Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"People Equal" by James Berry

Today I'd like to share with you a poem by James Berry. It appears in the book A NEST FULL OF STARS (Greenwillow Books, 2002).

People Equal

Some people shoot up tall.
Some hardly leave the ground at all.
     Yet--people equal. Equal.

One voice is a sweet mango.
Another is a nonsugar tomato.
     Yet--people equal. Equal.

Some people rush to the front.
Others hang back, feeling they can't.
     Yet--people equal. Equal.

Hammer some people, you meet a wall.
Blow hard on others, they fall.
     Yet--people equal. Equal.

One person will aim at a star.
For another, a hilltop is too far.
     Yet--people equal. Equal.

Some people get on with their show.
Others never get on the go.
     Yet--people equal. Equal.

- James Berry
I love this poem! Love the rhythm and repetition, and how James Berry's Caribbean heritage shines through every line.

And, I have been all of these people at one time or another. It's important when we talk about people and equality to remember how people change from moment to moment, year to year. We aren't static. We make mistakes. There's no one right way to be. We can be mango sweet AND nonsugar tomato. Hard AND soft. Go-get-em AND sit-tight.

In fact, one of the things that makes humans so interesting is how we can hold all of these different qualities at the same time.

Today I am mango-y and happy to rest at the bottom of the hill. How 'bout you?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Because Doing the Right Thing Hurts Sometimes #NCTE16

Jason's latest GHOST, which won
 NCTE's Charlotte Huck award
 for fiction!
So I am still processing some of the things I heard at NCTE. One of them was a fish story, as told by Jason Reynolds. It goes something like this: One day Jason's eccentric high school teacher brought in an expensive exotic fish for the classroom aquarium. He told the kids, "you can feed the fish, but whatever happens, do not TOUCH the fish. Ever." The teacher went on to say that the principal knew about the fish rules and would back him up should anyone feel inclined to test the rule. Then one day, much later in the year, this teacher scooped the fish out of the tank and dumped it on the floor. All the kids stood around in horror as the fish thrashed about, obviously dying. But they had been told "do not touch the fish." Finally a couple of girls DID touch the fish and returned it to its aquarium. The teacher said, "go to the office. You touched the fish." And this was his way of teaching them that doing the right thing hurts sometimes. There are consequences for our actions, even if they are right. But that doesn't mean you don't do the right thing.

Pretty powerful, right? We need more teachers like that. Thank you, Jason, for sharing the story! (Jason told the story much better than I have... any mistakes my own.)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Celebrating THE BEST OF TODAY'S LITTLE DITTY compiled by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Please visit beautiful Bridget at wee words for wee ones for Roundup.

Michelle is such a gift to this world, isn't she? And this book is, too. I loved reading these 75 poems from so many poets (55!) I've come to love in our Poetry Friday community, and just yesterday one of the challenges (David Elliott's letter poems) gave me some direction for a poem-in-progress. What a fun, beautiful and useful ditty of a book! So I asked Michelle to stop by and respond to a few prompts. Here's Michelle:

The Difficult: Leaving out some really excellent poems. While I had a terrific ditty committee to help narrow down the choices, sometimes it came down to which poems more closely reflected the challenge, conformed to a particular format, or even fit best on the page. I also felt strongly that I wanted to reflect the breadth of the DMC community, so no one, including myself, had their work appear in more than three challenges.

The Delicious: Oh my, it all feels pretty delicious right now! But I'd have to say the most delicious is that I never felt alone in this undertaking. (I'm quite sure it wouldn't have happened otherwise!) I discovered that the same community that generously contributes all these wonderful poems month after month, is also generous with their time, knowledge, and, in some cases, hand-holding. All I needed to do was ask. I'm especially grateful to Renée LaTulippe for being my sounding board and proofreader throughout the process and to Michelle Kogan for the gorgeous cover.

The Unexpected: A few squiggles can wreak havoc at crunch time! Because I'd never self-published before, I knew the learning curve would be steep. I did my reading, asked for help when needed, and allowed enough time for each step in the process. It all went smoothly until I submitted the book at the beginning of November and was informed that nearly all the decorative borders I had chosen were not high enough resolution. Really??? I spent an inordinate amount of time choosing those squiggles, and higher resolution versions were not to be found. I had put far too much work into this book to have it be marred by fuzzy lines, so that's when the panic set in. You can thank Carrie Clickard for those nice crisp lines, but don't ask me how she pulled it off!
And now for four of my favorite poems included in the book. Just like Michelle, it's difficult to select. There's always some other poem calling... but these are the ones that are whispering sweet somethings to me today. Enjoy!

