Friday, March 30, 2012


So, March Madness. What an awesome thing this has been. Huge, huge thanks to Ed Decaria and all the wonderful poets who participated -- and congratulations to the Final Four:  Suz Blackaby, Stephen W. Cahill, Debbi LaCroix, Greg Pincus.

Can't wait to see what y'all come up with next!

But what I really want to talk about is Mary Lee Hahn and her recent post at A Year of Reading about her experience. How she learned that she's good at -- and enjoys-- writing poetry. When I read that, I just thought, YES. That's what it's all about. That's why these things are important. And I, for one, needed that reminder.

Plus, I absolutely LOVED Mary Lee's poems. Read them at March Madness Live Scoreboard. And so, in  Mary Lee's honor, I've written a little poem, after the famous one by William Carlos Williams:

This is Just to Say

I have savored
the poems
that were so

and which
you were probably
in a scuttle

Forgive me
they were whacked
(no stigma)
so true

(Sorry, Mary Lee - I wasn't able to make magic with your words the way you did!)

As for me, I entered March Madness with a moniker Not Quite Shakespeare. I got the words "shenanigans" and "volume." 

Why a moniker? I was trying to shake up my creative life a bit. And it worked: I wrote poems far from the style that I would normally write. It's good to stretch, you know? While it was fun, I ended up feeling validated, like, yes, what you are doing is right for you. I really prefer lyricism to rhyme. And I think my natural writing voice is better suited for older kids than younger ones. 

Mostly, I have loved getting a peek inside all these wonderful poetic minds. SO INSPIRING!

And I'm excited to see how our Progressive Poem unfolds... beginning Sunday, April 1. See you here, there and everywhere! And don't forget to visit the lovely Heidi (who also wrote a lovely poem for March Madness) at My Juicy Little Universe for Poetry Friday Roundup!

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I just discovered this wonderful site called You Are Your Words where you can use words to create self-portraits. (You choose a photo, then choose words, and voila!)

Here's Whit (I used the cover image from DON'T FEED THE BOY with words from the first chapter):

Here's Ludelphia (I used the LEAVING GEE'S BEND cover image with the first few paragraphs):

And here's me (I used words from an early version of a poem that now appears as "Oyster" in THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS):

Pretty cool, huh? I can think of all sorts of applications. Plus it's FUN. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I've done a few Skype visits lately, and this pesky question keeps popping up: what do you hope readers take away from LEAVING GEE'S BEND?

It's a valid question, a good question. It's only pesky because I never know what to say.

And since Katherine Paterson is my all-time kidlit hero, I decided to read again a favorite book of her speeches and articles called A SENSE OF WONDER.

I found my answer on page 275:

"Nobody has ever told me that she was uplifted or refreshed by reading Bridge to Terabithia. People tell me how angry they were or how much they wept. But you see, my job is not to expand vocabularies or teach proper, reverent speech, or even, in the most obvious sense, to uplift. My job is to tell a story - a story about real people who live in the world as it is. And I dare to believe that such stories, even when they are painful, have a power to illumine the reader in the way that a nice tale with exemplary characters does not. But then, I know that the only raw material I have for the stories I tell lies deep within myself, and somehow when I go inside I find there a troubled child reaching up for comfort and understanding."

Katherine Paterson, ladies and gentleman. My hero.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Beautiful, isn't it?


I like shells and driftwood and bird prints and strands of sea weed. This beach is far too clean!

And what the picture doesn't show you is the NOISE. The wind was kicking the whole time we were there, which meant the waves were boisterous.

That's kind of where I'm at right now. Lots of noise in the ol' noggin. And boisterous waves. And me looking for shells and driftwood and bird prints and strands of sea weed.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


So you're going to be on tv. How exciting! And nerve-wracking, especially if you are of the introverted type. All those lights! The pressure!

But. YOU CAN DO THIS. (If I can, anyone can.)

And since this is fresh on my mind after last week's appearance on Huntsville's WAAY-31, here's some tips to make your tv appearance the best it can be:

1. Get there early. I know... those morning shows are ALREADY early. But seriously, give yourself an extra 15 minutes to find a parking space, get through security, and acclimate yourself to the studio and the news anchors.

2. Sit up straight. And if there is a table in front of you, pull yourself up close. This prevents a frumpy middle and makes you look eager and confident.

3. Tame that hair. You know that saying about the camera adding 10 pounds? Well. It does the same thing to your HAIR. So, don't delay: use hairspray. Or a barrette. Or simply a nice, neat tuck behind the ears.

