Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Fun with MEET MISS FANCY at Avondale Library

Ms. Cass, Irene Latham, Carla Perkins
and Miss Fancy!
What a thrill it was for me to launch MEET MISS FANCY at Avondale Library, which sits right next door to the park where Miss Fancy actually lived!

And wow, talk about some amazing librarians. I am so grateful to Carla Perkins and Cassandra Scott (aka Ms. Cass) and everyone else who helped make it a lovely time. There were elephant shaped tea cakes and peanuts and lemonade... and a giant Miss Fancy cut-out on the wall! They've been celebrating Miss Fancy all month, and I am now the proud owner of a Miss Fancy t-shirt, made at the library (thank you, Ms. Cass!!). I can't wait to wear it. I will share pics when I do. :) THANK YOU, Avondale Library!

And now, a little about the program...


Jim Baggett, the archivist who knows everything there is to know about Miss Fancy and who was essential to my writing process for this book, was there to share slides and stories about Miss Fancy.

Martha Council
Martha Council, who is in charge of the campaign to Save the Queen by erecting a life size sculpture of her at Avondale Park, shared a little about her group's efforts. More on this soon!

Jim and Liz Reed were there, too, for moral support (as ever), and to share about the making of the short (10 minute) documentary film about Miss Fancy, which features residents sharing stories about their experiences with Miss Fancy, or the stories shared with them by older family members.

So many thanks to the friends who showed up, from both near and far... Diane, Linda, Joan, Jo, Tay, Marie (who sold books!)... and new friends, too! Your support and enthusiasm means so much! Thank you!




Monday, January 14, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: BIRTHDAY


First: Congratulations to Lisa Bowen, the winner of the "Elephant Book Pack" MEET MISS FANCY giveaway! It includes the following titles:

National Geographic Readers: Elephants by Avery Hurt
Meet Miss Fancy by Irene Latham
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
The Story of Babar by jean de Brunhoff
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
Dear Wandering Wildebeest by Irene Latham
Chained by Lynne Kelley
Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Eavesdropping on Elephants by Patricia Newman
Don't Feed the Boy by Irene Latham
An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo

So many thanks to all who entered! I'll be sharing about Sunday's launch event tomorrow. :) And now for today's edition of The Butterfly Hours...

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?
Here are January's prompts: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

BIRTHDAY
Of all my childhood birthdays, the one that stands out most is the year I turned 6. We were living in Lakeland, Florida, at the time, and the tradition was that age 6 was the year we got our first visit to Disney World. I was a huge fan of Cinderella, so I couldn't wait to see the castle.

At my birthday party (which was attended by family and perhaps a few friends, though I cannot now remember), my mom presented me with a Cinderella birthday layer cake. She'd baked it in round pans and decorated it herself (as she did all our birthday cakes). It had white icing, and perched on top was a plastic horse-drawn carriage with a plastic Cinderella in her classic blue ballgown.

When I blew out my candles I wished for a doll that came in a mint green trunk about 2 feet long. When you opened the trunk the doll slept on a blanket on one side, and on the other side was a small wardrobe with hanging outfits and a drawer of accessories. I don't remember where I first saw the doll-in-trunk – perhaps TV? -- just that I wanted it so very badly! I was always a baby-doll kind of girl and never once played with Barbies. I was pretty much born a mother-in-training!

Everyone watched as I opened my gifts, and finally I came to the last one. I ripped off the paper, and there it was, the mint green trunk with doll safely nestled inside with all her gear. I was Cinderella that day. And even though Cinderella has lost popularity as a Disney princess, she's still my favorite. She worked hard. She talked to animals. Despite the cruelty she experienced, she still believed in miracles. When she had a chance for an adventure, for something different -- she took it. In so many ways she saved herself. And yes, at the end of the day there was a man with whom to share her life. That's pretty darn magical, if you ask me.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: BICYCLE

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?
Here are January's prompts: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

BICYCLE

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my adopted sibs
with Christmas bikes!
One of the great things about growing up in a big family (5 kids) was built-in playmates. When I was in 3rd grade we lived in a neighborhood in Lakeland, Florida. During that summer, the rule was that we kids must be home by dark. My brothers and sister and I would take our bikes out in the afternoon, ride across empty lots, explore streets, climb trees, etc. – not paying a bit of attention to the time. It wasn't until the first street light buzzed on that we'd realize the sun was below the treeline and our time was up. We'd jerk our bikes out of the dirt and fly home. Faces flushed, hair streaming out behind us, we'd ride with the sweet taste of freedom in our mouths, and in our hearts the thrill of knowing someone was home waiting for us.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: BED

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Kat (who's gotten into Insta-poetry lately!) at Kathryn Apel for Roundup.

