Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remembering Walter Dean Myers for Poetry Friday

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! I can't believe it's the last Roundup of July... holy firecrackers, this month is disappearing. Be sure to visit Sylvia and Janet (and read their exciting PFA news!!) for Roundup.

What's up in my world? Well. Wonderful, wonderful things! Friday I am traveling to Gee's Bend, where I am giving the keynote for the 2nd of 6 quilting symposiums across the state organized by Alabama Folklife Association. I am beyond excited and thrilled and honored. After all I've written and all I've talked about my love for Gee's Bend, I've never given a talk IN Gee's Bend before! And the quilters will be there!! VERY excited.

I'm also excited to share with you some of my favorite poems by Walter Dean Myers. For a list of all his poetry books, be sure to see Sylvia's list at Poetry for Children. What a great resource. Thanks, Sylvia!

And now, the poems:

by Walter Dean Myers

Shout my name to the angels
Sing my song to the skies
Anoint my ears with wisdom
Let beauty fill my eyes

For I am dark and precious
And have such gifts to give
Sweet joy, sweet love,
Sweet laughter
Sweet wondrous life to live

(from BROWN ANGELS: An Album of Pictures and Verse by Walter Dean Myers)

My Child
by Walter Dean Myers

There is no  math between us
no sharp angles to measure the world
No history to define
Who we are
or might become

There is no language, no
Words to stir
the moment

Only a curve
in your smile
that somehow matches mine
a familiar glint of morning light
in your eyes

All this vagueness and the
exact art of sending love
across a small space

(from ANGEL TO ANGEL: A Mother's Gift of Love by Walter Dean Myers)

Ernest Scott, 26
by Walter Dean Myers

I stood on the tree of life
Mouth gaped wide
Sucking in the music of the crosstown breeze
When I had filled my lungs near bursting (Cullen, Hughes, Hurston)
I began my song, a black melody
Gathered from the several seas
Warmed by the mistral winds
Rhythmed by the slapping Congo tide

I stood tall on the tree of life
Rapt with wonder
Listening to the resonance of the project walls
I claimed ownership of the joyful noise (Baldwin, Wright, Du Bois)
I was the chorus, the doo-wop from dim halls
My words fogged the neon night
My rhymes tamed the thunder

(from HERE IN HARLEM: poems in many voices by Walter Dean Myers)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#bookaday Week Nine

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. It's an engaging, fast-past read, but for whatever reason I just didn't connect with it?? I've read reviews comparing it to The Phantom Tollbooth, and that seems partly right and may explain my lack of connection, as I didn't connect to that one either! But I know some young readers who will eat this book up. Putting it in the "good, but not for me" stack.
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora. This one really moves along, and since I am here in the Mockingbird State (ummm, NOT actually our state bird*, but because Harper Lee lives here and the book and movie are set here, yes, our state bird), I pretty much had to read it.... kinda like the kids in the story have to read To Kill a Mockingbird. :) Smart, funny writing and a real-feeling family. Kind of like a love letter to books and book-lovers... fun!
The Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett. A retelling of the Cinderella story from the perspective of (ugly? evil?) stepsister Jane. It's a thorough book, kind of dark, completely enjoyable. I wasn't sure at first who to root for, we've been so conditioned to root for Cinderella, and part of the joy of reading this book is realizing how deeply these tropes are embedded. How wonderful to get a fresh perspective! And as I have a personal interest in blended families, I could really see all the sides of all the characters as Tracy portrayed them. Read it!

The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry. When I'm craving women's fiction, Patti Callahan Henry is my go-to gal! Plus she lives here in Birmingham, so reading her books is like supporting the home team, except better. :) Her last book AND THEN I FOUND YOU knocked my socks off in the best way possible, so I was eager to read this one. It's about mothers and daughters and families falling apart -- and also about strength and new beginnings and growing out of that need to hide-our-true-selves-for-appearances-sake. Real characters, and I look forward to my book club's discussion about how things turned out for Eve.

