’d love to see Iris Spectacle in print! Thanks to both you and Sylvia for sharing this!
Fantastic. What a wonderful young woman to take the time to write this lovely letter. I hope we will see Iris on bookshelves soon.
Kids need anything they can get to keep them from getting bugged, while growing up. Or to help them cope, or escape somehow.
I’m so glad for you that you helped even just one young person, -and her parents. I’m also so glad for Sylvia that she found ‘a warm and cozy’ spot in the Universe to spread her eyes and lift her little heart!
Who’s cutting onions in here?!
Wow! Well they liked the letter, which is cool, I guess. Honestly I’m not quite sure what they’re so worked up about though. I cleaned my room (apparently the first time since I was eight) and found the book and figured an email would be the right thing to do. So I sent one. Personally, I think I got the better end of it because my favorite author wrote me back while my friends are still waiting on J.K Rowling or something.
I also vote for you to publish the book. You can nab some business with all 15 or so of my eye specialists not to mention my pediatric opthomology patient friends, though some of them aren’t able to actually see or read yet. But the ones that can would love it.
P.S I read picture books, so why can’t 8/9 year olds? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.
What an amazing girl you were at the time and grew up to be! One of my favorite families in town!
Any publishers reading this blog??? If so, you must to racing to see who can get to Elizabeth first to grab up this book!
Elizabeth- I’d like a signed copy, please! 🙂
*be* racing. Sorry!
Thanks for all the kind words, everyone. I just wanted to share Sylvia’s amazing letter. Of course I’ll take another look at IRIS, re-inspired. As she stands, she is in between a picture book and a chapter book, so it’s on me to make her sing. : )
What an amazing story. I’m so sorry that I never told you how you impacted one little girl’s life. Perhaps it was move I was making or the programs I was beginning. I do know that I had so many special patrons at that library. But this story and letter is so very precious and has made me realize just what an impact we make as librarians.
Hello, Charlotte Rabbit! How could you have known? Sylvia herself says she “stole the manuscript.” ; )
Librarians are amazing people. My friend and children’s book illustrator Sarah Dillard sent me a wonderful sketch of what she hopes Librarian Charlotte Rabbit looks like. If you email me at ebluemle @ publishersweekly .com, I’ll send it to you. It’s adorable.
Thanks so much for putting IRIS in Sylvia’s hands.
Added later: I now see that you spell your name Rabbitt. Apologies! And – still a perfect children’s librarian’s name. : )
Oh my, I would love that. What a wonderful, wonderful story. I posted it to FB and it is making the rounds among my librarian friends, especially those who value children’s services. It was my very first professional librarian job and I loved it for 3-1/2 years. In 2005, I became a director in Massachusetts, remarried and changed my name. I just don’t make the same kind of impact on children’s lives. This letter will be the highlight of my career. Thank you so much for sharing it.
I, too, grew up as a weird little girl with really big ugly glasses that loved reading and escape. I wish this book had been published for girls like me. I wasn’t alone — my best friend had even bigger and stranger glasses than I did, though she was far-sighted instead of near-sighted like me.
I am now all grown up and a scientist. I’ve never gotten LASIK, because I find it useful on rare occasion to be able to pull out my contact lenses and take a really close look at equipment that I’m repairing without a magnifying glass in the way.
I’m unaware of the full genetics of vision problems, but given that my parents and grandparents all needed glasses for myopia, and my husband also needs glasses for myopia, I suspect it’s a safe bet that our children will also need glasses. I hope your book finds its way to bookstores, electronic or otherwise, by the time they are reading.
Wow! Kudos to you writing a spectacular book she could connect with and that librarian for finding it for her! And kudos to Sylvia for writing an awesome letter to let you know how much it meant!
That is the most beautiful fan letter I’ve ever seen. THIS IS WHY WE WRITE: Because somebody, somewhere out there, needs the words that are inside of us. Thank you so much for sharing.
What a fantastic story from start to finish! 🙂 It brought tears to my eyes. I have a little 7 1/2yr old daughter who on occasion hates her glasses. Her father and I doomed both her and her younger sister. I will definitely be watching to see if Iris Spectacle gets published. She sounds like someone my girls should get to know. 🙂 Good Luck!
Like the awesome power of a seed. Sounds like Sylvia is waving from the beanstalk as she ascends!
Wow, so many brave, caring and all around wonderful people in this story-so uplifting for all of us to be able to read/hear about the “good”news! Thank you all 🙂
This is the greatest author letter in the history of author letters, and I love it.
I also quite desperately need IRIS SPECTACLE in my life, for reasons.
This smile is making my face hurt! With a testimonial like that, there ought to be a smart publisher somewhere willing to give Iris her wings. She’s obviously already come to life.