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

Here are January's prompts: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

BED
For 2 1/2 years I lived with my family of origin in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where my father worked as the administrator of King Faisal's Specialist Hospital. (I'm told his photograph still hangs on the wall!) That time impacted me in many, many wonderful ways. But not all of it was wonderful...


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Bed
Once in the land
of red sand and goats

a girl sat stranded on a ship
in the center of a purple room

floor an ocean of roaches
swelling, cresting, roiling

her four-year-old heart
pitching, heaving

breath hitching –
need to pee need to pee need to pee

how much longer 
before she learns to swim?

- Irene Latham

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What I Learned as a CYBILS Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction Panelist


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When people ask me for book recommendations, I often refer them to the CYBILS lists. I love CYBIL's commitment to not just literary merit, but kid appeal, too! 

For five (nonconsecutive) years now, I have enjoyed serving as a CYBILS Judge. Four of those years I helped with the Poetry category – 3 times as a round 1 panelist, and once for round 2.

Side-note: I really prefer being a panelist for round 1, in which the task is to narrow the large field to 5-7 finalists. I can recognize excellence and fight for favorite titles. It's much harder for me to settle on just one “the best” title, esp. in Poetry when the finalists might include a picture book of poems for the very young and also a sophisticated YA novel. How to compare? I do NOT envy the panel who must decide!

This year I decided to try the Nonfiction category, and boy, did I learn a lot! It was an honor to serve with such passionate readers and educators. I'm grateful for the experience. I'll be illustrating this post with a few of the book covers of our finalists (complete list here). 

Here's what I learned:

No Errors Allowed. While I may be able to overlook a typo or two and the occasional misalignment of text-to-photos, other panelists were not. And, wow, if there was a factual error – well, forget it! (A great example of why these things are best decided by committee and not by an individual. :) These are informational books, so #1, the information must be correct.

Packaging & Design Can Help or Hurt. I like books that consider all the elements of color and texture and information, so that reading them is an experience

However, sometimes publishers can get too slick with this and try too hard to impress us. And then any content that isn't just right really stands out as a flaw. This happened with a favorite book this year! 

Which means, authors/illustrators, it's important to carefully consider each element of a book. Do not include extraneous stuff, just because it's cute or because you can. Make sure each element matters and is necessary. Better to err on the side of less than to get to frill-y. 

Similarly, readability in terms of font color standing out from background page color was a make-or-break issue. Publishers, if you want to improve your awards numbers, be sure the design of the book makes the words easy to read!

Back Matter Matters. So many times a panelist would put forth a beautiful book only for it to be shot down by other panelists because that book didn't have back matter. And not just any back matter would do. Panelists especially wanted to see sources. Where did the author get the information? Where can especially curious readers go next to learn even more about the subject? 

Sometimes, as it happened this year, a book without back matter keeps rising to the top. It was a big deal for the panel to put this book through without back matter.

"Different" is Important! As long as it's not too different. We read so many wonderful books! Many were about expected, well-covered subjects with proven kid appeal. But no matter how good, it was just impossible to get the enthusiasm and support from the panel for subject matter that felt too well-trod. The panel wanted to see fresh, new topics, or popular topics addressed in new and diverse ways. 

On the other hand, there were several titles I fell in love with because they'd never been done before. (One in particular I will totally blog about later.) But ultimately it was decided that these books had too narrow a focus. There were concerns about every-kid appeal. Sigh.

Sharing passion for a particular book is a joyous thing! And how awesome is it when the stars align for a beloved title?! Truly, there is nothing more beautiful than sharing book-love with other passionate readers. And ultimately that's what these awards are about: not finding “the best book,” but all of us involved hoping to share our book-love with the world. Yes, it's subjective. But it's also universal, isn't it?

