Violet Mackerel is quite a small girl, but she has a theory.
Her theory is that when you are having a very important and brilliant idea, what generally happens is that you find something small and special on the ground. So whenever you spy a sequin, or a stray bead, or a bit of ribbon, or a button, you should always pick it up and try very hard to remember what you were thinking about at the precise moment when you spied it, and then think about that thing a lot more. That is Violet’s theory, which she calls the Theory of Finding Small Things.
“Wake up, Violet,” says Violet’s mama. “It’s nearly five o’clock.”
It is Saturday, which is market day. Violet yawns. It is still dark. Mama’s hair is a bit damp from her shower and it smells like mangoes and blossoms. Violet leans forward for a snuggle and nearly falls asleep again.
“Just stay awake until we’re all in the van,” says Mama. “Then you can sleep as much as you like.”
Violet’s big brother, Dylan, and big sister, Nicola, are already awake, and they are helping to load up the van with fold-up tables and chairs, the big canopy umbrella, and boxes and baskets of Mama’s knitting. They are going to the market like they do every Saturday morning, to sell the woolly things Mama makes.
Violet thinks she would quite like to wear her pajama bottoms under her skirt today. They feel nice and warm from bed. Sometimes if you say things like “Can I wear my pajama bottoms to the market?,” people say things like “No.” But if you just put your skirt on over the top, and have your eyebrows slightly raised like someone who is thinking of something very important and interesting, no one says anything at all.
When Violet, Mama, Nicola, and Dylan arrive at the market, even though it is still not properly light, lots of people are already there, bundled up and rubbing their hands together with coldness, unfolding and unpacking their things to sell. No one notices Violet’s pajama bottoms.
Violet’s favorite person at the market (apart from Mama and Dylan and Nicola and herself) is a man who never smiles. He sells china birds, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and he is there every week. Violet says hello to him as she always does, and he doesn’t even look up, which he never does. But after waking up at nearly five o’clock in the morning, Violet doesn’t feel much like chatting or smiling either. So she feels that even though he never says hello back, she and the man might share a sort of understanding
The man’s china birds are all different and all very dirty. Dylan says that they are probably brand-new from a factory. He thinks the man has just put dirt on them so that they will look ancient and he can sell them for ten dollars instead of two. But Violet doubts it. She thinks it is much more likely that he is an archaeologist. She suspects that he specializes in digging up ancient china birds.
Violet would quite like to own one of the man’s birds in particular. It is made of pale blue china, the color of a robin’s egg. It is always right at the back of the table.
And just as she is having that thought, out of the corner of her eye, Violet spies a small red button on the dusty market ground.