Today's Piggies

This little piggy had an iPad
This little piggy Skyped home.
This little piggy watched YouTube.
This little piggy ran Chrome.
This little piggy went...
tweet, tweet, tweet,
all the way home!

- Buffy Silverman, based on the traditional nursery rhyme
(I know I am not the only one giggling... what a timely and entertaining poem!)

Dr. Plover, DDS

open wide:
it's checkup time!
I'll come inside
to see if you have
tooth decay --
bits of flesh
I'll eat away.
It seems you haven't 
flossed of late.
that's good news --
you're doing great!
Okay, my friend,
they're good to crunch.
See you next time --
thanks for lunch!

(Don't you love how imaginative and fun this one is?! I want to see it paired with an illustration... and it reminds me of my own "Oxpecker Cleaning Service" -- another cleaner-upper bird!)


Lemon is a sunny yellow word.
It speaks of summer,
days sliced thin and swirled
with sugar nights.
I halve one,
a stinging spray,
raise the rind to my lips
for a sour-pucker kiss,
my hands perfumed with happiness.

(I want to kiss this summer-sugar sour-pucker happy-making poem! Love the way it tastes in my mouth.)


Scissors is a sharp word,
a thin word, a steel word,
an I-can-hear-it-click word,
a catching-the-light word,
a see-it-flash word, a fast word,
cutting here, clipping there,
a round-metal-eyes word,
a long-pointed nose word.
It sews as it goes,
and it sings its own name:

(I love all those dashed-together words, and yes! It sings its own name, doesn't it?)

Thanks and congratulations to everyone who's a part of this lovely collection!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

SHINE BRIGHT: A Poetry Reading in Celebration of the Winter Solstice

Free Poetry! Free Poetry! Free Poetry! 

 Featured poets will read on the topics of "light" and "winter." 

 Light refreshments will be served. (hot cider and cookies!)

Open Mic to follow. 

 Alabama Friends: Y'all Come!!! 
 Wednesday, December 21, 2016, 7 pm

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Writing from a Place of Anger

One of the amazing sessions I attended at NCTE included Laurie Halse Anderson on a panel with Jason Reynolds and Patricia Hruby Powell.

I don't remember what the question posed to the authors was, but I can't forget Laurie's answer. She said, "The angrier I am, the better the book."

Anger inspires her. And that got me thinking about what inspires me, and about my relationship with anger.  Because anger is not generally a source of inspiration for me. I'm kind of scared of anger... yet aren't we supposed to write what scares us? What would happen to my writing if I allowed anger to fuel it? Where would my stories and words take me?

I want to be a brave writer. I also want to write what brings me pleasure - to write from a place of love and celebration. Where is that place where bravery and love meet?

All of a sudden I am thinking of Katniss Everdeen when she shoots the arrow at the gamemakers. They're ignoring her, and she's mad, she turns the arrow on them.

That's the kind of anger that has the power to change a life. Thank you, Laurie, for making me think!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Secret Santa

Last week I received in the mail a package from one of my favorite catalogs to browse: Uncommon Goods.

Inside was a beautiful glass "Wishing Ball & Gratitude Globe."
Along with the glass piece, it included small slips of paper for writing your wishes or gratitudes to insert into the globe.

I love it! For me it's most certainly a Gratitude Globe. And the design is for the month of April, which was also noted in the packaging. Not my birthday, but National Poetry Month. Hmmm...

What wasn't noted in the packaging was who sent it to me!

Maybe this was a mistake. Or maybe this giver wishes to remain anonymous. Either way I want to share here today that the first slip I put inside the globe said, "whoever gave me this gift." Thank you!! I'm keeping the globe in my studio, right beside my desk. It's gorgeous, and I am delighted every time I think of it!

And, note to self: give more gifts anonymously. How beautiful!

Monday, November 28, 2016


O frabjous day! Holiday movie season is upon us.... seems like all the most anticipated movies arrive within the last six weeks of the calendar year.

