Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Few Highlights from #NCTE18

Now that I am a little more recovered from my trip to Houston for another amazing NCTE annual conference, I wanted to pop in with just a few highlights, presented in more or less chronological order. (This post could go on for days... I am hyper aware of all the folks I am not mentioning here.. so so many, and I love you all! What a wonderful tribe to be a part of. On this Thanksgiving eve and every day, I am so very grateful.)

Nancy's newest book
1. Suppering with my Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss and author-poet-friend Nancy Bo Flood. Karen and I have a book together coming in 2020, and I loved hearing her world-traveler stories! Also, she gave a synopsis of one of *my* books that I totally should have recorded (because Karen is way better at describing it than I am!). And Nancy is always a joy. Always.

2. A graphic novel session in which I was hyperaware of the power of art/doodling/drawing. Sometimes kids are intimidated by words, but pictures let them in and opens them up... I continue to be a huge fan of graphic novels! I particularly loved learning with Nathan Hale.... and making a new friend with a passionate teaching student attending NCTE for the first time!

3. Not only was Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell's poetry session filled with poetry friends, its focus was on the JOY of poetry. It got me thinking about the power of white space and poetry as a partnership. Perhaps most inspiring was listening to elementary school principal Tom Marshall share all the ways he makes poetry a part of the culture in is school. For instance, at the entrance of the school is a sign that says these words:

4. Hearing Guadalupe Garcia McCall read her poems and meeting Il Sung Na, who is illustrating my book WILD PEACE, coming from Roaring Brook 2021. I loved hearing Il Sung's process of writing and illustrating his newest THE DREAMER, which is a full-circle book (opening text and closing text are the same!) as well as an open-ended book, which I personally love. I was also comforted by the many revisions and the years that passed before he arrived at the final product.

Nonfiction panel! Laura P. Salas,
Ann Marie Corgill, Irene Latham,
Shawn Harris, Jen Vincent, Aly Beecher
5. Presenting with poets and teachers I admire... and sharing Ramona's pumpkin bread after the poetry session. Also learning SO MUCH during the nonfiction panel from the other panelists! Those "question" books, Ann Marie... thank you!

6. Breakfast of champions -- with champions Carol Hinz, Laura Purdie Salas, Maria Gianferrari! (I'm noticing quite a few of my highlights include food! Yum!)

Maria, Carol, Irene, Laura

7. Chris Emdin saying "you can be an introvert on your own time." (but not in the classroom) This is good advice for authors, too!

me and my table mates!
8. The Children's Book Awards Luncheon. This is always my favorite events of the conference! Why? Great table mates! Great speakers! Jason Chin reminding us that both art and science rely on imagination. Dan Santat sharing the origins of AFTER THE FALL, and reminding us to "just do what you love and you are going to be okay."

9. Texting Charles Waters when CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? was announced as a Charlotte Huck Honor Book. (!!!) Click here to see a video of the announcement (filmed by Chris Barton).

Check out Jen Vincent's
 octopus tattoo!
10. Octopuses everywhere! People were so sweet about all my octo-gear... scarf! t-shirts! jewelry!... and I'm so grateful for the AGNES-love. But, really, Jen Vincent gets the octopus prize...

11. The M.R. Robinson Thanksgiving Dinner. Wow. I expected a sales show, not something so tender and moving. It's one of those things you've got to experience. I'll be totally there next year.

See you next year! :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

They're Bold, Beautiful -- They're Picture Books about Amazing Women! #amreading

So I've been reading elementary and middle grade nonfiction for the Cybils, and oh what joy! So many wonderful titles! And I'm only about half-way through the lists. :) Today I'd like to share 5 books that introduce readers to bold women doing amazing work in whatever their field may be: fashion, music, education, sports and filmmaking... these women were determined and dared to be different. Prepare to be inspired!

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Shiaparelli

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon

Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker

Monday, November 12, 2018

AGNES at the Anniston Museum of Natural History

What joy for me and Agnes to present a storytime this past Saturday for Anniston Museum of Natural History! And wow, thanks to Sarah Burke and crew, it was a really lovely event.