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum. I listened to this one on Hoopla. It's about a guy trying to figure his life out -- and yes, there's a mistress and a wife and a daughter and parents and politics and adventures in art to distract and/or aid him on his journey. I think maybe I had too high expectations of the book -- never could really dig into it emotionally. There were some touching moments, but mostly it stayed surface-level for me. C'est la vie! (did love the French/Paris parts of the book!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Movie Monday: BEGIN AGAIN

Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo star in BEGIN AGAIN as two people in the midst of new beginnings. Together they create a homegrown album -- she as singer/songwriter and he as producer -- and along the way they learn about love and music and creativity and connection and how to honor oneself.

Sweet movie. Young singer/songwriter son said it was about his life. All the New York City scenes made hubby and I want to hop on a plane and wander the city. Wonderful!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

One of the Best Parts About Being an Author

.... is working with young writers!

 Last month I spent a lovely two hours with a summer reading group at Trussville Public Library. Here they are, eager and engaged:

I was touched when, at the end of the session, a student presented me with her responses to the following prompts:

1. Mama Always Says...
2. Describe your favorite meal.
3. What is the best (or worst) thing that could ever happen to you?

I always give students the option to respond as a fictional character, if they are not comfortable sharing these things about themselves.... because I remember being that fearful young writer! My stomach got knotty and my pulse was a runaway locomotive at the mere thought of someone reading my words... what would they think??

Scary stuff! For those struggling with similar issues, hang in there. Confidence takes time. It DOES get easier.

We had a great time, and the kids wrote some amazing pieces. I always leave so inspired and filled with joy. Love it! Thank you so much to librarian Laura Edge for giving me the opportunity.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Quilts & Pears & the Summer Poem Swap!

stained glass quilt by Bettye Kimbrell
Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! I am adventuring today with my Camp Buttercup girls, but I did want to leave a few goodies for my Poetry Friday friends. :) Be sure to visit lovely Linda Kulp at Write Time for Roundup!

As many of you know, I love quilts. I've even created a few, though none so gorgeous as those picture here and made by Bettye Kimbrell, an Alabama quilt-artist whose work earned her a National Heritage Fellowship Award.  learned about Bettye at a recent quilt program presented by Alabama Folklife Association. Her work is so amazing, and she's self-taught! Here's one using a leaf pounding technique:

And here is a postcard piece of art created by Joy Acey, to whom I sent a poem as part of the Summer Poem Swap. (She sent me the postcard as a thank you.) Isn't it lovely?? I immediately started a "pear" poem. :) Thank YOU, Joy!!! You multi-talented poets inspire the heck out of me!

And here is another bit of loveliness I received that I haven't been able to stop thinking about, both picture and poem, from Diane Mayr:

photo by Russell Lee, courtesy of Library of Congress

On the Beach
by Diane Mayr

Not a body, I have no memory
of flesh -- but a thin, faded and
worn, cotton patchwork quilt

made me stop and gape.

I wanted to shake someone,
To yell, "What are you doing?"
How could you be so

careless as to bring family

history to the beach to
cradle your Coppertone
slicked sweating bodies?

Sand, salt, and the sun

will exact a toll on the
handiwork of your mother,
or grandmother, long-gone.

If only, I could finger

the yo-yos of the quilt that
once lay on her bed and say,
"Tell me, who made this?

And when. And where. And how?"

Isn't that great?? How many times have I wanted the answers to those same questions... alas. Thank you, Diane, for putting it in a poem. I will treasure it. And thanks again and again to Tabatha for running the Swap! SO inspiring and FUN!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Camp Buttercup: for Brave & Creative Girls

The next few days I get to enjoy the company of three special girls in my life:

Anna, MadiLynn, BrenLeigh

Here, at Camp Buttercup, we are all about ADVENTURE! And since these three live in rural areas, we're going with an urban theme, and the city of Birmingham will be our playground. We've got art and parks and sewing and writing and scavenger hunts and hiking and so much more!

VERY excited!!!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Japanese Woman, Reading

Every couple of months, I visit a favorite antique mall in Chelsea, Alabama, which is just a dozen miles or so from my house. 

Two visits in a row, I spied the above piece -- a Japanese woman with a book in her hands. It's printed on some kind of fabric, and each time I saw it, I just stood there for a while looking at it. 

I love it. I want to know this woman's story. And while I may not look like her on the outside, I AM THIS WOMAN. 

