Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On Choosing Not to Be Offended

In between a thousand other things, I'm preparing for some upcoming presentations, including those scheduled for AASL and NCTE in November. And then yesterday, as I was reading -- and loving -- the new middle grade novel INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CATCUS by Dusti Bowling, I found a passage I can't wait to include in at least one of my presentations.

You've got to read this book! It features "Armless Aven," who was born without arms and has such a positive outlook -- being armless isn't going to stop her from doing ANYTHING. I love it!

And because I believe one key to a more loving, tolerant world is to give people the benefit of the doubt, not take things so personally, choose NOT to be offended, I dog-eared a particular passage from a scene that includes Aven and her very cool mom. Thanks to Dusti for giving permission for me to share it. When you're done here, go forth and find thyself a copy of the book! You will love it.

My eyes filled with tears. “When Connor was here yesterday... he called me disabled.”

Mom scrunched her eyebrows “Well...okay. Did that make you angry?”



“Because,” I said, trying to hold back more tears. I know I am. I don't need other people telling me I am and telling me what I can or can't do.”

“I'm sure he didn't say it to hurt you.”

“I don't ever want to be seen just as a disabled person,” I said. “I don't want to just be Aven Green, that girl with no arms. I don't want to be labeled like that.”

“I think Connor would be the last person to label you like that. You shouldn't get so offended if someone calls you disabled, Aven. You do have extra challenges that others don't have. It does take you longer to do most tasks. Your movements are limited. There's a big difference between saying you're disabled and saying you're incapable.”

“Well, he tried to say I was incapable of becoming an astronaut.”

 She laughed and stood up off the bed and faced me. “I think it would be extra challenging for you, but I don't think it's impossible, not with robotic arms and all that.” She did a robot dance to show off what I assumed were some ridiculous robot arms that would never be of any use to an astronaut. “I don't think anything's impossible for you,” she said as she continued her display.”


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Star for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship

The first trade review for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship is IN, and it's from Kirkus, and it's a star!

I'm honored and delighted to share this with the whole team: co-author Charles Waters, illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, and the find folks at Carolrhoda/Lerner.

You can read the full review at Kirkus, and here is the closing sentence:

"A brave and touching portrayal worthy of sharing in classrooms across America." - Kirkus / STARRED

Readers, it's the "brave" that makes my heart pirouette. Talking about race and racism isn't easy. But if shy, private me can be brave, others can too. Let's do it together, shall we?

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Writing in Fall" Poem for the First Day of Autumn

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Amy at the Poem Farm for Roundup.
I have been away from my desk all week, traveling with the amazing folks at Alabama Library Expo! Lucky me: Paul joined me for the first three stops, and my dear friend Pat joined me for the last stop!
Over the four day tour I met nearly 600 librarians, about a dozen book vendors, and two other authors -- and it was so much fun! Here is a quick collage:

One of the things I told the librarians (who might also be writers) was to treat writing like brushing your teeth -- don't go to bed without doing it!
With that in mind, while in the hotel room at one of the stops, I crafted a wee poem in celebration of the Autumnal equinox. I do love fall... and I love WRITING in fall. It's my favorite season!

created at (because PicMonkey
is no longer allowing me free services... grr!)
Writing in Fall
O muse,
     o maple,

o sweet sweater

thank you
     for firewind

words gusting
     the page –

how they tumble,
pile –

leaving plenty

to gather,


- Irene Latham

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On Ducks and Baby Names & "One Voice" (for International Peace Day)

Eirene, Greek goddess of Peace
"Irene" is the Greek word for peace. Apparently there is a Greek goddess named Irene.

That's not why my parents chose the name for me -- I was named for my great-grandmother Hannah Irene Dennis, who, I'm told, "never said a bad thing about anyone."

I'm pretty sure no one has ever said the same of me, though it IS something to aspire to. And, in a way, it's a definition of peace.

A few years ago a friend referred to me as "Serene Irene." Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? And yes, I am quiet. Yes, I am not prone to fighting or violence of any kind. Yes, I love solitude and am perfectly comfortable when a silence falls across a dinner table. But. There's so much you can't see! Michael Caine's duck comes to mind: calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy underneath.

I think the duck I want to be is calm on the surface, paddling only as much as is necessary. Slower. Gentler. Feeling the silky water, not driven by hunger or danger. Just enjoying a swim.