There were sea-themed decorations.

... and a cozy spot to read to the kids.

There was a table for writing postcards.

...and a girl with more hearts than an octopus.
(those are hearts on her shirt!)
There was even an octopus-friend made by Matthew for me and Agnes to take home.
Matthew the boy
holding Matthew the octopus...
watch out world, this kid
may be a children's book illustrator
someday -- in between his work
in professional sports :)

 Octopus-sized hugs to everyone who came out! And to Sarah and the Anniston Museum of Natural History: keep doing what you're doing. What a gift to the community!

And you guys, that concludes The Great Southeastern Octopus Tour! So many thanks to Barb and Sarah at Blue Slip Media for helping to make it happen. An author couldn't ask for a better pr team. xo

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Tea Party Poem for Fancy Nancy

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit for Michelle at Today's Little Ditty for Roundup.

Okay, how many of you Poetry Friday-ers are fans of FANCY NANCY? As many of you know, I am the mom of three boys, and I don't recall ever reading a FANCY NANCY... until now.

The other day at a library used bookstore, I picked up FANCY NANCY: Poet, Extraordinaire by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser. 

It's adorable! On the first page, Nancy signs her name "Nancy Clancy" and notes, "My name rhymes, so I am naturally poetic." Ha! It includes Nancy's family members' favorite poems..nursery rhymes, poems that tell a story... and poems for a school poet-tree and acrostic poems... and a poetry club called Palace of Poetry, where the wall is decorated with these signs: 
"Poetry is superb!"
" Poetry is glorious!"
"Poetry is lyrical!" 

There's inspiration, and advice for writer's block and even an anthology of "Favorite Poems of Nancy M. Clancy," including poems by Jack Prelutsky, Arnold Lobel, Douglas Florian, and others. And on the final page, this:

"I wish I had a poem about a tea party, because I have tea parties all the time with my doll Marabelle Lavinia Chandelier. As soon as I find one I really like, I'll add it to my collection."

So, here is my tea party poem for Fancy Nancy. :)

Tea Party

Let's have a tea party!
We'll wear hats and lace.
We won't slurp or wiggle;
someone will say grace.

Our table might topple –
so many sweet treats!
Still, we'll nibble and sip,
never leave our seats.

Our best dolls will join us;
our teddy bears, too.
We'll converse like grown ups:
Hi. How do you do?”

Let's have a tea party!
Who needs hats and lace?
Everyone's invited.
We'll save you a place.

- Irene Latham

And finally... NCTE is NEXT WEEK! I look forward to seeing some Poetry Friday friends there. Here is my schedule. xo

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

My Gee's Bend Quilt

No book I've written has changed my life more than LEAVING GEE'S BEND. I've loved being an ambassador for the Gee's Bend quilters and the quilts, and am honored to have been a part of raising awareness about this tiny community of women who create works of art from their small, remote home in the bend of the Alabama River.

Gee's Bend quilt kit (I made this one.)
More than once I've been asked: "Do you own a Gee's Bend quilt?" And me, being very similar to the quilters, thought, well, no, I can make my own quilt. And so I did! I've made LOTS of quilts over the past 8 years. I even made one that was a Gee's Bend quilt kit -- and I love it!

But still, this little niggling voice kept reminding me that the best and truest way to honor an artist is to buy one of their works. And so then the question became: which quilter's work would I want? Which could I afford? After much consideration, I decided to commission Mary Ann Pettway to make me a quilt.

