Monday, September 15, 2014

Bringing the Water Hole to the Shoals

 Last week I returned to Florence, Alabama, one of my favorite places ever, for some school visits and a library workshop. Here's an article about my adventures. The events were funded by Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, with a little help from my friend Pat, who greeted me with roses and gifts, fed me, and gave up her bed so I'd have a place to rest my weary head. Thanks, Pat! And thanks to everyone who made it a great visit, even though I wasn't feeling my best. Until next time...

Sheffield Public Library

McBride Elementary (Muscle Shoals)

Mrs. Hutcheson and me


Mrs. Hutcheson's classroom library

Muscle Shoals Public Library

Angela Bailey, me, Pat at Rosie's

Tom Magazzu, editor of Florence Courier-Journal

Waterloo Elementary

Jennifer Butler-Keeton, me, Jerry Anderton, Waterloo librarian

Trowbridge's -fashioned lunch counter! I had tuna salad on wheat,
chicken soup and chocolate chip ice cream. :)

Florence Academy of Fine Arts (formerly Bradshaw HS, where Pat graduated!), after speaking to Darlene Freemon's creative writing classes

Florence Public Library

Getting ready to write poems inspired by photographs at Florence Public Library

Friday, September 12, 2014

Twenty Years Later...

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Renee at No Water River for Roundup. I'm delighted to be a guest poster at The Poem Farm, where Amy asked me to talk about revision. Earlier this week, I guest posted at Amy's Sharing Our Notebooks to talk about my life in notebooks... and Amy is generously doing a giveaway of WILDEBEEST! Thank you, Amy!

I've been traveling this week, and I can't wait to share with all of you -- but first, today is a special day:  today my firstborn son turns 20. Happy birthday, Daniel!

Here we are, on that day:

And here is my most favorite Langston Hughes poem ever, which most everyone knows, but it's one to be enjoyed over and over -- and it happens to be on the topic. It's been on my mind ever since I saw in a magazine how someone had painted their "House Rules" on the risers of their staircase. Since then, I discovered a board devoted to creative stair design on Pinterest. I want to do something similar.... with this poem!

Mother to Son
by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Safari Sketchbooks & DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST Launch Pics

 I was so thrilled to tie my Wildebeest book launch to SNAP (Seriously, No Adults Please!) programming at Emmet O'Neal Library in Mountain Brook, AL!

This library is just half a mile from Birmingham Zoo, the inspiration for Don't Feed the Boy!
What did we do? Poetry and Safari Sketchbooks! I introduced kids to poetry using Powerpoint and a "Poetry" acrostic poem I wrote. Then, we became lions! I gave the kids prompts like:
 "What is the best part of your day?"

"What are you scared of?"

"Two lions meet at the water hole. What do they say to one another?"

They wrote their responses on index cards, and I collected them to read aloud our Community Poem. AND THEN...

it was time for Safari Sketchbooks. :) We had a pile of old National Geographic Kids magazines, and kids selected a picture of the animal they wanted to write about. They cut and pasted the picture to the cover of their Sketchbooks, added the filler paper, and used leather cording to bind it. And then they WROTE, using the same prompts, but for their own individual animal.

Funny thing: unicorns came up A LOT. Wonderful boys. :)

 Big thanks to this trio of genius librarians who, with the help of Google,  helped get my slide show running in a loop before the reception portion of the event. Thank you, Meredith, Gloria & Rachel! I need you with me on all my adventures. :)

I'm especially grateful to those who came out for the reception on a stormy weeknight. I have asked so much of my readers and friends this year with launch events for The Sky Between Us and Don't Feed the Boy. I really wasn't sure anyone would show up! Those of us who were there enjoyed lovely conversation about writing and life and what it means to create. Thank you, friends!
Marie, Joan & John, manning the book table!

 Here I am at the end of the night with my still-growing-even-taller youngest son Eric...

.... and with the fella who makes all this possible: sweet husband Paul!

Thanks to everyone who was a part of this one! SO MUCH FUN. xo

Friday, September 5, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake!

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Laura at Author Amok for Roundup! I'm thrilled and grateful to be featured over at Today's Little Ditty... I would love to see what all my Poetry Friday friends come up with for the poetry challenge at the end of the post! Thank you, Michelle!!

Today is the last day for Lerner's Free Book Friday giveaway for DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST. Good luck!