One of my daughters got glasses as a child, for astigmatism (she called it “warped eyeballs”), and I would have loved to help her make Iris’s acquaintance. She didn’t grow up to be a scientist or a detective, but an illustrator, and at 26 still reads picture books, as all of us at our house always have. I’d be delighted to give Iris a home in our Children’s Library, in my home, and in the home of a certain 26-year-old illustrator, who (by the way) works with children too.
If this doesn’t get Iris Spectacles published now, I have lost all faith in the industry.
This story just warmed my heart! I can imagine how much it means to you, Elizabeth, to have something this magical happen so many years later. It shows how the power of words work in both obvious and mysterious ways.
(Came across your post via a link on twitter)
This is such a lovely story and letter. I had a grin on my face & slightly teary eyes while reading the letter. Then I read the comments. Now, this being the Internet, I normally avoid the comments because, well the Internet+comments=irrational. But oh, the comments on this post just added another layer of grinning & teary eyes! Mrs Rabbit commented! And Sylvia commented!
I would love to read your book, as a former glasses-wearing girl who read constantly and wanted more than anything to be a detective.
Thank you for sharing.
Adorable & soul stirring. What more could an author want. Wish I’d had your book: my youngest daughter who is now 33 & my only granddaughter who is now 18 went through the same experience with corrective glasses at 6 years old.
Thanks for making my day by sharing this extraordinary letter.
Oh, my! Sliced onions and a rather sudden dust storm here, too! Books + generosity of spirit — I just love everything about this sweet story!
Pretty weepy here, too. I am an elementary school librarian and this story touches my heart. I also had huge thick glasses from age 3 and after LASIK in middle age was thrilled to match up birds and songs.
I have my own little Sylvia aka Iris Spectacle that I would love to get her a copy. Please let me know if you take Paypal!
I would love to have a copy as well.
I would love a copy as well, as I wear glasses and my little sister wears VERY strong prescription glasses, I think this might help to make her feel a bit better about her round, red glasses! Is there ANY way to get a copy??
Okay….this totally made me cry and I loved it. But especially this kid’s voice:
Hopefully you remember the book but if not, you wrote it.
This whole story, the story beyond the story, is a book waiting to be published…the afterword or postscript…I hope it’s all included. Blessings upon all who learn to see through books….and on those about to find out.
How lovely. Isn’t this the affirmation that they have touched at least one little mind or heart with their writing – how lucky you are that she contacted you and shared her kind thoughts!
What a wonderful boost of encouragement to writers everywhere–published or yet-to-be. So often we send our words and work into the ether and wonder if they accomplish what we hope — or anything else, for that matter.
Loved reading this, loved Sylvia’s letter! Thanks for sharing this. And Sylvia, THANKS for taking the time to say a “simple thank you.” Perhaps someday you will realize what a gift it is to so many.
This story just inspired me to keep writing – I write stories for young adults in which the characters are *gasp* normal, and even flawed. They are not vampires or superheroes or undead. I write these characters because I am also normal and flawed (and always have been) and I identify with those kinds of characters. I was made fun of throughout my entire childhood. I was weird. I hope that my books reach young adults who need to identify with the characters they read about – and need to be reminded that being different is absolutely not a bad thing. Thank you so much, Elizabeth and Sylvia, for reminding me why I write… And Sylvia, even if Rowling doesn’t respond to your friends’ letters, she probably enjoys them all the same. Very few readers take the time to tell writers how they were moved by a book. Bravo to you!
I just got goosebumps, not only because this is an amazing story but also because only yesterday my 5yr old son, who loves to write his own books, asked me to write him one. The book I wrote for him is called Tilly and the Magic Glasses and it’s about a little girl who didn’t want to be different until she put her new glasses on and the world came alive.
Even though I only have boys, I feel strongly about writing stories about girls, especially when most of the books we buy or get from the library feature boys as the protagonists.
It sounds to me like we’re still going to hear a lot more of Sylvia.
Awww… I’m a writer myself–mostly unpublished–and I do appreciate it when somebody says, “I love that story”, or something along those lines. This whole story is touching on so many levels, and encouraging to those of us who wonder if our writing ever has made or ever will make an impact. You go, Sylvia! You go, Elizabeth! You go, Mrs. Rabbit! (Mrs. Rabbit–what a fabulous name!!!) I love a story with a happy ending–and perhaps a happy beginning for yet another story!
I don’t wear glasses, but I will admit things got a little blurry toward the end of reading that sweet letter. What a blessing for an author to receive, to know that even an unpublished manuscript made a difference!
A Tad Misty,
How very lovely! So very cool of Sylvia to look you up and write you. And what a compliment to you, you obviously made a very big impression on a little girl. Love it!
Wow, goosebumps! Amazing story – and this librarian would love a copy of your book as well!
Oh, I am crying. Everyone’s dream came true. Happy endings in real life are what we all wish for. Thank you!