After viewing the trailer a number of times, we were pretty excited to see THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. And it did not disappoint! (I do wish maybe they hadn't shown so much in the trailer, much as I loved it... what fun those surprises would have been!) Really great casting and well-rounded characters. Plus I could relate to main character Nadine who is still struggling 4 years after her father's sudden death with normal teen angst and her relationship with her mom and with the fact that her best friend is now dating her brother... yep. Been there! Several of my best friends ended up dating my brother Ken... one of them even married him! I hated that. And just like Nadine, I blamed my brother for stealing my best friend.

Nadine is really trying to figure some things out, and in the process she makes some crazy decisions. As we all do! One of the best things in her life is a caring, funny (and thank goodness not an inappropriate) teacher. He does what the best teachers do: he listens. And he helps Nadine get through a critical moment.

This movie had some powerful moments that were well-earned. Plus it was funny! And it felt real to me, not just from my own memories of that time, but in light of all the amazing teens I am privileged to know and love.

And to Ken, if you happen to be reading this: I love you!

If you like smart family relationship movies, then you'll like this one. And if you are writing YA, you MUST see it!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Poetry is truth. (more from #NCTE16)

How 'bout this day-before-Thanksgiving sky?
Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Carol's Corner for Roundup.

So I am full of turkey at the moment and thinking back over some of the poetic highlights from NCTE16. There were so many! I'll just mention a few of them here.

Pomelo Books supper at BoccaLupo. Those who know Janet Wong know she is kind of famous for selecting really great restaurants. She chose this one because it was on several lists -- one of them a "last meal" list written by chefs! A couple at our table enjoyed a Tasting Meal, which was small portions all several of their specials. It was pretty amazing, and inventive... and if memory serves, it included things like a parmesan crusted meatball... calamari over shrimp pate...a fancy piece of steak... carrot cake.... All excellent! And the company was, too!

* Session on Risking Writing with Poetry-Friday-ers Mary Lee Hahn and Heidi Mordhorst. It was about writing WITH your students, and the panel modeled this for us. It takes a lot of bravery to share our early drafts with anyone, and how powerful for students to see that the work takes... work. Here's the work and photo we started with... and then you'll find mine as it stands now... I was in an imaginative mood!

At the Harvest Ball

Deer look on as dancers twirl
in their starlight gowns --
Listen: maraca-song!
They dance until they collapse
into their cardboard-castle beds
to dream of leave and rain,
and sometimes,
a white eggplant moon.

- Irene Latham

* Books. I picked up F&G's of forthcoming books by THUNDER UNDERGROUND by Jane Yolen and KEEP A POCKET IN YOUR POEM by J. Patrick Lewis. And I got to admire Laura Purdie Salas's forthcoming IF YOU WERE THE MOON. Beautiful!

* Our panel on Writing for a Better World. At the end, the radiant Katherine Bomer summed up everything with one line from each of us, and it IS a poem! Here it is:
The panel - all except Margarita,
who had to dash to her next session!

To the Poets on the Panel, Your Words Coming Back

- Irene, Amy, Laura, Margarita, Tara, Margaret, (& Katherine)

Err on the side of love,

Amplify the light,

Hold the space for children to enter in,

Words are bridges,

Develop our empathy muscle as the reflex response,

When we provide poems in our classroom, we get to the heart of our children,

Poetry is truth.

And here is a Visual of our session created by Paula Bourque. Love it!

I have several more odds-n-ends to share with you about NCTE -- I came away so very inspired! I will be posting about these things in the weeks to come. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Poetry Brain

Well hello there!

You've heard of "squirrel brain," right? Well, since NCTE, I've got Poetry Brain. If you popped open my skull, I think it would probably look kind of like those small leafy tornadoes that spin in the yard during fall... my mind has been swirling with wise words I heard, like "Poetry is about bearing witness." and pieces of books I've been reading, like SOMOS COMO LAS NUBES/WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS by Jorge Argueta and fragments of poems I want to write. It's kind of crazy in there right now, but beautiful, you know?

And today I am cooking. I tend to tackle Thanksgiving dinner in stages, preparing a couple of dishes a day beginning the Monday before the BIG day. Yesterday I made cranberry festival (gelatin) salad, and this morning I made the sweet potato casserole and the pumpkin bread. It smells like love and family and all that is good in the world.

I will be back for Poetry Friday to share with you some goodies from NCTE, including a poem I wrote in a brave, excellent session led by Mary Lee Hahn and Heidi Mordhorst.

OH. Did you hear Marilyn Nelson won the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry? Congratulations, Marilyn!! And to the committee: well done, all!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Poem for a Better World

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales for Roundup.