But. I have no wall space. Our walls are covered up in special art already. So I left the antique store without the piece, but also remembering something my mother-in-law told me years ago: incorporating Eastern decor in the home brings good luck. (Does it? I don't know. But I sure am drawn to it.)

Last week I visited the antique mall again -- and guess what was still there?? Yep. So this time I brought her home. Third time's a charm and all that. :) 

I love her! I'm still deciding the perfect spot for her, and what will have to be taken down to accommodate our new guest. Decisions, decisions...

moral to the story: when it comes to art, if it speaks to you, LISTEN!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Name is Irene, and This is My AHA Moment

A couple of weeks ago I buzzed down to Tuscaloosa to take part in the 2014 AHA Tour, as presented by Mutual of Omaha. I found the trailer parked in the lot behind The Capstone Sheraton.

It was a windy, humid day, which means my hair was a mess -- and I was recovering from a nasty respiratory infection after driving home the previous day from our family vacation. NOT the best conditions under which to do a video recording! BUT. I wanted to give it a shot.

And these were the lovely faces who greeted me: Brett, Sam, Gary (l-r)

They put me in the booth, calmed me down, and asked me to tell my Aha Moment. Thanks, guys!

Well. I soon discovered it's rather hard to choose just ONE moment. But I knew in my heart the one I wanted to talk about had to do with writing across cultures in my first novel LEAVING GEE'S BEND. That experience changed my life. And it might not have happened if not for writer Julius Lester. Want to know what I'm talking about?? Click here for my Aha Moment.

And here's my parting shot:

To record your own AHA moment, check the tour schedule here!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

#bookaday Week Six

 THE THICKETY by J.A. White. The first in a series about a girl who is not a princess, no she's not. She's a witch -- and she's busy learning to use her powers. This book brings to mind Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky." A fantastic magical world complete with all sorts of made-up creatures and words. Great fun for the middle-grade fantasy-loving crowd. And did I mention, dark? I'm interested to read what darkness ensues in the second book.

ABSOLUTELY ALMOST by Lisa Graff. This one is my favorite middle-grade so far this year. Albie is adorable. I was reminded of how I felt when I first read WONDER. So very warm! This book's message can't be beat: kindness matters --- and we don't have to be perfect. In fact, none of us are! A quiet book for the younger MG crowd, and I can see it as a great read-aloud. Lots to discuss!

SEARCHING FOR SKY by Jillian Cantor. Great premise: Sky and her brother River have lived the majority of their childhoods on a island. When they are rescued and brought to California, everything changes. You can imagine! I enjoyed Sky's journey and found her believable and interesting.

THE MEANING OF MAGGIE by Megan Jean Sovern.
The author uses her real-life experience as a daughter of a father with MS to craft a tale about Maggie, who is such an enthusiastic narrator that I had to stop from time to time just to breathe. She's a funny girl, and it's an enjoyable read... and there's footnotes! Can't remember when (if ever) I've seen that in fiction. Fun. AND...Megan is a Georgia author! Hope to meet her in the near future.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Buffy for Roundup.

It's been a busy summer so far... all good stuff! This past week I watched my son perform LIVE at a music/arts festival, met friends and readers at the Birmingham Zoo, taught a writing workshop, and today I am at a quilting event! Hurray for summer! Also, I've been doing lots and LOTS of reading. (See my #bookaday posts!)

AND I finally got to A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL by Marilyn Nelson with illustrations by Phillippe Lardy.

This may be a picture book, but it's very sophisticated in language, and heavy (obviously) in content. And it's sonnets! I would suggest tackling it as a poem a day, or else it's likely to be overwhelming to young readers. I like how the illustrations are simple compared to the text -- it helps the reader take it all in a little easier. This book won a ton of awards, which, I think, is a good message to we striving poets to go ahead and take on those heavy subjects, if our hearts call us to do so.

And now, a poem:

Like the full moon, which smiled calmly on his death.
by Marilyn Nelson

Like the stars, which fluttered their quicksilver wings.
Like the unbroken song creation sings
while humankind tramples the grapes of wrath.
Like wildflowers growing beside the path
a boy was dragged along, blood spattering
their white petals as he, abandoning
all hope, gasped his agonizing last breath.
Like a nation sending its children off to fight
our faceless enemy, immortal fear,
the most feared enemy of the human race.
Like a plague of not knowing wrong from right.
Like the consciencelessness of the atmosphere.
Like a gouged eye, watching boots kick a face.