Mary Ann Pettway with my (!) quilt,
just before taking it off the wall
at Gee's Bend Quilters Collective
A word about Mary Ann: these days, she's really the face of the Gee's Bend quilters. She and China Pettway travel together a lot ---quilting and singing and teaching -- and they have been my guest at several events related to LEAVING GEE'S BEND. And I have really seen Mary Ann grow and develop as a quilter. NO ONE can put in tighter, more precise stitches than Mary Ann! And you can see her heart and imagination in her quilts -- yes, the vivid colors, and blocks and strips we've come to expect from the Gee's Bend quilters. And JOY. That's what I see in Mary Ann's work. So I was thrilled when Mary Ann agreed to create a quilt especially for me. We talked about colors and size, and I could tell she "got it," she knew just what I was looking for. And WOW, did Mary Ann deliver.

When I picked up my quilt, I was admiring the stitches. I asked Mary Ann, "how do you do it?"

"It's a gift," she said.

Yes. Yes it is. And I am so very grateful to be able to enjoy this quilt every single day. Thank you, Mary Ann!

"Going Up Without a Pocket"
by Mary Ann Pettway,
in its new home... with Maggie. :)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Movie Monday: LEAVE NO TRACE

One of my favorite movies lately we saw at home: LEAVE NO TRACE, based on the book MY ABANDONMENT by Peter Rock.

I loved the movie so much that I ordered the book. There are quite a lot of differences between the two! But I found something in each that changed me, and which I am still pondering.

The movie opens with a father of a teenage daughter living by choice in an Oregon park. Dad is a vet who appears to suffer from PTSD. And his choice to live away from people would be fine -- if not for the daughter, who, after 4 years in the park, is hungry for other relationships. I won't say what all happens in the movie, because I really hope you'll go see it for yourself. And I will just say one other thing about the ending: it slayed me. Absolutely, completely slayed me. I have thought about it a hundred times since I saw the movie. It has to do with acceptance -- letting people be who they are and loving them just that way. Really beautiful and touching.

The book also features a father and a teenage daughter living in an Oregon park. It is never said that Dad is a vet suffering from PTSD. And the ending is maybe about acceptance, but it's more about abandonment. Here are two quotes I adore:

"Every problem I have comes from believing something to be true that is not true."

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. He will pass an invisible boundary. Don't forget this. Don't forget that thinking can get in the way. Forget the forgetting. We seek to forget ourselves, to be surprised and to do something without knowing how or why. The way of life is wonderful. It is by abandonment."

Which reminds me of "The Muse" by the Wood Brothers. "When thinking's the last thing that you ought to do..." Enjoy! 

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Trinket for Autumn

yes, I have a pack
of these cards. :)
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jama's Alphabet Soup, for what's sure to be a beautiful-delicious Roundup.

Octopus-sized hugs to everyone who helped me and Agnes celebrate #OctopusMonth. It was so much fun for me! And I learned even more about octopuses from all of you. Thank you!

Here is the padlet with all the links. And here are the poems featured this week:

octo-zeno by Margaret Simon
2 for Tuesday with octo-poems by Diane Mayr and Sarah Burns
"The Wondrous Octopus" by Catherine Flynn

In the mood for giving?
Please join me and Karim Shamsi-Basha in giving wordless picture books to Syrian kids living in an orphanage run by the Cat Man of Aleppo. Our goal is to give at least one book to each of the 68 children currently living there. Read this post for more information.

And now: I've got an Autumn poem for you today, as fall has finally arrived in Alabama!


The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

- Emily Dickinson

And here is my trinket, in honor of autumn and Emily... and Agnes! (Who knew octopuses could be so much fun?!)

selfie with octopus brooch!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Help Me Gather Wordless Picture Books for Syrian Kids

Hello November! It isn't often that Spiritual Journey Thursday falls on the first of the month, so that's "neat" (as my late father would say!). And today, our hostess Ramona at Pleasures from the Page has asked us to reflect on and write about the word "gather."

'Tis the season for gathering, of course. Most often this word conjures images of lively, crowded Rockwell paintings or holiday movie scenes -- which is not the kind of "gathering" a quiet person (in a family of quiet people) generally prefers! Our gatherings are small and simple -- which, in the movies, might look lonely or sad. NOT SO! It's just the way we like it.
"Freedom from Want"
Norman Rockwell

It reminds me of a movie scene, actually, and I cannot remember the name of the movie -- perhaps a reader can help? A young couple is in a restaurant looking over at an older couple who is sharing a meal without speaking. The younger man says something about how sad that is, two old people with nothing left to say to each other. The younger woman says, how beautiful that they can sit together after all these years and need no words at all.

