Friday, August 31, 2012


Why a nerdy poem?

Member of the Nerdy Book ClubBecause today my "Pay it Forward" guest post is up at the Nerdy Book Club! And just between you-n-me: I sorta think Colby Sharp is awesome. I want him to be MY teacher and my kids' teacher. So much goodness!

As for my post: it's regarding some expectations about books and reading and readers that I carried into parenthood -- and what I've done since those expectations didn't quite pan out. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Also, I've got a guest post over at Smack Dab in the Middle to wrap our monthly theme of "walking away" from one's work -- it features a quote by E.L. Konigsburg, who is quite the wise author, I tell you.

AND I'm thrilled that Sylvia Vardell has Roundup over at Poetry for Children, because holy goodness, how much do I love the Poetry Friday Anthology?? I'm thrilled to be included among so many wonderful poetic voices, and I seriously can't think of a volume more useful to teachers. More on this very soon.

Now, without further ado, a nerdy poem for all my nerdy friends:


Some might
think it absurd,

but haven’t you

Nerd is for
the self-assured,

the no-longer

the one-third
who say books

are preferred.
That’s why nerd

 is my favorite
four-letter word.

-Irene Latham

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


My son just got a job at a new Italian restaurant on Highway 280 in Birmingham called Tellini's. (Y'all: food is SO GOOD!)

He's the youngest of the crew, and he's starting at the bottom: dishwasher.

So far he's learned that pizza dough is tough to scrub out of a pan; gloves, even if they're bright blue, are a good thing; and some people have no idea how to stack dishes. (He didn't know this either, until the job.)

Meanwhile, his parents are bursting with pride. What a learning experience for our young man! But, oh, is he eager to move up in the ranks, beyond mere dishwasher.

And it reminded me of Career Day in 8th grade. There was a poster contest, so I, being rather artsy, created a poster called "Don't be a Ditch Digger." I cut from construction paper a bunch of tiny shovels to form the letters in the title, and I wrote a lovely piece about how one should strive for something better than ditch digger, one should dream BIG, move forward!

I was certain my poster would win the contest.

Not only did it NOT win, it didn't even get an honorable mention.

I puzzled over this. I was used to winning. And hadn't the judges noticed all those tiny shovels? I couldn't figure it out.

Now, years and experience and life later, I think I know why my poster didn't place. And I'm a little embarrassed about it, to tell the truth. I was all high-n-mighty, looking down on the ditch digger. When, hello, we sorta need ditch diggers. It's an important job. And no less worthy than any other work.

Which is why this passage jumped out at me when I was reading WALKING ON WATER by Madeleine L'Engle:

"Servant is another unpopular word, a word we have derided by denigrating servants and service. To serve should be a privilege, and it is to our shame that we tend to think of it as a burden, something to do if you’re not fit for anything better or higher."

And that makes me think of Downton Abbey. Is it just me, or is the downstairs even more interesting than the upstairs?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Giveaway of the Last ARC: DON'T FEED THE BOY by Irene Latham

That's right: it's your last chance to be one of the first people to get to meet Whit and the Bird Girl and the mad assortment of exotic (and other) animals that reside inside the pages of DON'T FEED THE BOY!

Giveaway is open to all countries and goes through September 3 (Labor Day!). Book will be released into the wild October 16.

Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Don't Feed the Boy by Irene Latham

Don't Feed the Boy

by Irene Latham

Giveaway ends September 03, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Monday, August 27, 2012


Have you ever wished you could just order up the perfect person?

That's what Calvin does in the movie Ruby Sparks. He's a novelist who was a young sensation a number of years past, and since then he's been blocked. And lonely.

What's a struggling writer to do?

Calvin pecks away at his typewriter, creates a wonderful character named Ruby Sparks from Dayton, Ohio (because it sounds romantic) and voila, the next morning, there she is, offering to take the dog out for his walk.

As you can imagine, Calvin is kind of freaked out. Also, as you can imagine, Calvin's brother can't believe this is happening. Here's a girl who will do anything Calvin wants! Calvin, with a stroke of his typewriter, can make Ruby do and be whatever suits his fancy. Big brother admonishes Calvin, on behalf of men everywhere, to not let this wonderful opportunity go to waste.

Well. Turns out having complete control of someone ain't all peaches-n-cream. It doesn't work, it doesn't make Calvin happy. Because the person who needs to change is not Calvin's girlfriend, whomever she might be, but Calvin himself.