Wow, huh? The next poem is titled with the last line of this one... which is the pattern throughout the book. And then, the final poem is comprised of the first lines of the 14 preceding sonnets in the collection. Now that requires some wordsmithing skill!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Say Hello to DON'T FEED THE BOY in Paperback!

So today is the officlal release of DON'T FEED THE BOY in paperback. Woohooo! Square Fish has done a lovely job with it -- there's a Discussion Guide, a Zoo Bee, and Q&A with little ol' moi. I love it!

To celebrate, I am hosting ZOO DAYS at Birmingham Zoo.
Wednesday, June 25, 9 am
Sunday, July 20, 1 pm

We'll meet at the Picnic Pavilion (where Whit first speaks to Stella), and then we'll go inside the gates for a tour of all Whit's favorite spots at the zoo. Also, my guests will get a special sneak peek of my new book DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST
 Zoo admission required. 

For those of you far-flung and unable to get to the Birmingham Zoo, I invite you to visit your own local zoo. Take a picture of YOU at the Zoo (bonus entry for YOU at the Zoo with a zoo animal!), like this one, taken at my very first trip to the London Zoo (I'm the one on the steps, and that's my brother Ken, Mom, sister Lynn and brother Stan):

You can send it to me via social media:
 (where I will be creating a special board). 

Everyone who sends in a pic will be entered in a drawing to win a classroom set (25 copies) of DON'T FEED THE BOY in paperback! Entries accepted June 1 - July 31. Random drawing & winner announced August 1.


Thursday, June 26, 2-4 pm, I will be teaching a WRITING WORKSHOP for students at Trussville Public Library
. Hope to see you!

and finally, writers & artists, don't forget....

DEADLINE JULY 1 for The Electra Awards! A joint project of Birmingham Arts Journal
 & Alabama Power Company, we are offering a contest with cash awards in celebration of The Power of Art to Ignite, Delight, & Unite! Prose, poetry and art categories, deadline July 1. More information here.
Songwriting Workshop for Students, 4 consecutive Thursdays beginning July 10, taught by ASFA instructor Jason Slatton, at DISCO
 (Desert Island Supply Co, 5500 1st Ave. N, Birmingham), 10 - 11:30. Spaces limited... contact me to sign up!

Monday, June 23, 2014

#bookaday Week Five

Finally, finally I read SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Arthur Ransome! It reminds me of books I loved when I was young, the way it meanders in and out of adventure (BETSY-TACY & TIB, anyone?). Who doesn't love a deserted island overrun with kids? :) I'm not sure I will read the rest of the series, but I am happy for the introduction to the Swallows and Amazons.
 CURSES AND SMOKE by Vicky Alvear Shecter. I loved CLEOPATRA'S MOON, and this one has the same amazing attention to historical detail. Maybe it helps that Vicky traveled with her mother to Pompeii while writing this book?? Convincing love story, tragedy, hope... I'm there! The book takes a look at freedom and all the different definitions it can have, and warning: the ending will break your heart! But, then, you sorta expect that with a book about a volcanic eruption, don't you?
CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge. I've been listening to this one, thanks to SYNC's free summer download series -- which I have to thank Mary Lee for sharing about, or else I'd never have known! It's about a girl whose life purpose is to kill the demon she's forced to marry at age 17. Of course things don't go as simply as that... I've read some reviews that compare the book to BEAUTY & THE BEAST. This book's heroine Nyx is far more complicated. Also, the writing is lush and magical. So, if you like lush and magical, you should definitely give it a read (or listen). :) 

STOLEN PONY by Glen Rounds. I picked this one up at a library book sale -- and as I am ever a fan of horse stories -- well, of course I enjoyed it! It's really about an "unlikely friendship" between a blind pony and a dog. You can tell the author has spent a lot of time around horses, and I was eager to learn how things ended up for our two heroes. Nice!