I'm in Atlanta for NCTE, which happens to be one of my most favorite conferences of the year. I love being around so many people who are passionate about books and education and children. I always come away so very inspired -- more about this next week!

So today, I have a new original poem to share with you. It's inspired in part by world events and the Writing for a Better World panel I'll be on tomorrow, and also by my seamstress-mother, who can create beauty out of even the most tattered piece of fabric.


And this is how
we shall remake
the world:
like a seamstress
with pins in her mouth,
steady fingers
coaxing thread,
a hum forever
in her throat
as stitch by stitch
the fabric is fitted,
             gathered –
until what was once
tattered, now dances 
across the floor.

- Irene Latham

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Letters to the Dead

A couple of weeks ago I issued the last 2016 edition of my occasional author email newsletter. If you missed it, you can view it here and subscribe here.

In the letter I offered a giveaway for my new chapbook DEAR SLAVE, which contains poems that are letters to former slaves. I wrote the letters after I read their words in slave narratives collected by Ruby Pickens Tartt.

To enter the giveaway, I asked people to reply with the name of a deceased loved one they'd like to write a letter to, and (optional) what they would say in the letter.

Response continues to be overwhelming! I've gotten so many messages from folks sharing their loved ones  -- parents and sisters and children and friends -- and I'm so very honored to read the things they would like to say to them.

A couple of things stand out to me about the experience. First, we NEED to say the names of the ones we love who are no longer with us. Saying their names, sharing them with others, is important. Second, we are all the same. Grief unites us. All the feelings and regrets and love -- no matter how different we are, or what the relationship, or what the circumstances of the death -- we share those emotions.

Below please find images of a few of the former slaves to whom I addressed poems in DEAR SLAVE. I wish I could have talked with them in real life. May we never forget their names.

Ank Bishop

Emma Crockett

Amy Chapman
All photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Rhapsody" for November

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jama's Alphabet Soup for Roundup, where she is offering up HOPE, which is pretty essential, isn't it? Thank you,  Jama. What an emotional week this has been... and I've had the stomach flu. Feeling MUCH better now, thank you very much! Nothing like a few sick days to make one extra grateful for those good-health days. Wow.

So I have a lovely little poem for you, and some sheep. Yep. Read on!


I am glad daylong for the gift of song,
For time and change and sorrow;
For the sunset wings and the world-end things
Which hang on the edge of tomorrow.
I am glad for my heart whose gates apart
Are the entrance-place of wonders,
Where dreams come in from the rush and din
Like sheep from the rains and thunders.

-William Stanley Braithwaite

Speaking of sheep, have you read THE SHEPHERD'S LIFE: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks? I loved learning about these sheep families and the whole world of Beatrix Potter. (And now I totally want to watch again MISS POTTER.) It's a hard life, methinks, with so much out of one's control. But it's also obviously rewarding. I particularly enjoyed the lessons of such a life:

"We don't give up, even when things go bad.
We pay our debts.
We work hard.
We act decently.
We help our neighbors if they need it.
We do what we say we will do.
We don't want much attention.
We look after our own.
We are proud of what we do.
We try to be quietly smart.
We take chances sometimes to get on.
We will fail sometimes.We will be affected by the wider world...
But we hold on to who we are."

Here's to holding on to who we are in the midst of wider world events! 

And finally, here again is my NCTE schedule -- even though there's glaring typo AND we've added Laura Purdie Salas to the Nonfiction Roundtable! Even better, right?? I know I will be seeing a number of you... very excited!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Don't Miss Atlanta's Center for Civil and Human Rights While at #NCTE16

Last year I was able to visit The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, and it was powerful and unforgettable. I was there with dear poet-friends, and as we entered the building we asked one of the employees which part was his favorite, of all the displays, which did he most recommend. Right away, he said, "the lunch counter."

I nodded, thinking literally "lunch." I am always down for a sandwich or a nice salad. But that's not what he was talking about. He was talking about the interactive lunch counter exhibit where visitors sit at a model lunch counter, put on headphones, and "be" the people who were brave enough to do the sit-ins. To be taunted and shouted at and hit.

An exercise in empathy. And it left me in shambles. I was shaking when I came away from that counter. Shaking and crying and feeling so grateful for all the folks who have risked their lives for equality.

Seriously. Make time to go to this museum. Take a seat at the lunch counter. Let it change your life.