We were delighted and amused, and it stoked our imaginations. What a great premise! And holy adorableness, Zoe Kazan was perfect in this part.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Ever since my father and I visited Louisa May Alcott's house, I've been on a sister-poem kick.

That could be because I have a wonderful sister. I can't remember a day when she wasn't wonderful. Which is why I brought home to her a print of one of Louisa's poems she wrote for her own sister, titled "To Anna."

Then I came home to a box of poetry books that included elephant poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, in her book COUSINS OF CLOUDS (illustrated by Megan Halsey an Sean Addy). One of my favorite poems in the book is about sisters:


She detours through brush
to caress the sun-bleached bones
of her lost sister.

-Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

And THEN I was re-reading Laura Shovan's lovely collection MOUNTAIN, LOG, SALT, and STONE, which also includes a sister-poem (though not just a sister-poem), that Laura told me was one of the first poems she ever had published.

Dear Sister, Unborn

by Laura Shovan

At eight months, your elbows
were protrusions, your heartbeat
a murmur. I was two.
Resting my head on our mother's belly
I could not picture the shape of you.
I cannot picture my own child.
He is all backbone, his heart
a tiny red balloon.
I fear it might burst.

Knowing you, Sister, I see blood.
I look for signs of it on my under things,
for pink swirls in the toilet.
It is easier to imagine great clots
running down my thighs
than the sound of a baby
crying for me in the night,
than the sucking of a small mouth
at my breasts (which already hurt me).

Sister, that elbow in my face said,
"I am feverish to be free,"
not of her body, but of us all,
weary of life before you were born.
Our parents mourned.
Mother moved thickly
about the quiet house.
Even I, two years old,
felt the imprint of your loss.

Sister suicide, my child is invisible.
How could I hold him if he tried to escape?
I slice my palm in the kitchen
and know that he could rush out,
laughing, on the waves of my pulse.
Sister I cannot force him to stay.
I can do nothing. Not even
make my heart stop beating,
like you.

Wow, huh? Thank you, Laura, for allowing me to share! And y'all: READ HER BOOK.

And finally, I'd like to share a sister-poem that I wrote a few years ago after I'd taken at Birmingham Botanical Gardens a Private Eye class, which teaches analogy by implementing a technique of inquiry that requires a jeweler's loupe.

I was so touched and honored when amazing librarian-friend Carol York (who, I don't care what she says, is also a poet among many other wonderful things) used it to make a letterpress broadside. (Shhh... my sister doesn't know yet... I'm sending her one in a frame!) Thank you, Carol, again and again!

To a Black-Eyed Susan

Sister, I'll bustle you
from the bumblebee masses,
admire your one unblinking eye
with its billion shuttered windows.

-Irene Latham

Readers, do you have a favorite sister-poem? Tell me, tell me!

For more poetic goodness, visit Doraine (only one of the dearest people you will ever meet) at Dori Reads for Roundup!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Big thanks to Kirkus for its review of DON'T FEED THE BOY!

When my editor first sent over the news, she prefaced it with "It's a GOOD one!" Which allowed me to actually breathe, since Kirkus is known to be hard to please.

Here's what appears currently online and will appear in the Sept. 1 print issue (I especially love the great little blurb-y gift there at the end.) :

Author: Latham, Irene
Illustrator: Graegin, Stephanie

Review Issue Date: September 1, 2012
Online Publish Date: August 15, 2012
Publisher:Roaring Brook
Pages: 288
Price ( Hardcover ): $15.99
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-59643-755-5
Category: Fiction

Raised in the Alabama zoo run by his busy parents, 11-year-old Whit dreams of escape, but his new friend Stella is someone whose need for escape is real.

Avoiding an angry, abusive father, Stella spends her days at the zoo, where she first becomes the subject for Whit’s home-schooling field study and then his first real friend. Before he learns her name, Whit calls her Bird Girl because she constantly draws the birds—ironic because these birds can't fly free; their wings are clipped. In the course of their friendship, Whit experiments with freedom himself. Leaving the zoo boundaries, he visits Stella’s smoke-smelling apartment home, seeing the situation for himself and even taking surprising action. Whit’s zoo is realistic, a place where animals are born and die. He shows off its secret places, and readers get a glimpse behind the scenes. He comes to see it as a place families and friends visit as much to enjoy each other as to see the attractions, learning to appreciate it more. Latham weaves in a strong argument for the conservation mission of zoos and a clear warning about the dangers of handguns. A satisfying ending sees Whit poised to enter the wider world of public middle school.