Next week will feature whatever I get to after THE THICKETY by J.A. White, which is what I started reading last night. :)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poem Swap #1: FOX WRITES A NOTE by Tabatha Yeatts

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone at Check it Out for roundup! I am super-excited because this week I received in the mail poem swap #1 from none other than the Swap Queen herself, Ms. Tabatha (Fox) Yeatts!

Take a look-see:

Fox Writes a Note
by Tabatha Yeatts

Riddle me thiS,
riddle me that. WraP
up your words witH
the purr of a cat. I
am ready to play. CaN
you send a map? Love, FoX.

Fox is a clever one, isn't she? Love that end-line acrostic... and Tabatha's drawings are adorable. Funny thing: I almost wrote my poem about a fox! Then I remembered the lynx... which, holy coincidences, rhymes with sphinx. :)

This swap thing makes me so very happy. I'm busy working on #2 and will get it in the mail shortly. Can't wait to see what (and from whom!) lands in my mailbox next. Many many thanks to Tabatha for this wonderful tradition. xo

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#bookaday Week Four

So, you may have noticed there was no #bookaday Week Three post. That's because I was vacationing. And not the lay-around-and-read variety of vacation! Which means my Week Four post is really weeks 3 AND 4, but who's counting? I'm proud to tell you about the following books:

CAMINAR by Skila Brown. This one is a verse novel in which the poems are more like actual poems than broken-up prose. I like that! There's even a reverso poem. Nice use of the form to tell the story of Carlos' journey during the political turmoil in 1981 Guatemala that resulted in the death of many innocent people. I learned a lot, and the book wasn't bogged down by the heavy subject matter. It's an active story, and the reader cares what happens.

Also, it made me want to write a nahuales poem. What are nahuales"spirit animals who guide us in life, keep us/safe." Carlos has a spirit animal. I think I know which one. :)

Here are the closing lines in a poem near the end of the book called "The Voices I Heard."

"A person's voice cannot be buried
deep into the earth.
it will walk on forever, as long
as there are open ears."


REBEL BELLE by Rachel Hawkins. Rachel is a fellow Alabamian, and yes, I have sat with her in a tea room on more than one occasion! She's far more belle than I will ever be, and this book is Rachel at her best. Fun, smart, real (and that's saying something when you consider there's Paladins and Mages involved!). Slap on a tiara, bring on the oh-so-polite euphemisms at get reading already! One of my favorite quotes in the book, because it feels true of many o' southern lady: “You act like you're perfect, but inside, you're totally screwed up.” Yup.

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume. Okay, so this book was first published before I was born, and I remember reading it as a pre-teen. Before re-reading it, the part I recall most vividly was the part about Margaret wanting to get her period. And yes, that's still there – along with a host of other issues about family and religion and friends and growing up and breasts-- all of which resonate so deeply and truly... and came back to me as I was reading! I can even remember reciting the “We must, we must, we must increase our bust” with my sister, and have a few spin-the-bottle party scenes from my own pre-adolescence. I remember getting a training bra before I needed any such contraption. I remember being envious of my more-grown-up friends. And oh how I loved my grandmother! Wow, did Judy Blume nail it. No wonder the book is in its gazillionth printing.

THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON by Stephen King. This is the first Stephen King book I ever read -- and it was recommended to me by my father who is an integral part of my writing life. It's been years since I read it. And then, I rode with my son to Walmart, and when we were unloading the groceries from the trunk, there was the book (he'd read it last year for summer reading). And I was like, oh, wow, I need to read that again! And so I did. And you know what? (sorry about all those "ands"!!) IT HELPED ME SOLVE A PROBLEM IN MY WIP. (Hello, it's a survival story!) Don't you love when that happens??

Next up, among others: CURSES & SMOKE by Vicky Alvear Schecter!

Friday, June 13, 2014

UBIQUITOUS: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! I am just back from Disney World and my first-ever visit to the land of Harry Potter at Universal -- and, well, I am not ashamed to say that I CRIED, it was so like waking up inside a favorite book!-- followed by a relaxing few days at the beach with a few of my favorite folks.
JuliAnna, Andrew, Dan, Eric, & Paul

Whew! And now there are poems to be written and a certain survival story to be revised (yet again) and all sorts of other summer adventures!

But first: be sure to visit Catherine Johnson for Roundup!