So yesterday I went to pick up the cake for last night's launch party (more on this soon!). It was to be a photo cake with an image of the book cover.

Well, when I went to order the cake, they said, GOTTA HAVE A PRINTED PICTURE.

I've got digital, I said. More accurate.

NOPE, they said.

So I went home, took a picture of the book, had it printed, picked it up, and went back to the bakery.

This time they said, NOPE, No Can Do. Because of copyright laws!

But it's my book, I said. I wrote it! And I know Millbrook Press and illustrator Anna Wadham won't mind!

We'll see, they said. We'll call you.

WELL. They didn't call, which I took to be a good sign! And yesterday, when I went to pick the cake up, this is the sadness I found:

Seriously?? SO SAD. The colors: flat, dark, ick. And what's with the brown strips?? (Sweet husband said it wasn't that bad, but I didn't believe him.)

I NEEDED A CAKE. So I bought it and brought it home, plotting the whole time about how I might fix it. Something fast. Something festive. Off to Walmart I went!

A tub of safari animals, a tube of blue frosting, and some sprinkles later... and this is where we landed:

Better, don't you think?

So that's my adventures in cake. Surely there's a poem in there -- I just haven't had time to write it. Wishing everyone a happy day... and... Did you know Emily Dickinson liked to bake cakes? Poetry & Cake. Yum!!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Movie Monday: BOYHOOD

So this is kind of the perfect movie for the mom of three boys. :) It's kind of a perfect movie, whatever your gender or circumstance. The main character ages during the same years as our oldest son, and he loved the movie, especially all the context clues related to politics and pop culture. It's really just about regular people dealing with regular things... all of them growing up. And how much do I love Ethan Hawke? Don't miss!

Also, today the day: Happy Birthday to DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST AND OTHER POEMS FROM THE WATER HOLE!! I am pleased to share the day with Lee Bennett Hopkins' latest, MANGER which includes poems by wonderful poet-friends. Love! It's the Christmas story, from the perspective of the animals. And it's been awarded a STARRED review by Kirkus. Congratulations, all! More on this very soon. :)

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Beginning of the Beginning of DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Your host for Roundup is Jone at Check it Out. Also, I'm thrilled and honored to read lovely Jama post about DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST at Jama's Alphabet Soup. Thank you, Jama!

We writers are often asked about beginnings: where did you get the idea? what inspired this book? where do ideas come from?

I'm sure there are gazillions of answers, and all of them exactly right. Even though in my experience it's impossible to really pinpoint a beginning... so much of the creative life exists in our subconscious, and it's developing our whole lives long. Which means I could say, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST was inspired by my childhood love of animals or the time our family lived and traveled overseas. (The closest we got to the Serengeti was Egypt.) Maybe there were books I read or movies I saw -- I'm certain their were. But THE thing that pushed me headlong into the water hole was this photograph (and others) by Greg du Toit:

Only it wasn't just the image: it was the amazing story behind the image. I wrote about this a few weeks ago at Poetry for Children and just now saw the lovely comments many of you left. A belated THANK YOU!

I find I am often inspired by other art, whether it be written works or visual art or music or history or science or nature... no shortage of inspiration in this beautiful world, that's for sure! And I am continually inspired by the offering here on Poetry Friday.

Beginnings, essentially, are about listening. Listening to the world. Listening to your response to the world, that soft inner voice that begs you to coax it from the darkness.

So, today, I'd like to share a beautiful poem about beginnings:


The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.   
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
There they are, the moon's young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.


Don't you love that?? I like thinking of ideas as "the moon's young, trying/ Their wings." Wishing all of you wonderful beginnings today! xo

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Secret Weapon for Writing Kids' Poetry

I picked this baby up oh about 5 years ago at a Scholastic Book Fair when my youngest son was in still in elementary school. (How much do I love Scholastic Book Fairs? Even more now that they've picked up DON'T FEED THE BOY. Look for it!)

I didn't know at the time that I would be writing poems for kids -- I just thought it was a fun thing to have around the house. :)

Now, it's my go-to source when I'm working on a poem for kids, even though I'm not really into writing rhymed-n-metered verse. Oh, the joys of internal rhyme! And sure, you can find rhyming dictionaries online. But this one is so easy to use. 

What's your secret weapon?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Poetry Friday Roundup is..... Missing!

Hello! Poetry Friday Roundup is HERE! Dear sweet Robyn had some unexpectedness this week, so I am your substitute Roundup-er... which means you should lower your expectations. You know how it is with substitutes... and holy impossible, I can't possibly match Robyn.