And, ponder this: What is your ethical footprint?

from an exhibit and The Center for Civil
and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA

Monday, November 7, 2016

Inside a Literary Agency

I've just finished reading MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Rakoff, as part of Bas Bleu's Book Club. It's about the author's stint typing letters and such during the late '90s working for the literary agency that represented J.D. (Jerry) Salinger.

As an author who's repped by a stellar literary agency, I found a couple of passages that really resonated:

Reading manuscripts was the exact opposite of reading for grad school: it was pure instinct, with some emotion and intelligence thrown in. Does this novel work? Or can it be made to work? Does it move me? Does it grip me?


“First rejection,” he explained with a huge grin. “And it's a really great one.” I had worked at the Agency long enough to understand that there were rejections and there were rejections. There was not for me and I just didn't find these characters sympathetic and the story struck me as improbable at best, and also simply I'm afraid this is too similar to a novel we're publishing next fall or too similar to a writer already on our list. And then there was I truly loved the writing but I just didn't feel the story hung together and I'm so torn about this novel and I'd love to see this writer's next novel, which was essentially the gist of the note James held in his hand.
That last one is a heartbreaker. It can make a writer wonder if they know anything at all about storytelling. I've gotten it a few times... one way to get through it is to do exactly what's suggested: WRITE THE NEXT NOVEL.

There's also a little bit about a (rejected) manuscript by Judy Blume in the book! Interesting....

 So, if you're in this book industry, give it a go! I think you'll like it. 

Up next in the Book Club: The Journal of Helene Berr!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Poem for Election Day

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Laura at Writing the World for Kids for Roundup.

I don't enjoy politics, but I do appreciate the fact that I live in a country where my voice counts for something. 

Freedom matters to me. A lot.

Here's a poem I wrote about it that was published in Scholastic's Storyworks magazine back in 2012.  Happy voting!

Election Day

Sift through promises,
replay interviews;

step inside the booth.
Forget scripted speeches

and candy-wrapped slogans.
Weigh again each pro

and con. Remember
the teeming world,

its people who dream
of freedom --

so many denied
the right to decide.

Read the names,
imagine a future;

make the best choice.
In the space between breaths

your voice is heard
without a word.

- Irene Latham
...and for something entirely different, I posted yesterday at Smack Dab in the Middle about using a personal mission statement to navigate when to say Yes and when to say NO. I fear the only personal mission statement our current presidential candidates ascribe to is "win the election." Sigh.

But. It will be okay, no matter what. This I believe. xo

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hot, FRESH & Tasty at Louisiana Book Festival

The wall of book covers at the State Library!
This was my second time to participate in Louisiana Book Festival -- the first time was in 2012 just after DON'T FEED THE BOY was released. It was a busier festival this time, with more folks roaming about, more tents, more books, more authors... and this time it was HOT. Being under those tents was a little like being microwaved. At the signing, Tessa Gratton and I peeled back the velcro on the tent to let a little air in, and boy did that help!

The book signing line.
Before my book talk, I picnic-ed with writer-friends Pat Weaver, Sheila Renfro and Margaret Simon, who totally needs to write a book about how she fosters a passion for writing in her students!

 We sat under a giant magnolia tree, and the ground was so damp we had to sit on our books or bags -- and we still ended up a little muddy! But it was okay, because what is better than lunching with writer-friends?! The food was decent, too: catfish and red beans and rice. Gotta love Louisiana!

I presented FRESH DELICIOUS to a small but enthusiastic crowd, and the best part was afterward, when Margaret spied her student Madison, who, earlier that day, had received an award for a poem she wrote called "Reef for All" after my poem "Tree for All" in DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST. Isn't that cool? Here I am with Madison.

Two authors I was glad to see again were Rita Williams-Garcia and William Joyce. I should have taken pictures, but my arms were full! Later that evening we celebrated Sheila's birthday at a lovely French restaurant back in New Orleans called Cafe Degas... and then we came back to our rental house to read more books! 
The Birthday Girl!

Books! Books! Books!

Monday, October 31, 2016

On Memorials & Why They're Important

A few days ago I visited the The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. While there I searched for and found a memorial brick my father purchased for his father -- my Granddaddy Dykes.
MSG Newton E Dykes, 819th Tank DST BTN "We Love You Dad"

Each section is marked to help you find "your" brick.