4. Wear teal. And if you don't own teal, any other jewel-tone will do, so long as it is a SOLID. Just avoid busy prints and solid black or white.

5. Bring your own prop. I have a 16 x 20 in. fiberboard poster of my book cover (with stand). And my Ludelphia doll. I usually bring both with me, then depending on the studio set-up, choose the most appropriate one.

6. Look at the interviewer, NOT the camera. I know. It's hard. Because the camera is RIGHT THERE. But trust me on this.

7. Be steady. If you are cutting your eyes to and fro or shifting a lot, it makes you appear jittery, or worse, untrustworthy. (Maybe NEXT tv appearance, I'll get this one right! SO HARD.)

8. No "Ummmms" allowed. Seriously. Even rambling is better than an ummmmm. But also avoid rambling. It helps to read over your talking points before you go on air.

What? Don't have talking points? YES YOU DO. It's the soundbyte important stuff you want people to remember about your book. Think elevator pitch, funny comment about why you wrote the book, signing details, web address. Stuff like that.

9. SMILE! People will forgive you all your mistakes if you look happy to be there.

And that's it! Please leave other advice (and bloopers!) in the comments.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


One of the writing workshops I do with students is called TOP TEN THINGS WRITERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PLOT.

The presentation is jammed with tips I've learned the hard way. And it culminates with the students putting all those tips into action and writing their own plot sentences:

This story is about.....................................
who more than anything wants to..............................................
but can't because...................................................................

Now before you go thinking I'm brilliant (well, okay, go ahead and think it, but...), I should tell you that I borrowed this idea from Carol Baldwin's fantastic book TEACHING THE STORY: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8.

I use this book ALL THE TIME. Teachers, it's fantastic. So many useful, accessible exercises that really help students express themselves. And writers, if you can  boil your story down to this sentence, you are very close to having your elevator pitch!

Here are some of the plot sentences 5th grade students produced last week at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary:

This story is abut Averie Hall who more than anything wants to see her mom but can't because she has to go past the Seven Trials.

This story is about Sandra who more than anything wants to find her brother's killer but can't because a stalker comes to stop her in her tracks.

This story is about Huey, who more than anything wants to play wide receiver but can't because he sprained his ankle.  

This story is about Jacob the Dragon who more than anything wants to take over the world but can't because there is a big wall he can't get through.

This story is about Ant who more than anything wants to help his friend Dog but can't because Bird would eat him (Ant).

This story is about Snail Bob who more than anything wants to give his grandpa his gift but can't because he has to go through a forest of danger to get to grandpa's house.

This story is about Rain who more than anything wants to escape her tower, but can't because her parents keep her isolated and it has no doors and no windows.

This story is about a robot named Ellie who wants to become a real girl but can't because she can't get to the car station to get fixed.

This story is about a girl fox named Lucky who wants more than anything to help her friend China who hurt herself but can't because there is a big bear and a blizzard coming in a week. 

Well done, students!

Sunday, March 18, 2012


We're a family of introverts, which means we generally like things quiet and peaceful -- and visitors are a very big deal, especially when they come in quick succession!

It started last Sunday with cousin Adam (2nd from left) who is exactly 10 years older than our oldest (not pictured):

Then my mom came...  with her two foster kids Madison (who picked an azalea blossom for me) and Brayson (who likes anything that GOES.)                                               

And THEN came two of my favorite writing friends, Jana Hutcheson and Pat Weaver, both from Florence, Alabama.

We talked shop (well, writing), ate a ton of food (Pat never comes empty-handed and left us with a full fridge), shopped at some thrift/consignment stores, and just had a really lovely time together. Love you, gals! Thanks SO MUCH for coming.

And now it's just us again. We're all in our separate corners today, doing the things we love best. The kids are being especially lazy, as it is SPRING BREAK in these parts.

I'm off to pick up PANDEMONIUM, as the library sent me an email Hold Notice. Woohooo, it's finally my turn!

What's this (spring) week hold for all of you?

Friday, March 16, 2012


So we have our first batch of winners over at Ed DeCaria's March Madness. Congratulations to all those moving forward! And congratulations to everyone who didn't. Because without a second place, there can't be a first.

In your honor, I'd like to share below a great poem about the seconds of the world written by a wonderful poet I've been fortunate enough to meet and work with and publish in Birmingham Arts Journal.

