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Having spent a lifetime overseas, small world moments shouldn’t surprise me anymore. How many times have I bumped into childhood friends while dragging luggage to my departure gate in Chicago O’Hare, declaring aloud, “It’s such a small world.”

But these moments get me every time, like “Boo!”

My two kids have a thing for shoes, especially boots. Because of this, I was remembering Alfie’s Feet by Shirley Hughes, a book about footwear that I had read and loved as a child. But where in China could I find a copy for my kids? Woefully, I gave up before I even started looking.

Then my in-laws came for a visit and we embarked on a whirlwind boat tour of port cities in Asia. When we docked in Nagasaki we chose a hilly cobblestone street to explore. Suddenly, in that wonderful way in which traveling can spring surprises, there on our right was the Nagasaki Picture Book Museum. How totally perfect!

We went in, took off our walking shoes and put on the slippers that all guests are required to wear (they had kid sizes too).

And there, waiting for me in a basket of used books for sale, was a former Brownsville Elementary School library copy of Alfie’s Feet. My old friend.

The slippers room.


A tad emotional, I lifted my head to fend off full-on blubbering and there above me on the wall hung Eric Carle’s autograph and picture.


In the photo he is sitting with his legs crossed, slippers on his feet.

The photo is behind the fuzzy green thing.

Were they the exact pair that I was now wearing? What if! No matter. He and I had both found this impeccable cottage of picture books on this unlikely street in a country far from the ones we call home, and doesn’t that say something about he and I maybe being kindred spirits? Oh hey now, a dreamer can dream.

The happy encounter made me say out loud for possibly the thousandth time in my life, “It’s such a small world.”

As I hoped, my kids love Alfie’s Feet (though perhaps not quite as much as I do).