What surprised me how emotional the experience was for me. I cried when I saw it -- especially those words "We love you Dad." WE. Even though  my father was an only child, and he's the one who purchased the brick. We. My father knew the memorial wasn't just for one person, it was for all of us, for everyone, even those who never knew my grandfather. I don't know, it just touched me something fierce.

And it's got me thinking about how important it is to remember the people we love who have died. How these memorials, however permanent or semi-permanent, connect us to one another as a community, as a species. For two blocks along Magazine Street in front of the museum there are hundreds and hundreds of bricks, just like my grandfather's, but with different names. Other people come and find "their" bricks just like I did. We all share the same grief, the same love.

Which makes me especially grateful when I think about my father's bench in front of Bismarck Cancer Center in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was installed shortly after his death this past June. I haven't seen it yet in person, but I will. I will go sit on it, and I will remember. And yes, I will probably cry. And then I will be connected to everyone who has or ever will sit on that bench bearing my father's name.

"Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up."
In Honor of Ken Dykes
Bismarck Cancer Center Executive Director

Beautiful, isn't it?

Another thing that surprised me: how much I loved "in honor of" instead of "in memory of." Honor. Now that is a lovely lovely thing. My father would have loved it. I'm so grateful to Bismarck Cancer Center, especially new executive director Amy Gross, for making it happen!

More on my trip, including the Louisiana Book Festival later this week. And: are you a subscriber to my email newsletter? New edition coming later this week that will include a giveaway just for subscribers... sign up here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Rain Poems for the Drought in Alabama

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit sweet Linda at TeacherDance for Roundup. I'm excited because tomorrow I will be at Louisiana Book Festival presenting a book talk on FRESH DELICIOUS. Yay!

Here in Alabama we're in a stage 3 drought... so, in an effort to coax some rain this way I've been reading rain poems! Lucky me, I was gifted a sweet little book of such poems (thank you, Ramona!) called ONE BIG RAIN: Poems for Rainy Days compiled by Rita Gray, illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke .

Hope you enjoy the poems. Thank you for reading! And don't forget to enter the giveaway for GO SOUTH TO FREEDOM by Frye Gaillard! Deadline midnight Oct. 31!

November Rain
- Maud E. Uschold

This autumn rainfall
Is no shower
that freshens grass
And brings the flower.

This rain is long
And cold and gray,
Yet sleeping roots
Are fed this way.

Trees and bushes,
Nearly bare
Of leaves, now chains
Of raindrops wear

Along each twig.
Some clear beads fall.
A tree could never
Hold them all.

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah J. Hails)
- Sigbjorn Obstfelder

One is one, and two is two -
we sing in huddles,
we hop in puddles.
Plip, plop,
we drip on roof top,
trip, trop,
the rain will not stop.
Rain, rain, rain, rain,
bucketing rain,
chucketing rain,
rain, rain, rain, rain,
wonderfully raw,
wet to the core!
One is one, and two is two-
we sing in huddles,
we hop in puddles.
plip, plop,
we drip on roof top,
trip, trop,
the rain will not stop.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Go South to Freedom by Frye Gaillard #Giveaway

Today I'd like to share with you a book I was asked to blurb: Go South to Freedom by Fry Gaillard, illus. by Anne Kent Rush. It was released in September by NewSouth Books, an Alabama publisher I'm thrilled to be working with for the paperback edition of Leaving Gee's Bend, coming spring 2017. (!) Leaving Gee's Bend was first released by Putnam/Penguin in 2010, so the paperback has been a long time coming! I'm excited.

Meanwhile, Go South to Freedom earned a starred review from Kirkus! And here's my blurb:

"Go South to Freedom is a campfire story for all ages, filled with surprise and adventure, truth and sadness, and ultimately hope. Readers experience the great pull of freedom in this account of the courageous efforts of the African and other enslaved people to make their lives better. Inspiring and entertaining."

Things I like about this book:

1. It's based on a true story.
2. Readers learn something about runaway slave communities that existed in Florida as well as the community of free blacks in Mobile, Alabama.
3. The narrative in written in the tradition of oral storytelling.
4. The story is full of adventure and danger.
5. It reaffirms the human spirit and illuminates the strength and determination of enslaved people to be free.