But before I get to that: just six spots left on the April calendar for the KidLit Progressive Poem! Please join us! (Click the link for last week's sign up post.) And don't forget to visit a real champion for poetry Greg at Gotta Book for Poetry Friday Roundup!

by Robert Boliek

       American astronomer and pioneer in the design
      and construction of airplanes... He invented
     the bolometer, used to determine the intensity
     of solar radiation.  
                     - Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia

The bicycle brothers were not alone: he too
had dreams heavier than air, envied the birds,
grew crow's feet staring squint-eyed at that blue,
unbroken sky. (Maybe he dreamed of the words
they'd write the day that Langley mastered flight.)

Then the bad news came (dateline: Outer Banks) --
how two Ohio boys had done all right, 
had gotten it to fly, the glory, and the thanks.

So Samuel Pierpont Langley, who once had caught
evanescing sunbeams in a magic jar,
became a footnote overnight --a  naught--
despite his dreaming well and going far.

May I reserve this space for those who place --
For the Langleys who make the race a race? 

Click here to learn more about Langley.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


This is Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary School just outside of Huntsville, Alabama.

These are the stacks of books that were waiting for my signature (and how I learned LEAVING GEE'S BEND is now in its 4th printing!). 

These are the ladies who made my visit spectacular: sweet Ann East and Leeann Childers, librarian-extraordinaire! 

This is the bathtub that sits in the library (and reminded me of my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Fattig who had a bathtub in her classroom where I successfully recited the names of 48 states -- but forgot Hawaii and Alaska).
 This is me perched on the edge of the bathtub with some wonderful students all around.

This is me inside the bathtub with more wonderful students all around.


Pretty awesome, huh?

Thank you GSES staff and students! GO OWLS!

Monday, March 12, 2012


Last month I retreated with some wonderful women, three of whom are in their early thirties, and at one point the question was, "What's it like to be in your forties?"

I can't remember what I said exactly, but what I meant was,

 I don't worry so much.

And then, thanks to Pat, I read A THREE DOG LIFE by Abigail Thomas. It's a memoir written by a woman whose husband sustains a head injury that results in his loss of memory. Talk about life-changing.

Anyhow, there's lots of wisdom in this little book, and here's a passage that applies to the "forties" query and some of what I was trying to get across in my response:

"When I was young, the future was where all the good stuff was kept, the party clothes, the pretty china, the family silver, the grown-up jobs. The future was a land of its own, and we couldn’t wait to get there. Not that youth wasn’t great, but it came with disadvantages; I remember the feeling I was missing something really good that was going on somewhere else, somewhere I wasn’t. I remember feeling life passing me by. I remember impatience. I don’t feel that way now. If something interesting is going on somewhere else, good, thank god, I hope nobody calls me. Sometimes it’s all I can do to brush my teeth, toothpaste is just too stimulating."

 Anyone else have thoughts on being whatever age you are?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sign-Up Here for 2012 KidLit Progressive Poem!


Dear Poetry Friday Friends & Other Poetry Lovers,

You’re invited to join in a special experimental community poetry writing experience during National Poetry Month (April)!

working title: 2012 KidLit Progressive Poem

What is it? a poem that travels daily from blog to blog, with each host adding a line, beginning  April 1. Anyone who wants to join in the fun can sign up in comments below.

All participants will be provided with the html code containing the line-up (similar to what Mary Lee does for us for Poetry Friday schedule). On the day you are scheduled to post, you will snag the poem from the previous day’s blog, add your line and post the growing poem!

 Also, it would be great if you could include in your post the schedule for readers to more easily follow along/look back/ look forward.

And that’s it! We’ll all contribute our line… then all participants are invited to share the final poem on April 30!

So. I’ll take April 1, to kick up off.

We need poets for April 2-29. Sign up in comments (be sure to include your blog url and email address in your comment!) and I will update here!

