Friday, May 30, 2014

Harriet Tubman Poem

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit one of our Haiku Queens, Diane at Random Noodling!

Lots going on in my life right now as my husband and I shake off one long-standing (30+ years) business and board a different train bound for lands not yet known, but certainly dreamed of! We are exhausted and excited and eager for this new chapter.

Which is why I am sharing with you today a poem I wrote earlier this year for Scholastic's ACTION magazine. ACTION is a hi-lo mag -- high interest, low reading level. In celebration of Black History Month, they asked me to write something to accompany an article about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. (Speaking of lands not yet known, but certainly dreamed of!) Here's the result:

All Aboard the Freedom Train!
by Irene Latham

Come now passengers,
throw off your chains!

Take your place on the train
that runs underground.

Its wheels are people 
who arrange secret stations,

its whistle blows,

Follow Harriet --
your conductor, your guide.

Brave hunger and darkness
to outsmart your captors.

With a runaway's speed
and a locomotive's power,

time now
to steam into your future.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#bookaday Week One

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by Robin Herrera - Lots of surprises in this one for Star Mackie (whom her classmates call Star Trashy, because she lives in a trailer). She wants to start a club at school, and has misadventures... and then she discovers poetry. Love seeing a book with kids who are drawn to poetry!

Though not ALL the kids. Here's a quote:

"No offense, Star, but sometimes Emily Dickinson makes me sleepy."


Also love the Reader's Guide in the back. Here's an item to ponder:

9. Star is inspired by Emily Dickinson's poem, "Hope," also known as "Hope is the thing with feathers," and she discusses the idea of hope with many other characters in the book. Which charter's definition of hope do you like best? How would you describe hope?

Not a ferris wheel for me... maybe a seed unfurling in darkness, a tea kettle's whistle, sheets flapping on a clothesline... still thinking. :)


JANE IN BLOOM by Deborah Lytton is a new-to-me book that follows the story of Jane just-before and just-after the loss of her sister Lizzie to an eating disorder.

One of my own loved ones has an eating disorder, so I really felt the pain in this book... and also the hope and the beauty of the growth Jane experiences after the tragedy. Lovely storytelling... More books from Deborah, please!


MINN AND JAKE by Janet Wong is a new to me verse novel. I have it on good authority that Janet was more like the Jake character, in that she couldn't catch lizards without pulling their tails off! That works great for me, because I am totally the Minn character -- I am a lizard-catching expert, and I'm happy to share that skill with a special friend. :) A delightful read about friendship, perfect for the younger middle grade set. I'm just sorry it took me so long to discover it!


I picked up THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY not knowing the author Tracy Holczer and I share not only an agent, but editor as well! It's contemporary fiction about Grace, who is grieving her mother's death. There's art and poetry and growth going on -- and some lovely passages like these:

"Writing would help me through it, just like it always had. And where I used to think that writing was like the little hole in teakettle to let out steam, I figured it was more than that. I hoped the hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of words I wrote down would help me fill the empty place left by Mama and make me whole."

"Mama had always said that art was about letting yourself fly. But maybe that was just one way. Sometimes it took digging down deep and planting roots."

Friday, May 23, 2014

Poem about Barbara Johns, Civil Rights Hero

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Violet Nesdoly for Roundup.

What a busy week! Kids finished up school, I'm dog-sitting, we're in the final days of our old family business before closing our doors and moving on to the next, new chapter... and I put out an email newsletter! (What? Not on my newsletter list? Email me: to subscribe.)

I've got several poetry books in the queue to share with all of you, but today I want to share a poem I wrote for Scope magazine about Barbara Johns.

I knew nothing about Barbara when I was asked to write this poem, and now I can't learn enough about her! She was a pretty amazing young woman. Read all about her in the most recent edition of YES!, which happens to be one of my favorite magazines. Brown vs. Board of Education probably wouldn't have happened when it did if not for Barbara's leadership in a high school walk out and other efforts. Here's the poem:

Barbara Johns Reaches for the Moon

She steps onto the stage,
makes a bold declaration,


Without hesitation,
she illuminates the situation--

separate but not equal:
cracked toilets, smoke inhalation,

tar-paper shacks packed
with the student population.

Despite danger, despite trepidation,
she clings to the dream with determination,

joins the fight for integration.
Together they march

like constellations
across a midnight sky,

their combined shine inspiration
for a changing nation.

- Irene Latham

Monday, May 19, 2014

Friends Like Us

Some people don't understand how me and Pat can be such good friends.

She talks a lot; I'm quiet.
She's a country girl; I'm a city girl.
She reads long series of books; I like verse novels.

But our hearts are the same.

We both love family and puppies and quilts and pottery
and farm fresh eggs and art shows....

....and consider a trip to the Library Bookstore an extra-special delight....

...and know just what treat will get a gal through a black-cloud day!

Thank you, Pat for being a wonderful friend!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver, illus. by Tomie dePaola

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Liz Steinglass for Roundup.

When I was a little girl, the one thing I was absolutely sure of, was that someday I wanted to be a mother. I loved babies! It helped that I have two younger siblings, and I was a very busy babysitter for other people's children for many years. I really enjoyed our three sons when they were babies and still get such a kick out watching little ones in restaurants and Walmart. Even their tantrums are cute to me now! :) This book LITTLE POEMS FOR TINY EARS by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola really took me back... and I have already gifted it to a neighbor who has just welcomed a new baby boy.

What about you?? Love babies? Ever wonder what Baby is thinking when she drops the fork yet again? These poems are all told in Baby's voice, and they just might give you a clue. :) What fun!

Here's 3 of my favorites:


I like to drop food from my chair.
It lands kerplop, but I don't care.
I watch it fall down to the floor.
It's so much fun, I toss some more.