Feed this to animal fans. (Fiction. 9-12)

Cool, huh?

In other news, I'm a guest over at the ever-amazing and inspiring Robyn Hood Black's blog, talking about my upcoming workshop on voice at SCBWI Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference in October. WIK is organized by the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This year’s WIK conference will be Oct. 20 in Birmingham, AL. It’s a great place to learn more about the children’s publishing industry, meet agents and editors, and connect with a supportive network of writers and illustrators.

Learn more about WIK at
Read my interview at Read. Write Howl!

And here's the rest of the blog line-up:

Aug. 16 Sarah Campbell at Alison Hertz’s blog, On My Mind 
Aug. 17 F.T. Bradley at Laura Golden’s blog 
Aug. 20 Chuck Galey at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog 
Aug. 21 Jo Kittinger at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales
Aug. 22 Irene Latham at Robyn Hood Black’s blog, Read, Write, Howl
Aug. 23 Vicky Alvear Shecter at S.R. Johannes’ blog
Aug. 24 Doraine Bennett at Cathy Hall’s blog 
Aug. 27 Virginia Butler at P.J. Shaw’s blog
Aug. 28 Jodi Wheeler-Toppen at Diane Sherrouse’s blog, The Reading Road
Aug. 29 Ellen Ruffin at Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, Picture This

THANK YOU, Dori Kleber, for getting us all organized! You're a treasure!!

Monday, August 20, 2012


For a long time I have balked at the advice "write everyday." Mainly because I have never been able to pull that off, and it doesn't really help to feel like a failure.

Besides, there's so much more to life than writing! Which is why I subscribe to the "live a life worth writing about" habit of writing.

As does Patricia Cornwell, apparently. Imagine my delight when I read this passage in the interview of Cornwell that appears in the latest issue of Writers Digest magazine:

Wee me in an early "relationship" :)
"Treat your writing like a relationship and not a job. Because if it's a relationship, even if you only have one hour in a day, you might just sit down and open up your last chapter because it's like visiting your friend. What do you do when you miss somebody? You pick up the phone. You keep that connection established. If you do that with your writing, then you tend to stay in that moment, and you don't forget what you're doing."

Does anyone else feel lighter after reading that?

 And you know, you can apply that whole "relationship" bit on all sorts of levels. Like, listen, be generous, be considerate, don't hold back. Also, the relationship model allows for and celebrates growth.

Love it!

Friday, August 17, 2012


Happy Poetry Friday! The Amazing Mary Lee at A Year of Reading has Roundup. Don't miss!!

Today I'm pleased to introduce to you a wonderful poet and friend Barry Marks, award-winning author of POSSIBLE CROCODILES (Brick Road Press, 2010) and his recently released SOUNDING (Negative Capability Press, 2012) which contains poems written as Barry grieved the sudden death of his eldest daughter Leah.

Elegy has a long tradition in poetry -- Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies immediately leap to mind -- and Barry's poems are moving and powerful, and ultimately hopeful. Anyone who has ever loved and lost anything or anyone will find something here that speaks especially to them.

Here's one of my favorites in the collection:


by Barry Marks

How John and I are fishing,
despite everything.
Because of everything.

How you find bass
where the shore and the weeds
and a fallen log make structure.

How John has caught a bass
and I have not.

There is so much I would show you.

How the mist glides over Lay Lake
and two men,
the men who loved you,
the men who failed you,
sit in their little boat, one talking,
the other silent within himself.

How your name
is the only word I hear.

This collection will move you and inspire you. And don't let this serious lawyer-pic fool you! Barry has a delightful wry, lighthearted side that pops up all the time in his work -- and he has written many a love poem. He's quite the versatile writer. Also, many of my poems are better for his feedback. Thanks, Barry!

And because I think so highly of SOUNDING -- and of Barry -- I am giving away an autographed copy. To enter, simply reply in comments OR send me an email to irene at irenelatham dot com OR send me a tweet @irene_latham. Contest will be open until Sunday, August 19, 11:59 pm. Good luck!

And now, so you can get to know Barry a bit better, here's a short Q & A. Enjoy!