The theme for today is MISSING. That's because lovely Linda Baie sent me a Summer Poem Swap poem by the same title, which I will share shortly.

But first, I want to share a little Insider Information about a poem missing from my new book DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST And Other Poems from the Water Hole, coming September 1. Thanks to the amazing Poetry Friday community for your enthusiasm for the book... I am excited to be visiting a number of blogs (with giveaways!) in the coming weeks.

When Millbrook Press acquired the manuscript, there were two elephant poems... the keeper, "Dust Bath at Dusk" appears in the book and illustrator Anna Wadham beautifully used the spread to move the book from the daylight hours to the nighttime ones.

Which leaves the missing elephant poem: "Elephant Digs for Salt."

There were some problems with the poem, not the least of which was the fact that it featured the animal as a worker... and I'd already done that in "Dung Beetle at Work." Also, there was a little problem of the introduction of humans in the poem -- when none of the other poems included humans. AND, some other problems you'll probably spot right away.

So....since we already had an elephant poem anyway, we decided that instead of revising, it was probably best to simply eliminate. Here it is:

Elephant Digs for Salt

Tusks are picks

at this excavation site—
Elephant carves tunnels
to get the nutrients right.

Elephant pokes

with such expensive tools –
poachers still hunt the ivory,
even though it’s against the rules.

Elephant loads

no need for dynamite.
With such power and diligence
it soon satisfies its appetite.

- Irene Latham

And now for Linda's poem! I cannot tell you how this poem made my day. Both the topic, the text, and the presentation. LOVE. Thank you again and again, Linda. Here it is:

All That's Missing
by Linda Baie

Missing: hydrogen molecules two:
without them there wouldn't be
a wishy-washy, splishy-splashy
water world for you and me.

Missing: a hen with no clutch of eggs;
without them, she'd only scratch,
clucking around the chicken pen
to find chicks that didn't hatch.

Missing: the sun that will not set;
all would work, still thinking it's day.
Without our evenings, we'd have no rest
and miss lovely time to play.

Missing: the yeast that chemically boosts;
without it, there would be an outcry
for soft rolls or slices, bagels and buns.
T'would be such a sad goodbye.

Missing: those words that make poetry hum;
without them, our lives would be less.
We'd live with just prose on our pages,
no rhymes for us to possess.

Please go find those molecules two;
I'll bring eggs and yeast that we lack.
Call back the sun and create the words.
sigh, relief, we have our world back!

Thank you, Linda! My favorite is still the hen with the missing eggs. Poor hen! :)

And now for Roundup!! Please leave your link below!

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Fiddle Named Half-Pint

illustration by Garth Williams,
Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved the Little House books.

She also loved the TV show, in which Laura gained the nickname "Half-Pint."

Which might explain why, when, many years later, her fiddle teacher said, "You need to name your fiddle," that the name she selected was Half-Pint.
I am brand-new to the fiddle... my husband says it's my mid-life crisis. :) I have long loved music and took piano lessons until I was a senior in high school. (I remember once my grandmother saying of me, "she just can't walk past that piano without playing it." I wish she was here to see that it's true of the fiddle as well!

So. Why the fiddle? Maybe because of Pa in the Little House books. Maybe because of THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, a show I adored as a teen. Maybe because I love the cello, but it's SO BIG, and I travel a lot and need something portable. Maybe because I love bluegrass music and all those old folk tunes. I guess there are a lot of reasons! And I am loving it!

Here we are, me and my new companion, taking a writing break:

Here's a picture of Half-Pint waiting patiently for my attention. (So lovely of Maggie to keep her company amid other treasures!)

Any other fiddler-writers out there?

Friday, August 15, 2014

NIGHT GARDEN: Poems from the World of Dreams by Janet S. Wong

Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup.

This week I've been savoring NIGHT GARDEN, by Janet S. Wong, illustrations by Julie Paschkis. It's a gorgeous book with poems about the people we dream of and nightmares and even dog dreams! My favorite poem is the final poem in the collection:

There Is a Place
by Janet S. Wong

There is a place

where the museum houses thousands of paintings
seen nowhere else in the world,
the colors so bright they grab your eyes
and hold you there, looking,

where the library is filled with brand new books
waiting for you to open them first,
to tell stories only you could know

where fresh cherries have no pits,
where puppies never grow old.