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: BASKETBALL

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I intend to write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?
Here are January's prompts: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

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BASKETBALL

I've never been much of a sportsperson, and in school I would do just about anything to avoid PE. Some years I got out of it by doing clean-up work for my teacher. In high school I helped my gym coach with his bus schedules (he was in charge of the school buses, and I was good at organizing...). I'm sure both of these things are wildly inappropriate and wouldn't happen today – but I was pretty happy about them when they happened to me! I don't remember playing basketball for fun, or attending a basketball game (and certainly not watching them on TV!). I don't think any of my siblings every played basketball, either. I have the faintest of faint recollections of being in a school (or church?) gym with my sister and throwing the basketball Granny style and even making a few (!).... and that brings to mind Grandma Dykes, whose physical build I completely inherited. Yet, she, apparently, was quite the athlete. She played basketball in school, long before it was popular for girls to play basketball. From what my father said, she was quite good. I wish I knew more.



Dear Basketball,

I've watched the way
in other people's hands
you dribble,
spin, and roll –
while in mine
you sleep like a troll.

Perhaps I should take
more time,
get to know your ways.
Maybe then
I might come to love
your bumpy, orange face.


 - Irene Latham
unsplash-logotommy bebo

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: BAR

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I intend to write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?
Here are January's prompts: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

BAR


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I don't have any memories from childhood that involve a drinking establishment kind of bar – my parents were teetotalers, though I suspect my father did drink some, just not around us. 

I have only limited experience with a ballet bar, as I took dance classes when I was wee and did temporarily nurture dreams of toe shoes. One of the best compliments I ever received was that I have a “dancer's neck.” Unfortunately that grace does not extend to my other body parts. Instead, my best party trick is to wow people with the odd angles my double-jointedness creates. 

I do, however, have a memory to share related to monkey bars. I was a climber as a child and loved trees, swingsets, slides, merry-go-rounds, you name it. I still enjoy high look-out places and have not experienced that fear of heights my husband suffers from. 

I loved playing on the monkey bars at school during recess, and one day, as I was happily atop, I saw my mother walking down the sidewalk. I instantly cringed, not because I was on top of the monkey bars (she encouraged our explorations) but because I wasn't wearing the same clothes I'd gone to school in. 

At the time my mom was sewing my clothes, and they were not cool AT ALL, so each morning on the bus I would change into something else. And on this day, I was up on the monkey bars with no way to hide. She noticed right away, and it was a big deal in our relationship and a big moment in me becoming my own person. 

My mother wrote me a letter expressing how hurt she was – a letter I still have. I hated disappointing her, but I also didn't want to wear those homemade clothes anymore. After that day, I was able to wear other things to school. It took quite a few more years for me to learn what a gift those homemade clothes had been – what a gift any homemade gift is. Thankfully I've been able to express that to my mother many times since then.



Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: APRON

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I intend to write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?
Here are January's prompts: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.


APRON

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Grandma Dykes never wore an apron – though she did give me one just a few years before she died. It was a frilly pink confection, not a practical piece of fabric for catching spills. I can't imagine her ever wearing such a thing, and probably it was a gift she'd thought too pretty to wear. She was the Queen of preserving things of beauty – that's why the couch stayed covered in plastic my entire childhood. That's why she never wore the clothing items my sister and I got for her. But if there was anyplace she was most herself, it was in the kitchen. She loved company while she cooked, though she could not tolerate help of any kind. We kids were invited to sit on the stool that always stood in the corner. From our perch, we were welcome to watch and converse. Grandma Dykes took a hands-on approach to cooking. She put her long, capable fingers in everything, often mixing things like hoecake batter with her hands. She liked to taste things, too. By the time we'd sit down to a meal, she'd rarely put more than a spoonful on her plate – because she'd already have eaten her fill.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Because Elephants ARE Poetry

Hello and Happy first Poetry Friday of this still-sparkling new year! Be sure to visit Sylvia at Poetry for Children for Roundup and for her delicious annual list of forthcoming poetry books for children!

Today I am feeling HAPPY... which happens to be my 2019 One Little Word. Not only has CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? been included with some other lovely titles as a Cybils Finalist for poetry and a Nerdy Book Club best poetry book (congratulations to all, and so many thanks to the panelists! We're delighted and hope this brings new readers to the book!), I also have a new book that releases next week called MEET MISS FANCY.

MEET MISS FANCY features a fictional boy, a real-life elephant, and a "No Colored Allowed" sign in 1913 Birmingham, Alabama.

from HORTON HATCHES
THE EGG by Dr. Seuss
I wrote this book so many times and in so many ways! I gave up about a hundred times. But. I had friends who encouraged me, and there was also Dr. Seuss' HORTON whispering in my ear: "an elephant's faithful one hundred percent." I wanted to be faithful, too -- to my story, to history and emotion, to myself. And lo, now it's a book! I'm so grateful to G.P. Putnam's Sons and one Excellent Editor Stacey Barney in particular.