I hope you will check it out! Thanks to NewSouth, I am able to offer a copy for giveaway! To enter, simply leave a comment below between now and 11:59 pm October 31. Then Maggie the (magical, disappearing) cat will select a winner -- and I will contact that person to get an address. Good luck!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Poem with Rough Clothes (by Ada Limón)

Today I am happy to share with you a poem from National Book Award Finalist BRIGHT DEAD THINGS (Milkweed) by Ada Limón.

I love the whole poem, but those last lines really get me. They speak to me of this desire I have for meaning and connection, the desire to make an impact.

As much as I seek comfort, and also want to provide it -- I also want discomfort. I want to experience things that make me twitchy and uncomfortable, things that frighten me and things that I haven't yet (and maybe never will) figure out. It's in "rough clothes" that we deepen and broaden the experience of living and loving....

and those are just a few of my thoughts when reading this poem. :) What are YOUR thoughts?

The Noisiness of Sleep
by Ada Limón

Careful of what I carry
in my head and in my hollow,

I've been a long time worried
about grasping infinity

and coaxing some calm
out of the softest part

of the pins and needles of me.
I'd like to take a nap.

But not a nap that's eternal,
a nap where you wake up

having dreamt of falling, but
you've only fallen into

an ease so unknown to you
it looks like a new country.

Let me slip into a life less messy.
Let me slip into your sleeve.

Be very brave about my
trespass, the plan is simple --

the plan is the clock tower
and the lost crow. It'll be rich.

We'll live forever. Every moon
will be a moon of surrender

and lemon seeds. You there,
standing up in the crowd,

I'm not proud. The stove
can't boast of the meal.

All this to say -- consider this,
with your combination of firefly

and train whistle, consider this,
with your maze and steel,

I want to be the rough clothes
you can't sleep in.

Friday, October 21, 2016

MOO by Sharon Creech

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect for Roundup.

I've just finished MOO by Sharon Creech. I thought of my mother the entire time I was reading it -- because my mom was once a big-time prize-winning 4-H girl who, in addition to competing in the areas of sewing and public speaking, showed dairy and beef cows. Her favorite was a Jersey cow named Penny, who won her a GRAND CHAMPION prize. Here's a picture:

Penny & Mama (before she was a mama!)

And here's an excerpt from the book:


Animals need primping for the fair:
     pedicures (hoof-i-cures?)

I am not kidding!

Zep declared Beauty Day for Zora and
     We lathered
     we scrubbed
     we rinsed
     we dried them with a blow-dryer.

I am not kidding!

     We clipped
     we combed
     we brushed.
     We cleaned and polished hooves.
You'll have to do it all again at the fair,
Zep said.
This is just round one: preparation.

It made us laugh.
     Beauty Day for the heifers!
They looked SO good when we were done!

And then Zora tromped through
a mud puddle
and lay down
and said

- Sharon Creech
This poem also reminds me of all the ways  my sister and I would primp our ponies. We painted their hooves and dyed their manes and tails... we also braided and brushed and occasionally broke out the hair dryer. Fun!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Poem of Delight

As some readers may remember, my 2016 One Little Word is DELIGHT. So, imagine my delight when I stumbled across this poem in a little book called Gratitude Prayers, selected by June Cotner:

A Poem of Delight
by Dan Vera

What are the chemical properties of delight?

What physical law rules delight?

In which commandment did the Hebrew God command delight?

Does delight ever go on sale?

Does delight ever go on vacation?

What is the temperature of delight?

Who came first: the delighted chicken or the delighted egg?

What are the elemental principles of delight?

If I dropped delight from the Empire State Building at exactly the same time you dropped delight from the second story window of your apartment, which delight would land first?

If day follows night, does this mean delight follows delight?

With a billion sparkling beings illuminating the sky, is midnight the time of shimmering delight?

And if I feel delight at the twinkling of stars that long burned out in the blue ovens of night, what is the half-life of delight?

An east-bound train from Omaha to Denver is traveling at 110 miles an hour and a west-bound train from Denver to Omaha is traveling at 95 miles an hour. They both leave their respective stations at the same time and the distance between Denver and Omaha is 537 miles. How much time will it take the train conductors to feel delight at their meeting?

Is desperation jealous of delight?

Do the bells at the top of the hill ring with anything but delight?

I was walking through the aisles of the grocery store when I stumbled upon a pyramid display of delight. I placed one in my basket and proceeded to the checkout line. But when the cashier tried to scan it, he couldn't find the universal price code for delight.

                                  "Price check on Aisle 3!"

Love is just the space between our danger and delight.