There is such a place,
hidden deep
in me.

Cherries with no pits! Puppies that never grow old!! Love the thought that those places exist in me... because they do, they really do.

And while we're on the subject of puppies, here's a pic (screenshotted from son's Instagram) of our 3 month old Aussie puppy Georgia with almost 4 year old Ruby:

Some funny things about Georgia:
She's not very lady-like... she always sleeps with her legs spread.
She has one pert ear and one floppy ear that gives her this kind of mischievous "I don't know what you're talking about" look.
She still lays on the ground to eat from her bowl (as if she is nursing), tail ticking like a speeding metronome.
While Ruby lives to fetch the rubber chicken, Georgia is like, mehhh, I'd rather just sit here. :) She DOES like digging herself a cool bed in the dirt under our deck and almost always has a dirty nose!
She's a climber. The other day I found her sleeping ON TOP of her crate. :)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld

A couple of weeks ago I participated in an event to support Books to Prisoners Project. All kinds of authors where there, including Rene Denfeld, author of THE ENCHANTED, which is a beautiful, unexpected book set at an ancient stone prison, where, in the dungeon, exists a death row. Rene has worked as an investigator for Death Row cases, and she modeled her prison after one she visits in Oregon (where, she said, they like to give the death sentence, but then sometimes decades will pass before men are executed).

The event was to raise funds to ship books to prisoners. What I saw happening throughout the day was a development of compassion for the inmates -- not excusing the things they've done, but an empathy and understanding of the poverty and life circumstances that contributed. So may broken people.

Books, as any booklover can imagine, are a haven for prisoners -- an escape and a comfort and something to feed the imagination when life is confined to a dark cell. Rene writes beautifully of it in her book:

"Sometimes when reading a book, 

I would think of the other people who might have touched it before it was donated. A nice woman who lay down with her baby for a nap might have held the book I was reading. I could see her, lying in a sundress on faded rose-printed cotton sheets, the book splashed open in the sunlight. A little of that sun could have soaked into the pages I was touching.

After a time, it seemed that the world 

inside the books became my world. So 

when I thought of my childhood, it was 

dandelion wine and ice cream on a 

summer porch, like Ray Bradbury, and 

catching catfish with Huck Finn. My 

own memories receded and the book 

memories became the real memories, 

far more than the outside, far more even 

than in here."

Here are some pictures from the event:
Rene Denfeld

The poetry panel: Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Jerri Beck, me, Doris Davenport
Big thanks to Mary Ann Robbins for including me -- and for all the work she does so tirelessly and with enthusiasm.

Monday, August 11, 2014

11 Storytelling Tips from Storyteller & Author Bil Lepp

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a mini-conference organized by Jefferson County Children's Librarians here in Birmingham, Alabama. The featured speaker was Bil Lepp, nationally recognized storyteller and now author of oh so entertaining THE KING OF LITTLE THINGS, illustrated by David T. Wenzel.

Bil is known on the storytelling circuit for his tall tales, and he treated us to several during the workshop. Because I love the art of storytelling, and because I am constantly striving to improve my presentations, I was pretty happy to be there. And Bil was just a delight. Loved talking with him. AND I came home with a new book I am gifting to my young adopted siblings... and notebook full of takeways... like these:

1. Tell stories you are A) comfortable talking about and B) people want to hear. This means general/universal themes are best.

2. Goal is to get readers into the story and get them to react the way you want them to.

3. Important to use gradual exaggeration (don't do too much too soon!) so that your listener is with you and doesn't reject your story.

4. Use details, but only really important ones. Too many gives the reader too much to remember and not enough power to bring themselves/their world into the story, and too few affects believeability.

5. Visualize the story as a cartoon running inside your head as you're telling it.

6. Tell a story to 5 different audiences before you let it loose on the world.

7. Most of Bil's stories are 12-20 minutes long... but he has an arsenal of stories to fill pretty much any time slot required.

8. If you have a prop, make it purposeful. (Don't just dress in costume and do nothing with it.)

9. If telling a story about real people, use real names if you're saying something nice and substitute a fake name if not-nice. :)

10. Big audiences are more forgiving-- and more likely to laugh hysterically.

11. If you can reduce your story to one line, you just might be ready to tell it.

And, probably my favorite thing Bil said all day:

getting a book published comes down to magic.