What were your favorite books when you were a teen?
After the obligatory Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe I met the Beats and their naughty friends. At 15 or so I started On the Road, Tropic of Capricorn, Naked Lunch. Oddly, I remained traditional in poetry until college: Yeats, Thomas, the Romantics (especially Byron) and the Cavaliers (especially Lovelace).

  • What are your hobbies that don’t have to do with writing? 
  • Sailing and hiking. I miss the former terribly and wish to do more of the latter when I find the right companion.

  • What do you read in the bathroom? 
  • Magazines: Esquire, Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, etc

  • What’s the riskiest thing you ever did and how did it work out for you? Married young and often. Not too well.

  • Where do you see yourself in ten years? 
  • Either happily travelling the world with someone very nice or dead.

  • I gave you twenty questions and asked you to answer seven. Were you tempted to answer all twenty? Why?
  • Yup. Always surprised at my answers.

  • What are you reading now? 
  • Kandel’s Age of Insight and a lot of poetry.

  • What author or book have you recently discovered that you want the world to know about?
  • Christopher Moore. We all need to relax and have a laugh. The Kandel book deals with how the brain perceives and reacts to art. That and Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature blew me away but they’re heavy as lead .

  • If you could live anywhere for a year, where would it be?
  • Israel, Paris or the Keys/ Bahamas for a year at least. I intend to do so in the near future – possibly all 3.

  • Do you know how to cook? What’s your specialty?
  • I eat therefore I cook. Pork tenderloin, assorted pastas, chicken breasts with Panko… recipes are boring. I cook like I wish my mother did, not like an aspiring chef.

  • Do you make plans in advance when you travel, or just hope for the best?
  • I like to have a framework for a trip but lots of room to explore, amend and settle if I find something I like. In some places, a day or two with a guide to really learn but generally, I like to poke around.

  • What’s the coolest writing-thing that’s happened to you since you sold your first book? 
  • Just reading to people and seeing the reaction. It is a connection and that is one reason I love writing.

  • Go on, give us some writing advice. You know you want to! 
  • Nope. The only thing I like worse than giving advice is listening to it. 

  • Thanks, all! And yeah, I don't know what's up with the bullet points. Blogger is just feeling generous this morning, I guess. Happy day!
  • Wednesday, August 15, 2012


    One of my pet peeves in books for middle graders is this idea that middle school is hell. I mean, I'm sure it is hell for some. But I also believe that there's something to that self-fulfilling prophecy theory: the more we tell kids middle school is hell, the more it will become hell.

    No, I like the positive spin, the hopeful outlook. This is, in part, based on my own life experience, which includes middle school years that were pretty darn awesome. Sure I had my hardships and insecurities. But all in all, those were happy years, wonder years. It's one of the reasons I like writing for this audience so much -- getting to know characters those ages reaquaints me with myself at those ages. And you know, I like what I see.

    Which is why I really love it when I find something in a book about middle school that isn't about hell, but about something else. Like this passage, from the adult novel THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker, in which the heroine Julia is a 6th grader dealing with the changes brought on by her age and by "the slowing" of the earth:

    "This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lenses. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child."

    I like that: the age of miracles. And the novel is worth your time, too!

    Monday, August 13, 2012


    When I read Faith Hough's post about how if she could pick her own fairy godmother, Madeline L'Engle would be hers, I thought, hmmm, who's that person for me?

    And you know, I didn't have to think for more than a second.

    For fiction writing, there's two: Julius Lester, whom I have written of previously. Man, I love him.

    And also Katherine Paterson. How many times have I read her book of speeches, A SENSE OF WONDER: On Reading and Writing Books for Children


    Among many other things, she says, "my feeling as I worked was not so much that of a creator as that of an explorer. Here was a hidden world that it was my task to discover. If I failed, this world would remain forever unknown."

    I love that. It gives me courage to go on.

    For poetry, it's another male/female unrelated duo:

    Pat Schneider, author of WRITING ALONE AND THIS OTHERS, has provided a lamplight for me again and again.

    Here's what she says about quitting:

    "What if you decide you don't want to do it anymore?

    Well, quit. Quit if you can. Entirely, I mean. Give it up. Find another art form. If it is more than you can bear, don't bear it. Sometimes even a great love ends in divorce.

    But if you can't quit, keep on. Love is deeper than hate. Anyone who has lived in a longtime relationship knows the truth of that statement. The harder it is, the deeper it carves you, the  more love you have.

    Whatever you do, don't stay in that never-never land of wanting and not doing. It will make your soul sick. If you want to write, claim for yourself what you need in order to learn, grow, practice. There is no other way to be an artist."