Another name that means "peace," is Oliver. Which is why we selected it as a middle name for one of our sons. It was a way to name a child after me without naming him after me. :)

Click here for a list of other names that mean peace.  Really, is there anything more peaceful than a sleeping baby?

“A Mother With Her Sleeping Child”
by Léon Bazille Perrault
via Wikimedia Commons
Our baby boy has been in the news this week, about the song called "One Voice" he and friends created that's certainly on the topic of peace.

Here's an article from Shelby Co. schools and from our local ABC 33/40 station. And here's the video that inspired all the attention. We couldn't be prouder of these kids!

 Wishing you a peaceful day! Be sure to visit the Peace padlet put together by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Madeline Engle. xo

Monday, September 18, 2017

An Artsy-Poetry Rocker to Remember a Special Reader

We love you, Papa...
My father loved books. During his lifetime he read on average a book a day. When he wasn't reading, he was listening to a book! His dream was to retire to his hometown Port St. Joe, FL, and build a library to house his thousands and thousands of books.

He died before that could happen, so, as a way to make his dream come true, our family commissioned June at Poppy Cottage to create an artsy memorial rocker to be housed in the children's department at Corinne Costin Gibson Memorial Public Library in Port St. Joe.
Eric, me, Mama, Lynn, MicaJon (& foster baby Brianna)

At the "Blessing of the Rocker" ceremony Fr. Tommy Dwyer of St. James Episcopal Church offered a blessing, and then we read some of the poems that we asked to be incorporated into the artwork:
"Invitation" by Shel Silverstein
"The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls" - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"O Captain, My Captain" - Walt Whitman
Mermaids... and blue toe nails. :)

Yes, you might notice a sea theme! Also featured in the artwork were two mermaids (my sister and me) and a surprise on the center knobs: R E A D.  Perfect!
R  E  A  D

 We also each took a turn sitting in the chair! Our hope is that many a reader finds comfort and joy in the poems and stories they discover in the arms of that chair. Big thanks to librarian Nancy Brockman for being our partner in this venture!

me keeping the seat warm for my Papa...
... and here we are, three of the five sibs posing for the newspaper photographer:

LTG, i, MJ

Thursday, September 14, 2017

READ! READ! READ!-ing with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

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

Things have been hopping in these parts... thanks to Irma, the first part of the week, and currently I am in Port St. Joe, FL for the "Blessing of the Rocker" event in memory of my father. More on this next week!

Today it is my great pleasure and honor to welcome poet/teacher/dear friend/lovely human Amy Ludwig VanDerwater to talk about her newest book of poems READ! READ! READ!, brought to us by the fine folks at WordSong/Boyds Mills Press, with illustrations by Ryan O'Rourke. Big congratulations to Amy and the whole team on the release of a beautiful new book!! To help celebrate, I've asked Amy to respond to some simple prompts.

But before we get to that, I have just a few links for you:

Last week I issued my latest Adventures in Writing newsletter, titled "What September is For." I invite you to read, and if you like, please subscribe!

My poem "Cave Cricket's Lament" appears in the newly-released Balloons Lit Journal (Issue 6). Gratitude to Peter and the crew!

Have you played Ruin a Book with One Letter? See what happened to Leaving Gee's Bend. And propose your own altered book titles!


And now, let's talk about READ! READ! READ!-ing... take it away, Amy!

The Difficult: Aw, writing is just difficult. And beautiful. It’s both. Waiting for ideas, revising, going back and forth with titles, worrying, trying to make myself concentrate…all of it. Like a thunderstorm, writing is gorgeous and harsh all at once. I struggle always to discipline myself; writing and revising this book was no exception.

"Word Collection"
The Delicious
: I love poring over Ryan’s joyous and whimsical art, remembering the people and moments and stories that inspired each poem. The words Cinderella and mozzarella, in “Word Collection” for example, have long sat in my notebook, just jottings from a normal day. I smile to remember that long-ago evening when our toddler Hope (now an adult) called out at dinner, “I have a rhyme! Cinderella! Mozzarella!” I find it magical that a moment from years ago can live on between the covers of a book.

