A while back, I got a Facebook message out of the blue from someone asking me if I was the Carmella who went to St. Elizabeth School in Kansas City, Missouri in 1970-something. This person was a classmate of mine from 4th grade, but, sadly, I didn’t remember who she was. Don’t feel too badly for her, though. I remember little from my time in fourth-grade. In fact, I can count my memories on one hand:
During recess, my friends and I would suck the nectar out of the honeysuckle that grew on the edge of the blacktop.
There was a girl named Kimberly. I remember her mostly because I thought she had a pretty name and I wished it was mine. She came from a large, Catholic family. This fascinated me because I had only one brother. The other one didn’t come along until later.
SCROLL TO KEEP READING THIS POST
I wasn’t paying attention in math class during the lesson on exponents, so I missed why 33 equals 27, and not 9. (On a side not, it took me forever to figure exponents out.)
One day, we had an assembly to hear the older students debate. It was the first time I heard someone use the words “quote” and “end quote.”
These are all pretty random things, I know. But the thing I remember the most about being in the fourth grade?
We listened to the audiobook of From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but hearing the words playing through a dinky, old-fashioned tape recorder and imaging the story unfold set the direction for my life. Someday, I would become a writer. But, back then, all I knew was I loved Claudia’s cleverness and the idea of sleeping in a fancy, antique, four-poster bed in a place I wasn’t supposed to be. I thought about her and her brother, Jamie, long after my class finished the last chapter.
I didn’t really have a word or description for that feeling of carrying a story with me until I wrote my book Nothing Is Little. In it, the main character Felix joins his school’s forensic science team hoping the skills he learns will help him track down the father. He’s never met before his sister is born and changes everything. It’s there he learns about Locard’s Exchange Principle.
Locard’s Principle is the idea that perpetrator’s both leave something and take something from a crime scene. These small but measurable things (like strands of hair or fibers, or soil from the scene) are called trace evidence. But as my character Felix realizes – as I also now realize – this principle applies to other parts of our lives. Especially with the people we love and see every day, but also with the strangers we chat with in the checkout line. I give you something. I take something. You give me something. You take something.
Books are like that, too.
It’s like how you may not remember the exact plot of a book years after you read it, but you remember how the book made me feel. Or when you are imaging a character and they come dressed or sounding like someone you already know. Or you when you visit someplace and it reminds you of Narnia. Or when you don’t remember a character’s name, but you recall some odd detail, like how they always sneezed three times in a row.
We can bring things to stories, too. For example, I might bring my half-empty glass to the ending of The Giver, convinced that the scene was a hallucination and meant Jonas and Gabriel died. While you might bring your half-full glass and believe the sled ended up at an actual house with its lights on. You might think Max’s mom was mean to send him to bed without supper, while I think the fact his supper is waiting for him and still warm when he gets back from Where The Wild Things Are says differently.
Between author and reader, reader and character, character and author. There’s an exchange with every contact. In Nothing Is Little, Felix brings his own history and feelings to his story. Especially when he discovers he and his biological dad have more in common than just being short. And by the end, Felix realizes that sometimes something you think is small and ordinary turns out to be something important or have big consequences down the road.
I’ll let Felix tell you what these things were for him. But, for me, one of them was laying my head on my desk after lunch and listening to how a pair of siblings ran away to a museum and solved a mystery.
Locard was right, and not just about crime scenes. When you read a story, it becomes a part of your story. Even when you don’t realize it at the time.
And isn’t that something?
Meet the author
SCROLL TO KEEP READING THIS POST
Carmella Van Vleet is a former teacher and author of numerous books for kids. Her Junior Library Guild Gold Standard titles include: Nothing Is Little, Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Big, Fat Quitter (which won a Christopher award and was on four state master lists), and Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Star. Carmella has also coauthored two picture books: To The Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space (coauthored with Dr. Kathy Sullivan) and the forthcoming You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce! The Storyed Life of Folk Artist Elijah Pierce (coauthored with Chiquita Mullins Lee). Carmella lives in Ohio. You can find her on Twitter @carvanvleet Or visit her website at CarmellaVanVleet.com.
About Nothing is Little
The case of a missing father is hard to crack. . . even for Felix, a tiny kid with a huge heart and an eye for detail.
Eleven-year-old Felix likes being the smallest kid in school.
At least he knows where he fits in. Plus his nickname, “Short-lock Holmes,” is perfect for someone who’s killing it in forensic science club. To Felix, Growth Hormone Deficiency is no big deal.
And then Felix learns that his biological dad was short, too. This one, tiny, itty-bitty piece of information opens up a massive hole in his life. Felix must find his father. He only has a few small clues to work from, but as Sherlock Holmes said, “To a great mind, nothing is little.”
The further Felix gets in his investigation, though, the more he starts to wonder: What if his dad doesn’t want to be found? And what if Felix’s family—his mom, his stepdad, the baby on the way—needs him right where he is?
Tender and uplifting, this warm novel from Christopher Award–winner Carmella Van Vleet celebrates little differences in us that can make a big impact.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 07/19/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post