    And then there's Robert Olen Butler, who is not a poet per se, but for whatever reason, his muse speaks to my poetic muse more so than my prose one. I've previously blogged here about him and his book FROM WHERE YOU DREAM.

    So that's me. What about you, dear readers? Who are your fairy godmothers?

    Friday, August 10, 2012


    I am in Gadsden, Alabama, after last night's fabulous event at the Walnut Gallery, ready to teach!

    Big thanks to the following Poetry Friday friends who contributed animal persona poems to today's lesson:

    Charles Ghigna

    Donna Smith

    Renee LaTulippe

    Katya Czaja

    Robyn Hood Black

    Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

    Linda Kulp

    Pat Weaver

    Matt Goodfellow

    We've got dogs, and tom cats and crocodiles and dragonflies and unicorns and horses and sharks and even a saltopus! What a menagerie. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

    Meanwhile, other poets are also doing wonderful things:

    If you haven't had a chance to check out VOICES FLY, a fabulous FREE PDF with great exercises and original poems edited by Laura Shovan and Virginia Crawford, go now!

    Also, Caroline Starr Rose is offering FREE posters of her writers' words to live by. They include my mama's saying, "err on the side of love," so yeah, I think everyone should get one.

    AND, coming soon (Sept. 1!): The Poetry Friday Anthology, edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell and including poems by so many wonderful poet-friends. CANNOT wait to read!

    Finally, don't forget to visit Violet Nesdoly for Roundup! Wishing everyone a fantastic day.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012


    Girl with Black Eye
    The Saturday Evening Post, May 23. 1953 (cover)
    Oil on canvas
    34 x 30 in.
    Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut

    Readers: what would you name her??

    Monday, August 6, 2012


    This is what I find all over the house:

    Because Bobby the kitten...

    likes to play!

    Friday, August 3, 2012


    One of the many inspiring views at The Mount
    I've long loved the work of Edith Wharton. Imagine my delight when I discovered while at her home The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, that Edith also authored some poems!

    As you might expect (if you are familiar with either her life or her works), the poems revolve around themes of "desire and regret, landscape and myth, the pleasures of art and the horrors of war." (taken from the back cover of the volume of selected poems edited by Louis Auchincloss as part of American Poets Project)

    Since I am currently focusing on short pieces, I particularly enjoyed her "Lyrical Epigrams."

    Here's the start:

    My little old dog:
    A heart-beat
    At my feet.

    Truly, she was a dog-lover and kept treats at the dining table for her canine friends.

    But my favorite poem in the volume (today) is this one:


    by Edith Wharton

    When unregarding Death shall come,
    Pick me up and take me home--
    The long long way--
    Compose my eye-lids, hush the noise,
    And put away the broken toys
    at close of day;

    If underneath my cleansed lid
    One secret vision may be hid,
    Let it be
    A purple shallow over-leant
    By emerald pines the wind has bent,
    And, when the evening sky grows pale,
    A single umber-coloured sail
    At sea.

    And now I'm thinking about my secret vision... do you have a secret vision, too? Let's write our own "Treasure" poems! And don't forget to partake of other poetic offerings with Rena at On the Way to Somewhere for Poetry Friday roundup.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012


    Those of you who frequent this blog know that my father's book-a-day reading habits and sweet writing challenges through the years have done much to shape me as a writer. So, it should come as no surprise that when he suggested, "Let's take a trip, just you and me," that we decided to visit the literary haunts in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

    And since I know many of you are literary-minded as well, I thought I might share our experience to help guide you on your own trip!

    First of all, you'll be wondering: fly into Boston or Hartford, CT?

    Pick Hartford, otherwise known as Bradley International Airport (BDL). It's small. It's centrally located to the best attractions. It's cheaper than flying into Boston.

    Next, where to stay? I puzzled over this one for a while and up until a couple of weeks prior to the trip thought we would change hotels each night. But that is so taxing, and when I mapquested times and distances, I discovered everything we wanted to see was within 2 hours driving time of Enfield, CT.

    Enfield is just south of the Massachusetts border, so just outside of Springfield and about 20 minutes north of the airport. Turns out, a lot of folks stay here when they are visiting Six Flags. There are a number of hotels, and after some quality time on Tripadvisor we selected Red Roof Inn. It was clean, quiet, comfortable and reasonably priced -- perfect for us.

