Throughout April, I’ll be tackling 26 A to Z topics related to children’s literature. Children’s author Eric Carle — and the letter I wrote to him in grade school — are in the spotlight for today’s E theme.
Every person in the class wanted to ask Eric Carle the same question:
“Will you dedicate your next book to me?”
Our teacher said only one student could ask, though. I don’t recall who got the honor; I only remember it wasn’t me.
My grade school class had spent the past week listening to our teacher read Eric Carle’s books aloud. We read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and “The Very Busy Spider” and “The Very Quiet Cricket” and “The Grouchy Ladybug.” We skipped my favorite (“The Very Hungry Caterpillar”).
At the end of the week, we were given the assignment to write a letter to Eric Carle. My letter was mostly the same as my classmates’. I told him I loved his books and he was one of my favorite authors and to please write back soon.
After we sent the letters, I wondered if Eric Carle would read the letters. Would ours stand out among the hundreds of letters he must get from other classes?
I don’t remember the exact words of my letter, nor do I remember the response it received. But I remember a particular feeling. I knew I wanted to be an author, and I knew I wanted someone to ask me to dedicate a book to them.
Fast forward twenty years. The memory of the letter had been dormant for at least a decade and a half.
In December 2014, I gave my nieces Sarah and Katy copies of their namesake book. The book release was small and sales were low. I wasn’t a household name like Eric Carle or Beverly Cleary, but I had two big fans.
Several weeks later, during a library book signing, Katy’s best friend Ryan bounded up to the table and said, “Can I be in the next book?”
The dormant memory of the letter flared to life, plus the memory of my teacher saying one student could ask Eric Carle to dedicate a book.
And even though I knew I was an independent author with low sales and a limited release, I realized Ryan viewed me the same way I viewed Eric Carle: An author whose book(s) I enjoyed.
The feeling of wanting to be an author and be asked to dedicate a book flooded over me, as tangible as it had been when writing the letter. It was one of those rare moments of realizing a childhood dream has been fulfilled. Even though Ryan technically didn’t request a dedication, she requested to be part of a future book.
The memory of the letter clung to me in the days after the book signing. I made a note to include Ryan somehow in a future book. (Incidentally, she gets name-dropped twice in “Sarah & Katy and the Book of Blank.”)
For the record, Eric Carle didn’t dedicate a book to anyone in my class. But he did send a letter back. The day our teacher read it aloud was a bright spot in the school year. The excitement we felt at being acknowledged by an author strengthens my resolve to write back to each child or class who takes the time to write to me.
After all, one of them might ask me to dedicate a book to them. And in the process, they might daydream of one day being a writer who will be asked by someone else to dedicate a book to them …