Oh, did this touch a cord! I’m extremely near-sighted and have been since I was young. I am also an aspiring children’s book author. You had me all teared up from both sides of my life! Thank you for sharing this. What an amazing true life tale. Now, I’m dying to read Iris Spectacle: Accidental Private Eye.
Loved this story of the impact of story on another person. I think we as booksellers are also often the conduit for connecting writer with reader. My own example: childhood customer of 20+ years ago is now a playwright with her first play being produced at the local community theater. The play, Recommended Reading for Girls is all about story and its importance in our lives. Two young women come home to take care of their mother going through chemo and find that her house is inhabited by story characters (Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Sara Crewe, and Penny Parker) who meant quite a lot to the readers in the family and are now there to offer comfort, solace and advice. Can’t help but feel just a little bit proud that i had a small part in the inspiration for this!!
Wow–I _so_ want to see this play.
Wow, Elizabeth. It really doesn’t get much better than that. This is something you can hold close to your heart, which will warm you and elicit a smile whenever you think about it.
As a teacher who connects Young Authors w/ “real” authors this letter was totally awe inspiring!
It’s time to publish that book! I’m dying to read it and to talk it up at my library.
I haven’t read all the comments yet, and someone has probably already said this, but:
It’s time to dust off that manuscript and send it out again. Perhaps with revisions, or maybe just with a version of the above as the cover letter. Publishing is different, now, 10 years on. Here’s hoping that some editor will see what we all can see so clearly.
As everyone has said–what a great story!
It’s also one I get behind. Like Sylvia, I started wearing glasses in elementary school (6th grade). My daughter started wearing them at age 3. Neither one of us has ever worn contacts and we would both have loved a book starring a glasses-wearing detective.
So please–time to dust that baby off and get ‘er out there.
There is a great need for the “in between” books that are not picture books and not quite novels. For the 2nd -3rd graders. I hope you will try again to get this published. I too would love a copy! Thanks for sharing.
Love everything about this story, which expresses so radiantly the limitless power of literacy and literature to change–everything. And can we give a cheer for Mrs. Rabbit, too, that devoted servant of writers and readers, especially children who need a book that speaks to them? Hip hip hooray! If I ever win the lottery, I will create an award called the Charlotte Rabbit Prize for children’s literature or maybe for children’s librarians–or maybe for both.
“heart warming” doesn’t seem to say enough.. “life affirming” maybe?
Oh My Goodness! My heart’s doing flips and I’m blubbering like a baby – what a lovely, lovely story. If that was me I would print that beautiful letter off and keep it in my bag to show every random person that crossed my path! You should be proud as punch to have left such a lasting impression on a little girl who just needed someone to understand where she was coming from in her little life – bless her! And bless you too xxx
Oh wow!! What a heartfelt beautiful story!!! Thank you for sharing this with us. So beautiful!!
Amazing! Thank you for share *tears
Someone just sent me a link to this, what a fantastic story and letter, it resonates with me for so many reasons. My daughter got glasses when she was a year old, she’s 6 1/2 now and just about done with kindergarten. As far as she remembers, she’s always worn glasses and always loved them (even though she did fight them for the first few weeks as a baby). I’m also a librarian, and I run a site for parents of young children in glasses and try to keep up with books for kids with glasses. So many of the books are about kids who hate their glasses, or who are teased for their glasses. And that’s just not the experience of a lot of kids. I really, really hope you’ll dust off “Iris Spectacle”! I can assure you there’s more kids who would love to read it.
To paraphrase the teaching of the Talmud: to ‘change’ one life is to save the world. What Sylvia learned and applied will be passed on and on. Bravo to you both.
Great letter! As a child, I was the only girl in my class who actually wore glasses, though other girls owned them. I couldn’t see a thing without them. My own daughter faked nearsightedness to get her own, so maybe the stigma isn’t as bad now. Still, I think it’s time to look at that old story with fresh eyes.
Hmmmm. One of my buddies posted this on her Facebook and tagged me to it. Not exactly certain why she did this, but if it was supposed to make me feel better about being a has-been, it worked. About a decade ago, I was STILL published – have been knocked well off the stage by you whipper-snapper new guys. And so I put my own little stories into books and set them out on the sidewalk (Amazon) for the passerby to sniff at if they will. There were once over 100K people who had bought one of my books. Now, maybe one a month. (Sits in a heap with ashes on her head.) But I have gotten one or two wonderful letters in my lifetime – and this one of yours – yeah. If only one person in all the world were to read you, and the reading gave her enough courage and hope to grab hold of her life, then really – what more could anyone ask of her own life?
So thanks for posting it. And thanks to the umpteen people who probably shared it – till the pipeline dumped it here on my desk. Me too, you gave me courage too.
To me, this is faithfulness in small things–the writing, the recommending, the remembering, the giving back, the posting and the forwarding. Thanks to you all. May the gift keep on giving.