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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Finding Vashti

The year was 2001. I was in a coffee shop (a stellar cafe) Mocha Java, on the corner of High St. and Eastern Ave in my hometown of Dedham. I was nestled into a favorite spot right by the bookshelf and next to the big glass window – lots of light and plenty to look at and get inspired by.

I had my watercolors going – doing some art for my new book about a young girl afraid to draw – which had a title, but the main character did not yet have a name. Suddenly, a girl appeared in front of me holding a dozen green carnations. She sold me one as a fundraiser for her school.

When I asked her which of the local schools she was raising money for, she just stood there. I realized she was not from around Dedham.

I looked closer at this nine year old girl with brown hair and big brown eyes. Her skin was the color of a cafĂ© latte – and she looked very much like the girl I had been drawing in my new book. The girl asked what I was doing and who the painting was for. I picked up on the hint that she wanted the painting. I told I was painting for her.

Her eyes opened wide.

“For me?”
“Yes, for you.”
I went to sign it to her and got as far as “To...”
“And how do you spell your name again?,” pretending that we were old friends.
Wow, I thought to myself. This is her. This is my character!
I gave her the painting. She left smiling. I saw her get into the old brown van that appeared to have traveled many miles. She was showing her painting to her mother and her little sister who began waving to me through the window.

The van drove off.

I never saw Vashti again. I wonder if I ever will?

After The Dot was published, I shared this story while visiting studnets and staff at the McKay School in Fitchburg. The principal excitedly said, "That's OUR Vashti!"

I thought that I had finally found her.

"She was picked up by the police for selling flowers downtown during a school day. Her parents picked her up and she never came back to school."

Vashti apparently is a gyspy probably crisscrossing New England or beyond. I often wonder if she ever stumbled upon The Dot. I can imagine her "connecting the dots" and pulling out that slightly worn little watercolor made in a little coffee shop all those years ago.


Sue Glascoe said...

What a great story. Hopefully someday you will see Vashti again.

Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Thank you so much for sharing these little tidbits. They warm the heart.

Michelle Henninger said...

Wow, what a great story! Thanks for sharing! Hopefully you'll meet again one day.

Anonymous said...

This story gave me goosebumps. I'm a researcher who studies protesters and both of my children (Vashti fans, of course) are named after activists I encountered in my field research -- young people whose commitment inspired me. I often think they would be amazed to know what an impression they made on me.

Now, tell us about Ramon.

soccer mom in denial said...

Oh. My. Word. I never knew that story. What a stunning tale. I am so glad she has such an important name.

Caity said...

Wow, so that's how Vashti got to be Vashti! She's been such and inspiration to me.... thank you!

peterter said...

'Dot' (Dutch: de stip) is one of my most favourit books. I use it very often when I train teachers and parents. A very positive and true story with an important lesson.
Great story about Vashti!

Anonymous said...

Great story. It's so nice to know the background to a character.

I think this must be covered somewhere in cyberspace but thought this was a good a place as any to ask. I bought a paperback version of The Dot for my son and we loved it so much, I decided to buy the hardcover. I then discovered that the ending is different. In the paperback version, Vashti says, "sign it." while in the hardcover version, she says, "Please...sign it."

I'm wondering which is the original version and the reason for the difference.

Ms. Amy said...

I'm an art teacher. . .And, I am SOOO inspired by your books, art, and words; especially the things you write about your teachers. It always reminds me to make an extra effort to be my best, so I can help them more.

I love this story of finding Vashti and the idea that our inspiration comes from so many places.


APO (Bem-Trapilho) said...


Margaret Simon said...

My students often ask me about the name when we read "The Dot" every year and create our own dots. Now I can tell them the story. Love it.

Darshana said...

wow! that is an interesting story. i did wonder where you came up with that name when I read the book. now i know.