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Some backstory: several years ago when I was an as-yet-unpublished MFA student, I wrote a picture book manuscript about a little girl who uses her nearsightedness to solve crime.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.
Sylvia, when she was eight
(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.