Friday, November 30, 2018

Mentors, The Prophet, and Poetry as an Answer

Hello and Happy last Poetry Friday of November! Be sure to visit Carol's Corner for Roundup.

Thanks to all who read and commented last week about Laura Purdie Salas' forthcoming LION OF THE SKY. The winner of the f&g is....

Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone! Molly, please email me your address: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com
Thank you!

Today I'd like to share with you a book I've really enjoyed: TRIBE OF MENTORS: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Timothy Ferriss. The author wrote it after a tough year in which several near and dear to him died. He wanted to know their answers to some questions, and now it was too late. So, the author interviewed people at the top of their fields, whether it be entertainment, business, inventor, scientist, etc... and the experience changed his life. 

The book has been meaningful to me as well -- both the answers to the questions, and the questions themselves. So I thought it might be fun to ask myself the questions, and post my own answers to them here, as a series. Maybe someday my kids will read them.

So today is Day One. 

  1. What is the book (or books) you've given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
At first this seemed like an impossible question. Book lovers, you know what I mean! My life has been greatly influenced by a whole bunch of books!

But then, when I really stopped to think about it, I knew my answer: 

THE PROPHET by Khalil Gibran. Whatever I'm going through in my life, this is my go-to book -- thanks to my father, who gave me my first copy when I was 13 or 14. It's wise and beautiful and full of nature-inspired analogies.

At our wedding, my father read two passages from the book, and one of my most treasured possessions is a copy of the book that my father gave me not long before he died -- the best part is that it contains his highlighted passages and dog ears and even some comments in the margins. 

Recently I gifted our youngest son with a copy, and much to my delight, he loves it, too!

As for most-oft gifted books, I have a tradition of giving books to librarians, administrators, organizers who hire me for appearances. The title often changes with my interests and will sometimes be an anthology in which my own work appears. This year at schools I've most often gifted SCHOOL PEOPLE, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. 
For the past couple of years I have gifted new parents and parents of young children (and young children themselves) ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME, edited by Kenn Nesbitt. (I do not have a poem in the anthology; I just think there's something in the book for everyone and anyone!)

So. Isn't it telling, that all my answers are books of poetry?

Yep. I'm a poetry person through and through. How about you? What's your answer to this question?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Wordless Picture Books for #GivingTuesday

Karim Shamsi-Basha and I are huge fans of The Cat Man of Aleppo, and in our research on our forthcoming book, we found out that Alaa is now running an orphanage in addition to Ernesto's Cat Sanctuary. At the time Karim spoke with Alaa, there were 68 kids living in the orphanage.

We immediately started thinking about how we might reach out to these kids, and we landed on "wordless picture books" because
1) they are good for any age child
2) it doesn't matter if you are a good reader
3) or what language you know
4) Karim can deliver them when he travels to Aleppo next spring to film a documentary about The Cat Man.

Thank you, Jama!
So far we've collected about 20 books! THANK YOU! But we still need more. If you'd like to participate, pick your favorite wordless picture book and mail it to:

Irene Latham
PO Box 122
Oneonta, Alabama 35121

Can't think of a wordless picture book? Try these links to lists of wordless picture book titles:
Reading Rockets
All About Learning Press
A Fuse #8 Production

Thank you for joining us in making a difference in a child's life!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Remembering Ruby with GOOD ROSIE by Kate DiCamillo

For the past 8 years we've enjoyed the companionship of our high-energy, sweet, protective, crazy Australian shepherd Ruby.

She died this past Saturday, and we are feeling so sad, so lonely without her.

Those of you who have beloved pets know what I'm talking about -- because you don't bring home that puppy or kitten without knowing that someday this day will come.

It's a tough time.

What's helped has been thinking about all the things we've loved about Ruby, all the joy she brought to our lives. Here's the start of our list:

last pic of Ruby
how much she loved licking out the peanut butter jar
her passion for bacon grease
her enthusiasm for the rubber chicken
how she'd bark as if to say “throw it! Throw it again!”
the way she'd cock her head
her high energy
the joy she had in running
how she was so polite that she didn't want to eat in front of you
how excited she was to get a treat
how she would dip her paws in the water bowl to help her cool off
how she followed us around the outside of the house when we were inside without her
how she howled along when I played my cello
the way she rubbed against things to scratch an itch
the way she'd grunt in pleasure when you scratched an itch for her
her little nub wagging
how happy she was to go on walks
how she made those chairs on the front porch her own
how good she was in the bath
how tenderly she took anything from your hand
how faithful she was, how close she stayed
how she was always rounding us up
how she did a sweep of our yard and the neighbor's yard
how proud she was of that last Thanksgiving turkey bone
the way she knew so many words
how she barked at thunder and chased it
how excited she got about falling leaves
how funny she was about getting into the boat – not sure where/when to get in -- but determined to get in!
how she'd stand at the prow as we cruised the lake, and then would lay down to enjoy the ride
how she piddled around the shore, investigating, and didn't know what to do the first time we put her in the lake
how she would set off an alarm when anyone suspicious came near our house
how she would let us pet her when she was half asleep
how she would get up and follow Eric to the door when he went inside -- ever the escort

Ruby was Eric's dog really. (Parents, you know how that goes, right?) He said there would never be another dog as good as Ruby. He's right. This loss has been really tough for him.

Something else helping us to get through this time is reading dog books. For some time I've been meaning to blog about GOOD ROSIE! by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Harry Bliss, brought to us by Candlewick.

I love this book! It's like a graphic novel for the young set. And Rosie truly is a good dog and loves her human George. (Those early scenes really do remind me of Ruby!) But Rosie is a little lonely, too. She needs some dog-friends. She has a lot to learn when she first visits the dog park. Eventually, after some near-disasters, she gains two new friends in Fifi and Maurice. It's super-sweet. I hope you'll check it out and remember those special pets in your life.

Meanwhile, I'll be here, remembering Ruby.
Ruby's first Christmas (2010)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

LION OF THE SKY by Laura Purdie Salas + Giveaway

Welcome, Poetry Friday friends! Roundup is here at Live Your Poem!!

You might notice the blog has a new look. Yes, I am in the process of renovating all my materials to include this happy, imaginative little octopus, specially created for me by Thea Baker, illustrator for LOVE, AGNES.

I have been thinking about this for several years, as my bibliography has grown and my writing life has moved away from adult work. I decided I wanted to fully embrace the joy of writing for children!

But it's hard, you know, letting go of the old...  Our shifting identities are intensely personal and come barnacled with all that has come before... and how to predict the future?

Well, I decided to just focus on FUN, and that's when I figured out that the only thing all of my books have in common is imagination. And what better symbol for that than a purple octopus conversing with a yellow bird? :)

Speaking of imagination....

Pre-orders available NOW.
you'll find the linkup below, and today I want to share with you a beautiful book of poems by one of our own: LION OF THE SKY: Haiku for all Seasons by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrations by Merce Lopez, brought to us by the good folks at Lerner Publishing (April 2, 2019).

This book is beautiful, both in words and pictures. Laura has graciously given me permission to share one poem for each season, and boy was it hard to pick! These poems aren't haiku for the haiku purist -- they do follow the 5-7-5 syllable scheme, but they are bursting with all sorts of rich, evocative metaphors -- which aren't employed in traditional haiku, where the focus is on the literal experience of the moment. Helpful article about tenets of traditional haiku found here.

Plus, these poems have an additional fun element: they're all riddles! In fact, the collection grew out of one of Laura's National Poetry Month projects which she called Riddle-ku. There's a wonderful note from Laura about this at the back of the book, and an invitation to readers to try crafting their own riddle-mask-haiku.

Giveaway! Laura is offering one autographed review copy for one lucky reader. Simply add your comment to this post by noon Thursday, Nov. 29, and Maggie the cat will select a winner! Winner will be announced next Poetry Friday (Nov. 30).

And now a sampling of poems from the book... as you read, see if you can solve the riddle! (I've made "fall" particularly easy for you by adding the art. :)


colorful flowers -
we sprout on stems of people,
bloom only in rain


you gasp as I roar,
my mane EXPLODING, sizzling --
lion of the sky!

the "pencil" page


I'm a yellow train,
CARRYING thoughts from your brain
to the waiting page


I'm thin silver blades,
spinning circles, carving lines --
you and I, we FLY!

Did you guess them?? The art in the book is exquisite, and really helps guide the reader to the answer.[answers: umbrella, fireworks, pencil, ice skates] There's also an answer key at the back of the book.

You may remember a similar book that was popular a number of years ago: IF NOT FOR THE CAT, haiku by Jack Prelutsky, paintings by Ted Rand, brought to us by HarperCollins back in 2004. I remember poring over this one with my now-grown boys!

And I will leave you with a quote that feels apt and true... won't you read a poem aloud today? Happy Thanksgiving!

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. :)