Word Collection

Jumping Jack
Wind sock
Wolf pack
Belly button

- Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

(note from Irene: try saying that poem super-fast! :) Who else has a word collection waiting to be worked into a poem?? Care to share a favorite word? )

The Unexpected: In these early days of old friends and new friends reading READ! READ! READ!, I have been grateful to hear folks share their favorite poems from the collection. I expected there would be one overall favorite, but it is beautiful to learn that there is not one favorite. Rather, people have shared many different connections. My hope is that our poems and pictures will open secret doors and memories for readers, that children will say, “I remember when I….” perhaps writing reader poems of their own. (It would be my pleasure to share any of these at The Poem Farm, by the way…)
Amy and her books!

Anything Else: I am thankful to have been paired with talented illustrator Ryan O’Rourke and thankful for the brilliance of my editor Rebecca Davis. It is important for readers to always know that behind every new book is a great team.

Thank you, Irene, for inviting me to LIVE YOUR POEM. It feels like I’m at the house of a dear friend…because I am! xoxo, Amy
Thank YOU, Amy! 

What a gift Amy is to the world with her warm, loving poems and that happy place called The Poem Farm... Amy also shared the book she is currently reading:
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
I'll put it on my list! And also, because I've just finished it, and because it's full of so much book-love and library-love and makes the perfect pairing with READ! READ! READ!, here's what I've been reading:
The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey, illus. by Victoria Jamieson
It's a middle grade novel about a green-shelled book-loving bug named Eddie who saves the day with a little blueberry ink and sticky notes. :) It's also a magical romp through some beloved classics, like STUART LITTLE and THE BORROWERS and other titles featuring "littles." Super-fun -- check it out!

Wishing each and every one of you a glorious day. xo

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

TV Tuesday: Three Shows Worth Watching

Those who know me, know I am not a big TV person. (Movies, YES.) But I am married to a TV person, and I kinda like hanging out with him, so we are always on the lookout for shows I will actually sit through. :) Today -- thanks to Netflix -- I have three to share with you.

ATYPICAL - A Netflix Original comedy. The story centers on 18 year old Sam who happens to be on the autism spectrum -- and he's looking for love! I love this cast, especially Sam's sister Casey. We've actually watched the first season once thru with our resident Aspie (who related heavily) and are now watching it again with our youngest son. Please, please hurry up with Season 2!

Anne with flowers in her hat
on the first day of school, not
knowing how the other kids
will torment her.
ANNE WITH AN E - You can find this one on Netflix. (Thank you, Pat, for recommending it!) It's based on the book ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which, oddly, I have never read! (My father did give me a copy not long before he died, so it is waiting for me.) We love -- and ache -- for that plucky, word-loving Anne who only wants to be loved... and to be beautiful when she grows up. :)

POLDARK - also on Netflix. Originally a Masterpiece Theater production set just after the American Revolutionary War -- in Cornwall. There's love and intrigue and copper mines... and Aidan Turner. Dreamy!

Bonus: LAST CHANCE U - also on ... you guessed it, Netflix! We have watched both seasons, and it gives us a lot to talk about... education, the important of caring, our country's sports culture, race, the South, what kids need... good stuff (and yes, a lot of foul language!).

Is there a TV show you're excited about? Please share in comments!

Friday, September 8, 2017

CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Cover Reveal & A Visit with Charles Waters

The irrepressible Charles Waters!
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Matt at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme for Roundup. Yay for Matt's soon-to-be-released FLASHLIGHT NIGHT... I can't wait to read!

So a year and a half ago, Charles Waters and I embarked upon a poetic journey -- a book about race and racism with the working title It's Not Black and White. 

That title got scrapped by the marketing department in favor of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship. (Share the excitement -  pre-order your copy today!)

Those marketing folks are smart, aren't they? We feel so fortunate to have worked with Carolrhoda/Lerner Books on this project... our editor Carol Hinz is a superhero! And wow, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko did such a lovely job with the illustrations... but you know what is most exciting?

This is Charles' VERY FIRST BOOK. Yes, his poems have appeared in a gazillion anthologies, but this is his first book. Congratulations, Charles!!! I'm so honored to share this with you!

And because the book contains a whole lot of yes-it-actually-happened content, we thought it might be fun to share a "2 Truths and a Lie" challenge with you today. You can find mine over at Charles' Poetry Time blog, and I will share about Charles here at Live Your Poem. (Fun fact: Charles and I have yet to meet in person! But that meeting is coming... we will be presenting together at both AASL and NCTE conferences in November.)