It's all perspective, isn't it?

I would like to share two non-holiday things I am currently gathering:

1. Books! In addition to his support of animals, the Cat Man of Aleppo has recently opened an orphanage in the city of Aleppo. Currently there are 68 children living there. Karim Shamsi-Basha (my co-author for forthcoming CAT MAN OF ALEPPO picture book) and I were thinking about what we could give to those kids... and of course we thought, "books!"

But. Where does one in America find books printed in Arabic? How can we connect with and support these kids without sharing a language?

one of my favorite
wordless picture books
With WORDLESS PICTURE BOOKS, of course! So I am collecting wordless picture books, if anyone would like to donate one (or more!) to the cause. Karim (originally from Syria) will actually be traveling to Aleppo next spring, and he will deliver the books to the children. You may send books to:

PO Box 122
Oneonta, AL 35121

Please do share this with others you think might be interested. Thank you!

2. Leaves. As part of the Writing in the Wild session I am presenting at NCTE with Mary Lee Hahn, Heidi Mordhorst, Laura Purdie Salas & Margaret Simon, there will be an opportunity for attendees to use a jeweler's loupe and try the Private Eye method of inquiry using fall leaves. So, if you see me at NCTE and wonder why I'm holding a big bag of leaves -- well, that's why. :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What Octopuses Do for Halloween #OctopusMonth

So! It's the last day of #OctopusMonth ... and it's Halloween! Which is kind of perfect, as octopuses are masters of disguise, and this is, of course, a dress-up holiday. Here is our last poem of the month, a zeno by Margaret Simon:

Changing color camouflaging
boneless bodies
of the

Thank you, Margaret! I love that broken "mimic/ry," and I know Agnes does, too. :) In fact, Agnes has a message for those of us who are parents, teachers, or anyone who works with and loves children:

Dear Beautiful Babies, 

Watch out for crabs! And other octopuses. (Some of them think they are SO SMART.) If you find the perfect home, make sure it's empty before you move in. And then? Hunt. Sleep. Swim! Remember, you are the reason for everything. 

Kids are the reason for everything.

the real Jack Henry!
And, in case you were wondering: that seal in the spread has a name, as of last Saturday! I was giving a reading at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and a man asked what was the seal's name. I said, "What your name?" He said, "Phillippe." So, voila! Meet Phillippe! :)

Also, there's a little brother in the book, who is never pictured, only named. His name has an interesting origin, too. A local school asked if I would donate to their school auction a "Character Named for You in a Future Book." Of course I said yes, because what fun! The winner was a young fellow named Jack Henry... so that's the little brother in the book.. Isn't the real Jack Henry adorable?!

So many thanks to everyone for sharing your words and art and hearts with me to celebrate LOVE, AGNES this #OctopusMonth. It's been such fun for me! xo

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

2 for Tuesday octopus poems by Diane Mayr and Sarah Burns for #OctopusMonth

It's hard for me to believe that #OctopusMonth is nearly over... today's 2-for-Tuesday features poems with artsy connections. First, here's a cherita from Diane Mayr:

for a moment he wonders

could he be at home
in the sunlight?

octopus hurry scurries
back to the twilight zone
a better fit in so many ways

- Diane Mayr
Oh that twilight zone... it is a great place for a secretive, solitary octopus!

And now, here's one inspired by a piece of art you may recognize from #OctopusMonth twitter feed earlier in the month: Sarah Burns' treasure picked up in Hawaii now has a poem (by Sarah!) to go with it! 


This particular Pacific Octopus
glides up from the depths of the sea
into my dining room.

Caught off the coast of Maui,
she is revered for astonishing
acrobatic feats,
and delectable flavor.