    There are also an abundance of restaurants and stores on the Enfield exits. There even a shopping mall and a movie theater, for night-time, non-literary entertainment. I also spied a Barnes & Noble, if the literary haunts don't satisfy your itch -- or, as was our case, if the literary haunts add a gazillion new titles to your to-be-read list!

    For evening meals after travel, there are a plethora of choices from fast food to sit-down chain restaurants. My father and I love to eat local, so we tried a few only-in-Enfield restaurants. While we were not pleased with Hazard Grille (perhaps we ordered the wrong thing -- both of us had seafood, and it was NOT good), we visited the Country Diner three times! We also enjoyed a lovely meal at Lulu's Pizzeria and Family Restaurant.

    Now for the literary goodness:


    We arrived at the airport before noon, got our car from Budget (really quick, kind service) and scuttled into Hartford for lunch at Black-Eyed Sally's on Asylum Street. It's a blues-themed juke joint with a New Orleans flavor and lots of ambience. After a lovely meal, we headed for the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe. We took the tour and learned so much about Harriet and her family, like the difference between being anti-slavery and abolitionist and what happens when a parent is a famous preacher and instructs his kids to "go out and make the world a better place." I had no idea Harriet wrote 30 books and was an artist. I had to buy a biography, and I totally wanted her painting of an orange tree.

    Papa in front of Mark Twain's house
     Next up, and just across the yard, we visited Mark Twain's home. Wow, what a difference between the two! Mark Twain was indeed living it up and spared no expense. I loved the stenciled walls we saw on the tour. I was most taken with his third-floor study, where his desk was positioned facing the corner so he wouldn't be distracted by the windows or the billiard table or anything else. Also, we learned that Mr. Clemens "pigeonholed" his early manuscript for Huckleberry Finn -- which meant he placed it in a cubbyhole when he wasn't sure where the story was going or what it's purpose was. It stayed there for years, until he took another trip to Missouri. Then he pulled it out and created the classic we all know and love. How wonderfully validating for we writers who marinate and stew, sometimes for years and years before the story emerges enough for us to be able to shape it properly! Before our departure we were serenaded by a fiddler (he sang "Good Night, Irene," among other old tunes) and enjoyed free ice cream and lemonade at the Mark Twain Center. Delightful!

    Also, we viewed the exhibit "Race, Rage and Redemption," which was disturbing but important, with many items on loan from an exhibit from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University.


    We journeyed 40 minutes or so to Amherst, MA, home of one Emily Dickinson. We were fortunate to get tour guide Jane Price whose passion for Emily's life and work made the tour an absolute joy. (This, after a not-so-warm welcome by the young women in the gift shop/tour office... really, is it that hard to say, "Good morning"?) I loved seeing Emily's famous white dress and learning tidbits about her play with the local kids (She would drop a basket out her bedroom window with gingerbread as part of the neighborhood game of "booty."). Also, the last room held an interactive space with gave me a great idea for teach kids about the joys and agonies of word choice for poets-at-work.

    Turkey "pop" Pie at Judie's
    But the highlight of our day was not Emily, but another wonderful local author, Jeannine Atkins, author of the gorgeous book BORROWED NAMES, among others. I've gotten to know Jeannine through Poetry Friday, and I had given a copy of her book to my father back in 2010 when it came out. So we were thrilled to lunch with her at Judie's, famous for their popovers. Delicious, and what a thrill to meet Jeannine who was every bit as lovely as I expected her to be. Thanks, Jeannine!

    Jeannine and me!
    Jeannine offered to walk with us to Emily's gravesite in Amherst, but it didn't work out for us. If you go, make sure and see it for us! Also, be sure and visit Amherst Books. Yes, we were there a while. :)

    Next we headed back to Hartford to see Noah Webster's house. Of all the places we visited on our trip, this one was the most disappointing. I guess Noah just hasn't achieved the fame of the others, even though his work was certainly important. We got the feeling that the house's focus was more on learning opportunities for local youngsters than for tourists -- great for them, not so much for us! Perhaps we would have had a different impression if we'd gotten there in time for the last house tour, so if you go, be sure to check the tour times before heading out.