I'm happy to share with you a poem from UBIQUITOUS by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Beckie Prange.

According to the back cover, "ubiquitous" means "Something that is (or seems to be everywhere at the same time." It's big title for a big concept: species that have been present on our Earth for a very long time. There are ants and grass and humans. And my favorite: mollusks!

The Mollusk That Made You
by Joyce Sidman

Shell of the sunrise,
sunrise shell,
yours is the pink lip
of a pearled world.

Who swirled your whorls and ridges?
Was it the shy gray wizard
shuttered inside you?
I hear he walks on one foot
and wears a magic mantle,
trailing stars.

O Shell,
if only I could shrink!
I'd climb your bristled back,
slide down the spiral
         of your heart.
I'd knock on your tiny door
         and ask to meet
         the mollusk
         that made you.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Steady Hands: Poems about Work by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday from the land of a pretty famous mouse and more recently, Harry Potter! Yep, I am out adventuring. :) Be sure to visit Catherine Johnson for Roundup.

It was my great fortune recently to pick up at my library bookstore STEADY HANDS: Poems About Work by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illus. by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.

The book covers a boat-load of jobs, including a few I've held myself like babysitter and retail clerk and writer... I guess I need to write my own poems for social worker and Krystal's burger flipper. :)

Here are a few of my favorites:

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Snowy flour dusts the early
lavender light
in the backroom of the bakery.
With each
the baker's hands disappear
and reappear
into the folds
of dough.

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

The tow truck driver
fishes in the city:
a taxi
a sportscar
and a minivan--
three keepers
reeled in
before breakfast.

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

each day
a ballet
of hands.

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

The janitor
what's hidden behind
locked doors
lurking in dark corners
and tucked into closets.
He senses
all the secret wishes
a building whispers
in the night.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

#bookaday Week Two

Okay, so apparently I am not my father, who reads at least a book a day. ALL YEAR  LONG. And I'm not talking picture books here -- he reads NOVELS. Big fat thrillers and such.

And sure, I could bump my #bookaday numbers with picture books. I do love picture books, after all! But I've been craving long stories lately, so reading novels.

This week I've been on a YA kick, and I've got three to tell you about. That's right THREE. Sorry to disappoint, Papa! :)

THE LUCY VARIATIONS by Sara Zarr. Wow. Love this one. Complicated characters, an introduction to the culture of young xoncert piano prodigies, New York City, real emotions. You don't have to be a music person to relate to the pressures put on us by others and by ourselves to be perfect and not quit and do what is expected. This is my first Sara Zarr book, and I will definitely read more. Lots for a writer to learn here, and lots for a reader to love!

THE CHAPEL WARS by Lindsey Leavitt. Well, this will not come as a surprise, but LL has done it again! Sweet, funny, with something deeper hiding beneath. I loved Holly's devotion to the Rose of Sharon wedding chapel, which she inherited from her beloved grandfather. I enjoyed watching her navigate her relationship with rival Dax, and l especially appreciated her approachability dating strategy. :) Also, I loved the NOT-What Happens at Vegas Stays at Vegas picture of a city Lindsey obviously loves. Next time I go, I am totally visiting the Neon Boneyard. Read the book -- you'll see!

MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC by Gabriel Zevin. This book surprised me. The premise is kind of convenient and makes me think of an old Irene Dunne movie (not a specific movie, just the general1940s film feeling). But Naomi is a great, complicated character. She's a bit of an unreliable narrator, which enhances the story for me. She reads REAL, with all the emotional ups-n-downs adolescent brings. Can't wait to share this one with my nearly 17 year old niece. :)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Harriet Tubman Poem

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit one of our Haiku Queens, Diane at Random Noodling!

Lots going on in my life right now as my husband and I shake off one long-standing (30+ years) business and board a different train bound for lands not yet known, but certainly dreamed of! We are exhausted and excited and eager for this new chapter.

Which is why I am sharing with you today a poem I wrote earlier this year for Scholastic's ACTION magazine. ACTION is a hi-lo mag -- high interest, low reading level. In celebration of Black History Month, they asked me to write something to accompany an article about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. (Speaking of lands not yet known, but certainly dreamed of!) Here's the result:

All Aboard the Freedom Train!
by Irene Latham

Come now passengers,
throw off your chains!