All her elegant limbs – count them!
drenched in colored paint
pressed onto this black cloth
to live on forever
as a work of art.

~ Sarah Burns
Octopuses ARE works of art, aren't they? Thank you! See you tomorrow for our final day of #OctopusMonth.

Monday, October 29, 2018

"The Wondrous Wonderpus" octopus poem by Catherine Flynn #OctopusMonth

The Wondrous Wonderpus
by Catherine Flynn

Secretive wonderpus,
elusive and shy,

Lurks in the half-light at day’s edge.
Arrayed with cinnamon and white stripes,
she is a ripple of color
hiding in ripples of sand.
One minute her boneless arms
are sleek and serpentine as she races
along the sea bed, searching
for a meal of shrimp or crab.

Then she slows with a swish and a swirl,
tentacles fluttering like ribbons
in a tropical breeze and
transforms into a sea star.
Protected by her supple
body, she disappears
arm by pliant arm, into
her sandy burrow to sleep.
Secretive wonderpus,
elusive and shy.

A wondrous poem, isn't it? I love ripple and ripples, swish and swirl, those ribbons... this poem would turn anyone into an octopus-lover! Thank you, Catherine. xo

By Jenny (JennyHuang) from Taipei (Flickr)
[CC BY 2.0  (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 26, 2018

"A Journey to Make a Friend" octopus poem by Linda Baie for #OctopusMonth

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Kay at A Journey Through the Pages for Roundup.

It's the final Poetry Friday of #OctopusMonth, but please stay tuned next week for poems from Catherine Flynn and Diane Mayr... and a special "Goodbye" from Agnes!

This week it's been an honor to feature:

a look at Oceans: Our Blue Planet (which features a Giant Pacific Octopus)
A 2-for-Tuesday with octo-poems by Linda Mitchell and Pat Cruzan
"The Octopus Way" by Brenda Davis Harsham
Octopus art by Barbara Bell (and a wee 3-hearted poem by me!)

Remember, you can find all of the #Octopus Month links on the Happy Octopus Month padlet.

Today I am delighted to share a friendly octopus who is reaching across the currents to Agnes....

A Journey To Make A Friend
                       for Irene Latham “Octopus Month”

Cracker Barrel octopus
I plan to meet an octopus
who uses ink in clever ways.
This Agnes composes postcards,
perhaps a newfound kind of play?

I am traveling to greet her,
to learn new ways to use my eight.
It’s lonely as an octopus.
I would delight in a new mate.

Though I may never find her near
the west Pacific where I roam,
I have impressed some scientists
for use of tools to make a home.

I gather shells and human glass
to pile a shelter of debris;
Special is a coconut shell,
a favorite just-right place for me.  
Chattanooga Blue Skies octopus

I’m satisfied my size is right -
3-inch frame, 6-inch arms full-grown.
I can embrace the tightest place;
but when I’m out, bi-pedal home.

I live in sandy, muddy shores.
Because I’m likely to be prey,
I take my meals from dusk to dawn,
daylight’s my time for hideaway.

Phenomenal and small and wise,
Agnes (I hope) has read of me.
I am the veined octopus
evolving in the western seas.

Don't you just love this little guy?! Here is a picture of the veined octopus. Agnes is grateful to Linda for educating her about another octo-species! Friends above and below the waves... yes, life is good. Thank you! xo

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Octopus art by Barbara Bell (and a poem) #OctopusMonth

Barbara Bell is an artist with a studio in Rockvillle, Maryland. She's always been a big fan of sea critters, especially of the cephalopod variety. She painted this piece after a visit in 2015 to the Waikiki Aquarium in Honolulu. I am in love! You can also view the painting in the "Sea" section of her website,

"Hawaii"      22" x 30" watercolor
And, because I couldn't resist, here is a small poem to go with Barbara's painting:

Dream with Three Hearts 
by Irene Latham

blue morning

origami octopus

ocean breathes