Isn't that delightful? And isn't that last line wonderful? Suddenly I am speaking in questions. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Maggie the Magical Disappearing Cat

Last week our indoor-only cat Maggie disappeared.

Paul searched everywhere -- high, low, outside, inside.

What made it so strange is that Maggie is not one of these dash-out-the-door cats. Even when a door is open, she wants only to sit there and WATCH. She has some very reliable habits. When she does hide, it's usually under our bed.

Not this time.

Paul posted signs in the neighborhood, just in case.

No calls. No Maggie. Paul was heartbroken.

And then, three days later... Maggie! She appeared in our basement. Our basement, where Paul has an office, and Andrew has a room, and we park our cars. We'd been in and out, and she'd been hiding all that time!

A friend of mine said she might have been sick, or working to clear a hairball. She must have needed to be alone.

We're so happy she's back! Especially Paul -- Maggie is his cat. And as much as we go into relationships with pets knowing that they will end sooner than we'd like them to, we're really glad we've got more time with her. She's special.

So if you have a pet(s), love 'em extra-hard today, for us, and for Maggie!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Scarecrow's Wish" for Poetry Friday Roundup!

Mrs. Frizzle!
Hello, children's poets and poetry lovers! A big Happy Poetry Friday to you! Roundup is HERE!!

I am away from my desk yet again this week -- helping my mom through a surgery. O, October, how you weary me! So I thought I would share with you as I always do pictures from our local elementary school's scarecrow show. (Here's a link to 2015 and 2014.) And I thought I'd also share a scarecrow poem by Valerie Worth. Sounds good, right?

Well. As it turns out, I only imagined that scarecrow poem by Valerie Worth! I've shared a pumpkin one and a skeleton one, but no scarecrow. Because it doesn't exist. So I decided to write one myself.

Scarecrow's Wish

By summer's end
I'm crook-necked,

I've lost an eye,
and an arm,
and my hat dangles
below my brow.

I saved the grain
from so many beaks and teeth,
and still my work
goes on –

I'll guard this field
until winter comes,
and then, Wind,
won't you please
                         oh so gently
                                      lay me down?

- Irene Latham

This poem started out with the title "Scarecrow," and then I changed it to "Scarecrow's Lament," then "Scarecrow's Request," and finally "Scarecrow's Wish."

Titling is a funny thing. I think of it's an important tool for the poet -- great for creating suspense, intrigue, or simply placing a poem so you don't have to use the first lines to do that.

I like the idea of Scarecrow having a wish, and I like the way those words sound and look together (better than "request"!). I really love "lament," but the poem really turned into something different at the end, so it didn't seem to fit anymore. Plain ol' "Scarecrow" is what Valerie Worth would do... and one can certainly argue for the simple title! What decisions we poets are faced with... Poets, how do you approach titles? Do share in comments!

The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly!
For a related image, please see the cartoon called "The Scarecrow's Lament" in The New Yorker. And here is some original music, also with the title "The Scarecrow's Lament."

...and finally....
And now, if you please, leave your link below! Thank you!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Worldbuilding Writing Intensive with Bruce Coville

I love this title!
Last week it was my good fortune to attend a Writing Intensive with Bruce Coville, author of over 100 books -- most (all?) of them fantasy or sci-fi. And since I've just finished the latest draft of this little fantasy middle grade novel that's been haunting me for oh about SIX years now.... well, I was a happy sponge!

Here are some things I learned again or for the first time:

Fantasy as a genre gives readers a way to expand their lives through dreams and imagination and the re-enchantment of the world.

If it has a machine in it, it's probably science fiction (rather than fantasy).

The rule of 3 + 1: 3 little pigs & the big bad wolf. (The 4th thing should be the "topper" or the turn, i.e. "he'd been poked, punched, called names, and hit in the face with a cupcake")

"Window dressing" is the author's chance to paint a magical picture inside the imaginary world.

Bruce took us step by step through
this book's opening... wonderful!
Use humor! Quirks and funny speech patterns are good, esp. for sidekicks.

Make maps. (this is great for ANY genre!)

What lifts the craft to art is the sense of mystery.

Embrace the unfinished chord. (leave the reader with something to think about.)

Bruce left ME with lots to think about! Plus he had some nice things to say about my wip, which, as all writers know, is why we go to conferences: to be encouraged, to re-light our fires, to learn.

Thanks, Bruce! Happy to know you!!