Lovely reviews have been pouring in... including a shiny star from Booklist! Here's an excerpt from the review:

"Meet Miss Fancy should be savored for its joyous, vibrant renderings of Avondale's African American community and families, so full of movement and light that they often resemble stills from an animated film. This is a gem of a story."

Eeep! Illustrator John Holyfield and I could not be more delighted. We hope many readers experience all the emotions Frank experiences in the book. (One of the things I love best about the book is how emotional it is... all thanks to John's illustrations! Beautiful, beautiful work, I tell you.)

So, in celebration of MISS FANCY, I thought I'd share some elephant-y goodness with you today.

Do you remember the book of elephant poems called COUSINS OF CLOUDS by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illus. by Megan Halsey & Sean Addy? Read a review I love over at Hope is the Word. You can win a copy of this book (along with 10 other elephant books!) by subscribing to my newsletter -- new issue with giveaway coming next week!

I've been playing around with drawing elephants using SQUIGGLE! by Kenza Hayashi. This is my favorite doodling book ever.

Finally, here's a poem I wrote called "Let's Celebrate the Elephant," that's metaphor-heavy (!) and appears in THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR CELEBRATIONS selected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.


Let's Celebrate the Elephant

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it's gray-sky,
dumptruck body
perched on treestump legs,

it's impeccable,
flexible hosepipe trunk
framed by sailboat ears.

And let's not forget
that swishing,
twitching flyswatter tail

bringing up the rear!

- Irene Latham


Thanks for reading! If you have a favorite elephant book or poem, please share in comments! xo

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Happy is as Happy Does: One Little Word for 2019

a little bit of Happy
I found at breakfast on
Christmas morning! :)
Hello! It's nice to be back after the holiday break -- which, in all these years of blogging, I have never taken until this holiday season! 

It's been refreshing to step back, to enjoy simple pleasures with my family without feeling pressured to email or Tweet or blog about it. 
(This pressure, of course, is self-generated. No one is making me keep an active digital life! So the limit-setting was an experiment, and you know what? I really liked it!)

And now here we are, gathering for our first Spiritual Journey Thursday of the new year. Be sure to visit Ruth at there is no such thing as a godforsaken town for Roundup! Traditionally this is the time we reveal our new One Little Words -- a practice I myself have been keeping since 2008. 

I've known since mid-November what my 2019 One Little Word would be... sometimes a word just calls and calls, refusing to budge. This one is like that! 



Actually, that graphic feels a bit much for the feeling of "happy" I am going for... I think my happy is more soft, sunshine-y yellows and flower blossoms and fuzzy kittens, but this will do for today. :)

I am drawn to the word "Happy," because I believe happiness is a choice. I think we can cultivate it in our lives. We can choose Happy each and ever moment.  

I'm not the only one who feels this way. Consider the following quotes:

"Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be." - Abraham Lincoln


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"It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will."
- L.M. Montgomery

How do you know if you're happy?
Take the quiz! And/or consider these quotes:


"Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."
- Joseph Addison 

"A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour." 
- Unknown

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Ways to Cultivate Our Happy:

"Living our life deeply and with happiness, having time to care for our loved ones, this is another kind of success, another kind of power, and it is much more important." 
- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Precisely the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a flash, a moment – a little makes the way of the best happiness." 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

"With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come." 
-William Shakespeare

"Perfectionism is the enemy of happiness. Embrace being perfectly imperfect. Learn from your mistakes and forgive yourself, you’ll be happier. We make mistakes because we are imperfect. Learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself, and keep moving forward."
- Roy T. Bennett

"Happiness is a function of accepting what is." 
- Werner Erhard

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up."
- Mark Twain 


"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
- Dalai Lama

Some Ways I'm Bringing Happy Into My Life This Year:
Daily readings from A Year of Tiny Pleasures calendar
Daily readings from SING A SONG OF SEASONS
Participating in the Bas Bleu book club
More just-because-we-want-to travel with my husband
Less travel-for-books
Serving my community by running a reading series
Serving my community by continuing to facilitate a Wild Reader (kids) Book Club at our local library
Continuing many of my favorite writing practices, including ARTSPEAK!
Embarking on a new writing journey based on THE BUTTERFLY HOURS by Patty Dann memoir assignments (I'll be posting these here throughout the year!)
... and who knows what else?? I am leaving room for Happy to find me.



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