My mom says no, my dad says please
Stop launching bits of toast and cheese.
They're right - I will try hard to stop.
But first...just one more small kerplop!

- Lin Oliver


Without my blankie,
Me so cranky.
When it's by me,
Me all smiley.

- Lin Oliver


A sneeze
is a breeze
Your Nose.

- Lin Oliver

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Monday night we had a Schmooze in Birmingham led by author-illustrator Lori Nichols, author of the charming picture book MAPLE, and a slew of others coming in the near future.

The topic was "Author-Illustrator Exchange: What We Want from Each Other" or something along those lines. :) I chose the topic because I've noticed in my career that part of what we authors must do is make our project so appealing to the illustrator that s/he can't say no. I mean, who wants their wonderful ms to languish after being acquired? Yet, that does happen. So what can we authors do to make our work irresistible?

Well. It's not as simple as that, of course. Lori reminded us that each illustrator has his or her own personal interests and strengths. Lori loves white space, and humor, so she may not be the best choice for a serious underwater sea life book. It helps to work with an editor who has good instincts for illustration and who is familiar with a lot of illustrators' work.

One thing that may surprise you: Lori said she personally really appreciates author illustration notes. If your book is about a bird in prehistoric times, for instance, it's fine to include a link to an image of a prehistoric bird. Or, if there's something you've deliberately left out of your text to be covered by illustration, of course, include it. My hunch is that mostly we are given the advice NOT to include illustration notes in order to show that we don't have rigid ideas about the art and that we are eager to allow an artist the freedom to bring what they will to the project. I mean, seriously, that's where the magic happens -- in the interaction of the words and images. At least that's been my experience!

Big thanks to Lori for sharing herself with us.. and to Joan, for hosting as well as posting this wonderful review of Lori's book MAPLE (which is completely adorable and beautiful).

Monday, May 12, 2014

Movie Monday: ALL IS LOST

I love a good survival story. And since I've been writing a survival story, I knew as soon as I saw the ad that I needed to see ALL IS LOST.

What's amazing about this movie: aside from the opening narration, which the movie gets back to eventually, there is only one other word of dialogue in the entire film. We don't know our hero's backstory. And yet we still care very much about what happens to him.

Like all good survival stories, this one made me clench and tense pretty much the entire time. Little decisions are magnified, the worst happens. We worry and fret and see things coming.

And, it's gorgeous. The ocean, the sky. How Redford's expressions and actions show us his feelings. Really, really fantastic. Will watch again!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis & Douglas Florian

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jama's Alphabet Soup for Roundup.

Wow, how is it already the second Poetry Friday in May?? Wowza, time flying and all that goodness. I've been traveling and enjoying the sweet company of poets and attending youngest son's music concerts and sewing and writing and cooking and dreaming and wishing and listening to birds and....

reading poetry! Today I have for you a look at POEM-MOBILES. J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian have brought us an imaginative collection with amazing illustrations by Jeremy Holmes. Dreamer/inventor/creative kids will enjoy imagining these modes of transportation... fun!

Here's a favorite from each of the poets:

Mini-Mini Car
by Douglas Florian

I'm in my motorcar-
My mini-mini-mini.
It's itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny,
Skinny skinny skinny.
I squeeze inside and then I ride
Some more and more and more.
But I don't brag, for there's a snag;
I can't get out of the door.

High-Heel Car
by J. Patrick Lewis

There was an old woman
Who lived in high heels.
She loved one so much
That she gave it three wheels.

That's how the size-84
Shoe-car was born.
She wins every footrace,
Then honks her shoehorn.

Honks her shoehorn! Ha! :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Time Management for Writers

Here in Birmingham we've started a monthly SCBWI schmooze -- something I have wanted to do for several years now! Last month's topic was "Time Management for Writers."

The fact that I am just now getting to this blog post may tell you a little something about my time management skills! Actually, it has more to do with a little thing called National Poetry Month. Yep, April is madness! In the best way possible, of course. :)

So, time management. Our speaker was the amazing Javacia Bowser, founder of See Jane Write. One day when we were having lunch Javacia told me that she schedules her day sometimes to the HOUR. She even schedules phone conversations! Ah-ha, I thought. Here's a gal who knows how to get things done! Which is why I invited her to share her wisdom at our schmooze.

Another thing to note: Javacia posted on her blog about the schmooze the day after the event. I'm telling you, we can all learn a lot from her!

Here's my top 5 take-aways:

1. Use a dayplanner. Javacia likes the ones that are both daily and monthly. She uses the daily portion to list her tasks for the day. I have long used a giant desk calendar-- and sticky notes for the lists. I'm loving my new all-in-one approach... plus it's portable!

2. Try the Pomodoro method. It's an app for your phone. It's based on the principle that you can increase productivity by taking breaks. The app uses a timer so you don't have to think about it -- just write. And then take a break. More here.

3. Think of writing like brushing your teeth. You wouldn't go a whole day without brushing your teeth, would you? Well, treat your writing like that and you will get a whole lot more writing done. No excuses!

4. Being a good writer may mean being bad at something else. So, maybe your house won't get clean. Or you'll feed your family peanut butter sandwiches instead of cooking. That's okay. Give yourself permission to let something else go a little.

5. Write a personal mission statement to serve as your guide. It's hard sometimes to know when to say YES and when to say NO to something. Javacia suggested writing your very own mission statement, and then, when those invitations/opportunities come around, see if they fit your mission. If not, say NO and don't feel bad about it.

Thank you, Javacia, for a great session! May's schmooze topic is "Author-Illustrator Exchange," during which Lori Nichols will lead a talk about what illustrators wish authors knew and vice versa. I will post notes eventually. :)