But first: Behold, the cover (which went through so so many versions before it finally landed here)!

available January 1, 2018!
Sneak Peek!! Here is Charles' introductory poem in the collection... you can read mine at Charles' blog!


Mrs. Vandenberg wants us to write poems?
Finally, an easy project. Words fly off my pen
onto the paper, like writing is my superpower.
The rest of the time, my words are a curse. I open my mouth, 
and people run away. Now I’m stuck with Irene? 
She hardly says anything. Plus she’s white. 
Her stringy, dishwater blond hair waves
back and forth as she stutter-steps toward me. 
My stomach bottoms out. “Hello,” I say. “Hi,” she says. 
I surprise myself by smiling at her—she smells like 
a mix of perfume and detergent. We stare at our sneakers
before I ask, “So, what do you want to 
write about?” She shrugs. I say, “How about our shoes, hair? 
Then we can write about school and church?”
She takes a deep breath. “Okay.”
I match it. “Let’s start there.”

- Charles Waters

And now, 2 truths and a lie with Charles! Answers below.

1. Charles had "friends" disrespect him in front of other people for no other reason than to show off at his expense

2. Charles is obsessed with rap music. 

3. Charles had a Grandma who understood him, supported him and didn't judge his choices.

wee Charles...


1. True
2. Lie - "While I listened to rap growing up, L.L. Cool J., Rob Base, PM Dawn, Salt and Pepa, D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and Public Enemy to name a few, I listened more to top 40 pop songs on the radio."
3.True - "My grandmother Victoria (Vickie) had my back. She passed away in 1997. I miss her. She was a most excellent human being."  
Thanks so much for reading!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Where is Your Water?

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! Today we are sharing over at Ramona's Pleasures from the Page about her 2017 OLW "Nourish."

Isn't "nourish" a nourishing word? I just want to wrap up in it! Or stick a spoon in it. Or... you get the idea. Nourish for me is all about self-care. As someone who has spent a lot of time caring for others, nourishing myself has sometimes been a challenge. But I am learning how taking care of ME really is the key to good relationships. Some of the things I do for self-care are:
write poems
read poems
drink tea
treat myself (Zaxby's birthday cake shake, anyone?)
play cello

Speaking of naps, I have this vivid memory of falling asleep on the floor while playing with my then-young boys, and hearing the garage door lift. How I popped up, wiped the sleep from my eyes, and got busy playing with the kids so my husband wouldn't know I had been sleeping on the job!

Crazy, right?

I don't think Paul would have blinked, but I wanted to be perfect, and in that moment, perfect did not include needing a nap!

Fast forward a few years, and naps are a staple in our lives. I'm a lot better at nourishing myself than I once was. This extends to my spiritual life as well.

Deepak Chopra says "the spirit is nourished with equanimity and self-awareness." He also suggests that we are nourished by light: light foods, lightheartedness, letting our light shine.

Today I will think LIGHT. And laughter. And touch. All of these are ways to nourish and be nourished.

Another thing this brings to my mind is a prophecy you've probably read that's attributed to unnamed Hopi leaders -- which has caused some to question its origins and authenticity. I don't know where the prayer comes from, but I know I am drawn particularly to this line:

Where is your water?

Very often, my water is words. Also, these days, my water is... water! As in time spent at the lake. I am fed by love and time and silence and creating and simple ways of moving the body. And isn't all of this somehow related to my 2017 One Little Word "Abundance"? There is something for everyone. You are enough. God is everywhere. Every moment is a poem.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

In Praise of Books That Are Short

When I speak to groups I usually offer some sort of giveaway, which requires attendees to list on a paper slip their name and email -- and also, to make it more fun, to answer a simple question.

Recently, the slip asked attendees to complete this prompt:

My favorite childhood book is...............................

I got all sorts of answers, including titles like Old Yeller, Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter, and Llama Llama Red Pajama.

But here was my favorite response:
My favorite childhood book is..... short.

Ha! It's a good reminder that not every person sitting through one of my presentations is an avid reader! More thoughts on this at a post I wrote for Smack Dab in the  Middle. Also: brevity is good. :) AND it's a good argument for poetry, yes?

I'll be back for Spiritual Journey Thursday, and also, coming this Poetry Friday: Charles Waters and I will be sharing a cover reveal for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship. Yay!