Take your place on the train
that runs underground.

Its wheels are people 
who arrange secret stations,

its whistle blows,

Follow Harriet --
your conductor, your guide.

Brave hunger and darkness
to outsmart your captors.

With a runaway's speed
and a locomotive's power,

time now
to steam into your future.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#bookaday Week One

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by Robin Herrera - Lots of surprises in this one for Star Mackie (whom her classmates call Star Trashy, because she lives in a trailer). She wants to start a club at school, and has misadventures... and then she discovers poetry. Love seeing a book with kids who are drawn to poetry!

Though not ALL the kids. Here's a quote:

"No offense, Star, but sometimes Emily Dickinson makes me sleepy."


Also love the Reader's Guide in the back. Here's an item to ponder:

9. Star is inspired by Emily Dickinson's poem, "Hope," also known as "Hope is the thing with feathers," and she discusses the idea of hope with many other characters in the book. Which charter's definition of hope do you like best? How would you describe hope?

Not a ferris wheel for me... maybe a seed unfurling in darkness, a tea kettle's whistle, sheets flapping on a clothesline... still thinking. :)


JANE IN BLOOM by Deborah Lytton is a new-to-me book that follows the story of Jane just-before and just-after the loss of her sister Lizzie to an eating disorder.

One of my own loved ones has an eating disorder, so I really felt the pain in this book... and also the hope and the beauty of the growth Jane experiences after the tragedy. Lovely storytelling... More books from Deborah, please!


MINN AND JAKE by Janet Wong is a new to me verse novel. I have it on good authority that Janet was more like the Jake character, in that she couldn't catch lizards without pulling their tails off! That works great for me, because I am totally the Minn character -- I am a lizard-catching expert, and I'm happy to share that skill with a special friend. :) A delightful read about friendship, perfect for the younger middle grade set. I'm just sorry it took me so long to discover it!


I picked up THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY not knowing the author Tracy Holczer and I share not only an agent, but editor as well! It's contemporary fiction about Grace, who is grieving her mother's death. There's art and poetry and growth going on -- and some lovely passages like these:

"Writing would help me through it, just like it always had. And where I used to think that writing was like the little hole in teakettle to let out steam, I figured it was more than that. I hoped the hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of words I wrote down would help me fill the empty place left by Mama and make me whole."

"Mama had always said that art was about letting yourself fly. But maybe that was just one way. Sometimes it took digging down deep and planting roots."

Friday, May 23, 2014

Poem about Barbara Johns, Civil Rights Hero

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Violet Nesdoly for Roundup.

What a busy week! Kids finished up school, I'm dog-sitting, we're in the final days of our old family business before closing our doors and moving on to the next, new chapter... and I put out an email newsletter! (What? Not on my newsletter list? Email me: to subscribe.)

I've got several poetry books in the queue to share with all of you, but today I want to share a poem I wrote for Scope magazine about Barbara Johns.

I knew nothing about Barbara when I was asked to write this poem, and now I can't learn enough about her! She was a pretty amazing young woman. Read all about her in the most recent edition of YES!, which happens to be one of my favorite magazines. Brown vs. Board of Education probably wouldn't have happened when it did if not for Barbara's leadership in a high school walk out and other efforts. Here's the poem:

Barbara Johns Reaches for the Moon

She steps onto the stage,
makes a bold declaration,


Without hesitation,
she illuminates the situation--

separate but not equal:
cracked toilets, smoke inhalation,

tar-paper shacks packed
with the student population.

Despite danger, despite trepidation,
she clings to the dream with determination,

joins the fight for integration.
Together they march

like constellations
across a midnight sky,

their combined shine inspiration
for a changing nation.

- Irene Latham

Monday, May 19, 2014

Friends Like Us

Some people don't understand how me and Pat can be such good friends.

She talks a lot; I'm quiet.
She's a country girl; I'm a city girl.
She reads long series of books; I like verse novels.

But our hearts are the same.

We both love family and puppies and quilts and pottery
and farm fresh eggs and art shows....

....and consider a trip to the Library Bookstore an extra-special delight....

...and know just what treat will get a gal through a black-cloud day!

Thank you, Pat for being a wonderful friend!