Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This past spring when I visited Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I came home with a stack of letters-to-the-author, thanks to the enthusiasm of author/teacher Ginger Rue.

One of the things kids were asked to tell me was this:

"If you could tell your story in a quilt, what kind of cloth would you use?"

Imagine these quilts -- and these kids:

fun, bright prints, that's who I am!
denim from my pairs of jeans
a soft, blue cloth
an orange, sunset color, yellow, and red
pieces of my old dance costumes
silk, because it is fancy and expensive and looks good
t-shirt material
cotton because it is simple
cotton because it is warm and comfy and inexpensive
red linen
the same kind Ludelphia used to make her quilt

The quilt pictured above was created by Mary Lee Bendolph of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Love!

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Dear Poetry Friday friends,

Tara's in a workshop all day Friday, but that hasn't stopped her from posting a timely poem and hosting Roundup at A Teaching Life. (She's awesome like that.) Go see!

As for me, I'm in the midst of "appointment week." That' what we're calling it -- kids have had eye exams  and teeth cleaning and other stuff we've needed to get out of the way before the madness of the school year schedule. All that waiting-room time has got me thinking about the poetry workshop for kids I'm teaching in August at Gadsden Public Library. We'll be reading and writing persona poems.

Now I have a number of go-to volumes that contain animal persona poems, and that's great, but what I'd really like to do is share with the kids some of YOUR work!

So. If you have a poem in the voice of an animal, and you'd like it read aloud for inspiration and entertainment to a great group of elementary age kids, would you pretty please send me an email (irene at irenelatham dot com) OR leave in comments!

To get the ball rolling, I will share one of mine. I wrote it when I was writing a series of ocean-life poems this time last year. It needs to be shortened, but I haven't gotten to that yet. Here it is in all its excessive glory:

Lionfish Can’t Sleep Tonight

I didn’t ask to hatch.
I would have picked

a green-er patch
with pancake sun

and butter moon,
s t r e t c h e d – o u t

naps in the afternoon.

 I get lonely rocks
and cell block of water.

I can’t grrrr
or even purr.

Life is just a bubbly blur
 of endless hunger.

Pardon me
while I hide my eyes.

Excuse me
while I dream.

there’s a herd of gazelle

 grazing grass so tall
 it gleams.

copyright 2012 by Irene Latham

The poem was inspired, of course, by a bit of THE LION KING:

Happy weekend, all!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


This past spring I did several workshops with students about plot, and one of the things I talked with the kids about was how a character’s strengths and flaws should come into play in the climactic scene.

We talked about characters like Harry Potter and Katniss and Ludelphia. Then I asked kids to come up with their own lists of strengths and flaws.

What follows is a list of responses taken from index cards. I’m sharing the flaws because often that’s the hardest part for we writers to develop in those characters we love so much. Strengths are much easier, at least for me.

In the workshop, the students write anonymously, then I collect the index cards and read the responses aloud. I do it this way because every kid wants to hear his words read aloud. They want to hear if what they wrote gets a chuckle or a groan. The great thing about making it anonymous is that it allows the kids safety and security. There is less risk when no one is identified. Though I do encourage them to claim their words when they hear them, if they so desire! I just know there are a lot of kids out there just like me who would be horrified to have their words identified. It’s my way of honoring the introverts among us.

And now for the list. Some are serious, some more lighthearted. At least one (I think) was written in jest. Or maybe not. You decide. J

I yell at my sister a bit too much.
I get mad at things not worth being mad about.
In softball, I sometimes swing at bad pitches.
I am very impatient and I can’t wait on things.
Sometimes I can’t stop talking.
I bite my nails.
I cannot run fast.
I can get offended easily.
I feel people make fun of me when they aren’t.
I don’t listen to my parents all the time.
I can’t get up in the morning.
I procrastinate.
I do things last minute.
I forget things.
I roll my eyes.
I back-talk.
I have bad days and good days.
I don’t like reading at all.
I am stubborn.
I always have to be right.
It is my way or the highway.
I always fight with my sister.
I get mad when someone tells me I did something wrong.
I have a hard time with math.
I can’t be interested in only one thing.
I get upset very easily.
I am not that good at math.
I am lazy sometimes.
I miss things for too long.
My room is not always clean.
I stutter sometimes.
I forget everything.
I forget to do chores when my mom tells me to do something.
I forget to practice my singing.
I apparently walk weird.
I like unicorns way too much.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


On my most recent visit to Florence, Alabama, the lovely Amy showed us around Animal House, a rescue shelter for exotic animals where she volunteers. 

We saw lots of tigers, including Tara (left).

 We also saw Amy play with a tiger -- when she ran around the enclosure, one of the tigers came out of hiding to "stalk" her.

We also met Hershey the bear:

a lemur:

a genet (how gorgeous is that coat?):

a wolf (gotta love those peepers):

and my very favorite of the day, a lion named Simba. I have NEVER been so close to a lion. I really could not get over how large he is. Those paws are as big as my head! Amy said we could pet him through the fence, but you know, I really didn't need to get any closer than I already was. They don't call 'em King of Beasts for nothing, folks. This one seemed more Aslan to me than anything.