    We took our longest journey, east to Concord, which took us about an hour and 45 minutes, to see Louisa May Alcott's home, The Orchard. It's a charming house, and since it was a lovely Saturday, we were among many eager to revel in the sweet world of LITTLE WOMEN. The house was exactly like stepping onto the pages of that novel, and it was fascinating to learn all the parallels between the novel and Louisa May's real life. Not so appealing was the militant tour guide who seemed to take great pleasure in admonishing guests not to touch. I mean, come on, we get it. It kind of took away from the graciousness of the experience. We were pleased to sign the guest book on our way out -- a guest book that's very similar to the one people have been signing for the past 100 years as they've toured this home. (I know! 100 years! Amazing!)

    My favorite picture from the trip
    (I swear we didn't plan to both be
    crossing our arms -- but, look!)
    Thanks to a recommendation from the cashier in the gift shop, we headed into town to lunch at the Colonial Inn. There was a street festival in town, so people were everywhere and parking spaces were not -- but we finally landed and were thrilled with the elegant quiet of the restaurant. While overpriced, the food was delicious. Papa and I each ordered lobster rolls, and waddled out of there ready for a nap.

    Papa at the North Bridge
    After lunch we visited Minute Man National Historic Site to get a little history fix. Yes, there are several other literary homes in the area -- Old Manse (tromping ground of Emerson and Thoreau), which we saw, and the Wayside -- which we might have visited if we'd had more time. But what Papa wanted to see was the North Bridge, famous for "the shot heard 'round the world" and the Daniel French "Minute Man" statue. So we visited the North Bridge center, then parked on the Old Manse for the shortest walk to the bridge. It was warm and sunny and so peaceful it was really difficult to imagine the bloodshed that once happened exactly where we stood.

    Back in our car, we were thirsty, and what luck: we stopped in at Lucy & Lulu's Lemonade Stand operated by two sisters in their driveway, with half the proceeds going to charity. They sold us two cups of lemonade, a brownie, a sugar cookie and a slice of watermelon. Lovely! And then we were off to find Sleep Hollow Cemetery. It's a BIG cemetery, but we finally found Author's Ridge, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are buried. I was touched by the small offerings of pencils and pens and stones and paper scraps at each grave and even contributed a small something of my own. If one must be buried, I don't suppose there's a better spot in the world than this one.

    If we hadn't been tuckered out, we would have visited Concord Museum, which came highly recommended by Jeannine and was featuring works by Annie Leibovitz. I'm sorry we had to miss it, but you know, it's always good to leave something for a return trip.


    We traveled west about 45 minutes to the Berkshires, more specifically to Stockbridge, MA, home of Norman Rockwell Museum. How much did we love this place? How much did I smile walking through these rooms? How delighted was I to learn who tidy Norman was in his studio, and how ashes from his pipe would drop and ignite his brush-cleaning bucket, sending up flame and smoke and melting it into its own muddled shape? We could have spent days in the gift shop alone and seriously had to curb our spending. So much to love!

    Since it was lunchtime we headed into Lenox, just a few minutes away, which was positively bustling, despite drizzle. We parked in a church parking lot and walked to Haven Cafe & Bakery for brunch. We were not alone. In fact, we could barely speak to one another, it was so crowded. We managed to enjoy our meal anyhow -- Papa had a Santa Fe omelet and I had curry chicken salad. It was wonderful to step outside again into the peaceful, wet air.

    Edith's bedroom. When can I move in?
    We headed next to The Mount, home of Edith Wharton. You may not know it, but Edith wrote one of my most favorite novels of all time: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. and oh wow, did I love her home. Of all the homes, this one was mine mine mine. The decor! The gardens! The simple lines and art! And how refreshing to guide ourselves on the tour and be advised that we were welcome to take pictures so long as the flash was turned off. I felt this was just as Edith herself would have wanted it. I was completely enchanted, and in the gift shop I found a volume of Ms. Wharton's poetry (who knew?) and a new novel I'm positively aching to read, because it was inspired by my favorite novel: THE INNOCENTS by Francesca Segal.

    We were back on the Mass. Pike before we realized that we had forgotten to see Chesterwood, Daniel French's studio in Stockbridge, which Jeannine had recommended. We were so sad! But the bad thing about the Pike is you can't turn back. Again, something to see next time.

    A side note about the Mass Pike: it cost us less than $3 each way to Concord, and nothing on our way to/from Stockbridge. Go figure.


    We enjoyed a lovely breakfast and headed to the airport to return our car and wait for our flights. So hard to say goodbye! But oh so thankful for the experience, the memories, the wealth of time shared. Thank you, Papa. I love you so much!