Yep. Thanks, Bil! And thanks, amazing Jefferson Co. librarians!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

ORDINARY THINGS & Cherries from Keri!

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Please visit poet-reader-teacher Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for Roundup. Also, don't forget to enter to win a copy of my new book DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST at Goodreads! It releases September 1, so you'll get a sneak peek. :)

I've been reading ORDINARY THINGS: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring by Ralph Fletcher, drawing by Walter Lyon Krudop. It's delightful! But before I share some poems, I have to share my latest Summer Poem Swap treasure. It's from Keri at Keri Recommends. I've met Keri -- she's wonderful... and she's a beekeeper, and a new quilter! I could talk with her for days. And, oh my, THIS POEM.

Cherries (3098512076)
By Grzegorz Jereczek from Gdańsk, Poland (Cherries  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Breakfast Al Fresco
by Keri Collins Lewis
for Irene Latham

sing merrily,
perched in the cherry tree,
breakfast red and ripe for pecking:
fruit course.
Isn't that succulent? Love! Thank you, Keri!

Now back to ORDINARY THINGS. It contains poems about everyday things in nature, and manmade things. Here are a few of my favorite poems in the collection:

by Ralph Fletcher

No place better than a stream
to think out a tough decision
or just sit back and dream.

No one built the winding paths
that stream waters follow
except water and rock and land.

Stream decisions take time
and water is world famous
for stopping to change its mind.

by Ralph Fletcher

When I step from the forest
onto the hard black asphalt
my eyes start to play tricks.

That fire hydrant turns into 
a toddler dressed to the gills
in a snug winter snowsuit.

See those mailboxes over there?
To me they look like old people
dancing slowly cheek-to-cheek.

railroad tracks
by Ralph Fletcher

I got built ninety years back by
sweating stinking swearing men.

For decades every kind of train
screeched on my back. No more.

Winters here can be pretty bleak
but wildflowers always come back.

Empty nests have that forlorn look
'till the songbirds return in May.

The swamp is quiet but soon frogs
will take up their monotonous chant.

My back remains unbroken but only
ghost locomotives rattle these rails.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dear Wandering Wildebeest by Irene Latham

Dear Wandering Wildebeest

by Irene Latham

Giveaway ends August 19, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Art & Love & Buttercups for Poetry Friday!

John Singer Sargent painting,
"Carnation, Lily, Lilly, Rose"
Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! How can it be August? Be sure to buzz on over to Margaret Who Lights Up Louisiana and Beyond at Reflections on the Techie for Roundup.

Here, I am celebrating with what I received from one Robyn Hood Black as part of Tabatha's Summer Poem Swap.

Now, in order to full appreciate the beauty of this poem and understand what a gift it is to me, you have to know about Camp Buttercup.

Camp Buttercup is a little something I do with three Very Important Little Girls in my life -- it grew out of my need for girl-time in the midst of raising three sons! I am very fortunate to have some lovely nieces and a little sister to share time with. And Robyn, dear friend that she is, knows how much this means to me. So she took that theme, along with Tabatha's photo prompt (pictured above left), and wove in all these wonderful lines from other poems (no easy feat! I've linked to the complete poems so you can enjoy even more buttercup-themed poetry!!) to create this thing of beauty:

Have You Seen my Buttercup?
by Robyn Hood Black

Robyn's gift for me, ready to be framed!
Don't you love it? I am fascinated by how Robyn creates these found pieces. It's like a puzzle. Or basket weaving. Braiding? I don't know exactly! But amazing, yes?
For those who don't have time for the links, here's a list of the poets whose lines are included in Robyn's poem.

Pink… Wallace Stevens
Art … Emily Dickinson
While … William Blake
my … Robert Burns
I rose … Robert Louis Stevenson
somewhere … Mary Howitt
Orchard, …Emily Dickinson
every … Shakespeare
goes … May Sarton

Robyn also sent along some of her goodies, so I sort of feel like the Most Artsy Girl on the Planet! If you haven't shopped Robyn's store, go. Now. Great gifts for yourself or your artsy/literary friends!
gorgeous bookmark!
"Dearest Book... I shall return..."
An "I" typewriter key ring. LOVE. :)

And this post would not be complete without a picture of the Buttercup Girls, so here it is:
BrenLeigh, Georgia (Aussie puppy!), Anna & MadiLynn
Camp Buttercup, 2014
Thank you, Robyn. Wishing everyone a wonderful first day of August... bring on the Dog Days!!