April 2012

1 Irene Latham   irene at
2 Doraine Bennett
3 Jeannine Atkins
4 Robyn Hood Black
5 Susan Taylor Brown
6 Mary Lee Hahn
7 Penny Klostermann
8 Jone MacCulloch
9 Gina Gort at Swagger Writer's reginagort [at] (her b-day!)
10  Julie Larios
11  Kate Coombs
12  Anastasia Suen at Booktalking
13  Tabatha Yeatts
14  Diane Mayr
16  Natalie
17 Tara at
18 Amy  at The Poem Farm -,
19 Lori Degman
20 Heidi Mordhorst (Poetry Friday Roundup)
21  Myra Garces-Bascal
22 Pat Weaver
23 Miranda Paul
24  Linda at TeacherDance
25  Greg Pincus
26  Renee La Tulippe  renee [at] (her b'day!)
27  Linda Kulp
28  Caroline Starr Rose
29  Sheri Doyle

And if anyone has a better title, bring it on! Also, be sure and visit the lovely Myra at Gathering Books for Poetry Friday Roundup!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


If you follow me on Twitter @irene_latham, you know that some of my favorite things to RT are sound bytes by Seth Godin. (I email subscribe to his blog.) He may be writing for businesses, but I find much of his advice applicable to my daily life. He's been on my Ideal Dinner Party guest list for a while.

And now he's written a 30,000 word manifesto in easy-to-digest blogpost-like entries about the state of education in the United States, called STOP STEALING DREAMS. You can download it for free here.

As a mom who has first-hand experience with public, private and home-school, I can say without hesitation that school as we know it fails our children in a multitude of ways. (Don't believe me? Watch the movie WAITING FOR SUPERMAN.) And as a parent who wants her kids to grow up as passionate, creative, lifelong learners, I found myself nodding my head A LOT.

Like during this passage:

"Here are a dozen ways school can be rethought:

Homework during the day, lectures at night
Open book, open note, all the time
Access to any course, anywhere in the world
Precise, focused instruction instead of mass, generalized instruction
The end of multiple-choice exams
Experience instead of test scores as a measure of achievement
The end of compliance as an outcome
Cooperation instead of isolation
Amplification of outlying students, teachers, and ideas
Transformation of the role of the teacher
Lifelong learning, earlier work
Death of the nearly famous college"

And this one:

"132. What we teach

When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions.
When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless.
When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete.
When we are brave enough to teach a child to question authority, even ours, we insulate ourselves from those who would use their authority to work against each of us.
And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers."

READ IT.  And thank you, Seth, for writing it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Yes! It's a GIANT coffee table!

We have been coffee table-less for YEARS. I don't know why exactly... home furnishings just haven't been anywhere near the top of my priority list.

But when I saw this one, all red and antique and at an amazing price, I emailed right away. And guess what? The seller is also a blogger. Check her out at Too Many B's.

(See, Pat? Not what you were thinking AT ALL.)

Monday, March 5, 2012


1. My trip to Gadsden was filled with love and inspiration. To the teachers and students at Gaston High and Litchfield Middle: thank you for telling me your stories! It was a pleasure to meet all of you. And to the folks who attended my reading, YOU ARE THE BEST.

 Special shout-out to Kathy Russell (pictures with me, left), who comes to all my Gadsden events and makes me feel like my mama is in the room. So happy to know you!

And to Carol York, librarian-extraordinaire (in vest and tie, below): the opportunity to hang out with you is pure pleasure. And thanks to you, today I am again reading THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

What did we talk about? Find out at Carol's brilliant blog THE LEFT BANK... OF THE COOSA.
Also big congratulations to Tabitha (in gray  sweater) who had a very literary wedding this past weekend!

Y'all: she showed me her bridal bouquet. It's flowers made out of book pages! And her flower girls tossed leaves cut from old book pages! And she and new husband are taking a literary honeymoon that includes a visit to the Frost Place! (Tabitha said that's what happens when a librarian/poet marries an English teacher.) So happy for you two!

And I have to say one more thing about the students: They were SO VERY BRAVE. I asked some tough questions as part of the writing portion of my visit. For example, "what is the worst thing anyone has ever said about you?" TOUGH. But they were so forthcoming and honest, and I was honored and touched and excited to know them, even for just that one hour.

Students: you live inside me now. Thank you. If only my visit hadn't been cut short by the galloping tornadoes! Schools all over Alabama closed early on Friday, and for good reason. Unfortunately that meant NOT visiting the Drop Out Prevention group. I was so disappointed! But not to worry: Carol and I are conspiring to make that happen sometime before the end of the year.

Thank you, Gadsden, for making me proud to be an Alabamian! What a fantastic community. I hope we meet again real soon.

In other news: I posted ON WRITING AND LUCK, over at Smack Dab in the Middle. I've been spring cleaning - oh LORD, the dust! And soap scum. Feels good to tidy the place up.

AND. I got something special yesterday by way of craigslist. Will share pics tomorrow. :)

One more thing: Eric, thanks for making my blog sparkly and warm. You are the Best. Assistant. Ever.