Soon our guide Amy will be off to Maine where she is seeking a degree that will allow her to work with exotic animals ALL THE TIME. She loves elephants best. We're going to miss you, Amy! Can't wait to hear about your new adventures. xo

Friday, July 13, 2012


My visiting niece and nephew gave me an opportunity to read poetry aloud. And I was reminded of a few things as we traveled through some Silverstein and Dr. Seuss:

Kids this age like poems that are

1. SHORT (four lines seemed to be the most appreciated)
2. SIMPLE (no complex metaphors; very concrete)
3. CLEVER (word-play was very well received)
4. FUNNY (didn't have to be hysterical --just one chuckle was enough)

The 5 year old's favorite poem was "The Sitter" by Shel Silverstein, as it appears in A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC:


Mrs. McTwitter the baby-sitter,
I think she's a little bit crazy.
She thinks a baby-sitter's supposed
To sit upon the baby.

- Shel Silverstein

That's it! SO SIMPLE! It's a good reminder to those of us writing for this age audience. It was interesting to me how quickly their attention waned with the longer (although simple, clever, funny) poems.

Today I will write SHORT, SHORT, SHORT.

Don't forget to visit Jone at Check it Out for Poetry Friday Roundup! Also, look for a poem by moi on this Sunday's edition of YourDailyPoem.com!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


When I asked my visiting nieces and nephew if they'd like to go to the movies, they instantly said, "BRAVE!"

I'd seen the commercials all ablaze with red hair and that trusty bow and arrow, and thought, could this be something for my FIERCE year?

So we saw it. And it surprised me.

First of all, who knew it was actually a movie about the mother-daughter relationship? I may have mentioned here before (ahem) how the mother-daughter relationship seems the most complex to me of all relationships --- and I only know it from the side of "daughter." It comes up in my writing all the time. So yeah, I liked this development in the movie.

So did my fifteen-years-old-this-month niece. She said it made her want to see it with her mother. She also said how glad she was that there was no prince in the movie, no romantic storyline. "As if that's all that's important," she said. Love it! But it also made me realize that I sorta missed that element. I do love a love story.

What I didn't like about the movie: our heroine wants her mother to change. She does something that does, in fact, help cause her mother to change. But what message does this send our daughters, Disney? Here we've piled into our cushy theater chairs expecting a brave, go-get-em heroine, and she is brave, but come on, wouldn't it have been better to have her change HERSELF?

Because that's the way it works in real life. We have to come to some terms with the fact that we can't change our mothers or anyone else we love. There's no woodcarver/witch in a cottage, no magic pastry. The trick is to change ourselves in ways that allow us to love those people despite our differences. The only person we can truly change is ourselves.

Hey, Disney/Pixar: next time, write a movie like that, 'kay?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Cheers may have been the place where "everybody knows your name," but Pat's is where you never come home empty-handed.

This trip we came home with a number of wonderful things, including Pat's childhood volume of Black Beauty. Her mother read it to her when she was small. And I LOVE IT! Will cherish it forever and ever.

We also came home with a new kitten. AS IF WE NEEDED A NEW KITTEN. But isn't he adorable? How could we possibly resist?? We're calling him Bobby, in honor of Paul's mother Bobbie, whom we loved and adored and miss every day. (Our other cat is Maggie, who is named for my grandmother, whom we also loved and adored and miss every day.)

And hey, why not double or dog population, too?? We brought home a stray named Rosie (who may get renamed, we just haven't thought of it yet-- and needs a forever home) as a temporary playmate for Ruby. Rosie is a Border Collie (left). Ruby is an Australian Shepherd (right). But don't they make a cute pair? After Ruby's nub of a tail, it's fun to watch Rosie's wide tail wagging. Also, she grins all the time. Cute.

Finally, I have to share the edible goodness Pat packed up for me to bring home to hubby:

Now THAT, friends, is southern hospitality. And SO MUCH MORE. Pat, you inspire me to be more generous and giving. Thank you for your friendship! xo

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Liberty. Independence. Freedom.

That's what July 4th means to me. Oh, and BBQ! Baked beans! Lemon pie! Yummm....

And I happen to be reading two books -- one contemporary and one historical -- that fit the theme:


I'm about half-way through it -- it's a tight, raw read. These characters are people you know or knew. Travis is home from Afghanistan, and you know, that's TOUGH. He's seen a lot, lost a lot, and he just wants his life to settle. Of course there's a girl... gritty book that makes you feel like a Marine. Written by a fabulous author who didn't give up, Trish Doller. Read it!



These books are brilliant. I'm on an audio version of Volume II, as I drive.

I am pretty much in awe of M.T. Anderson's ability to tell a story. I first discovered him with FEED, a book I've read numerous times, and these are nothing like that, except in that they are also AWESOME.  Octavian is a slave during revolutionary times who is the victim of an awful experiment. Except this experiment arms him with tools to survive his bondage and pursue freedom during tumultuous times. So much research went into these volumes. "Astonishing" really is the best word for it. Those shiny stickers are well-deserved! Don't miss.

Hope your 4th is everything you want it to be. xo

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I posted today over at Smack Dab in the Middle on the topic of fireworks.

Find out:

the best fireworks I ever saw

something about fireworks that makes the poet in me giddy

what I prefer instead of fireworks

what Katy Perry has to do with it

I totally want that umbrella Katy is posing with! It so fits my Japanese inspired FIERCE theme for 2012! About which I really need to write an update... since I've only written one update, and that was way back of February 9.

Ummm...how 'bout now??

Truth is, I'm feeling a bit like a FIERCE failure... NEED MORE FIERCE.

Readers, do you have any ideas/suggestions for me?