Monday, September 1, 2014


Happy release day to DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST And Other Poems from the Water Hole by Irene Latham!

Spend a day at the water hole on the African grasslands.

Welcome wildebeest
and beetle,
oxpecker and lion.
This water hole is yours.
It offers you oasis
beside its shrinking shores.

From dawn to nightfall, animals come and go at the water hole. Giraffes gulp, wildebeest graze, impalas leap, vultures squabble and elephants wallow. With warm, imaginative illustrations by Anna Wadham, lyrical poems are accompanied by facts to introduce readers to the wonders of the water hole.

"Latham's finely crafted verse, at once humorous and serious, dazzlingly opens the imagination to the wilds of the world."
- Kirkus Reviews / STARRED

"well-crafted poems...charming illustrations...a strong choice." - School Library Journal / STARRED

Order your copy today!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident

Poster by Mary Engelbreit. See her post and link
to purchase to help the family of Michael Brown.
"...That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

I really wanted to write about freedom as a writer. How scary it is for me, someone who struggles with focus and doesn’t see the obvious path in a story. When you have infinite choices, it can be a problem. But, because of what happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner and all the people whose names I don't know because we have no national reporting system for Police shootings in this country, I felt I needed to talk about Freedom in a bigger way.

I grew up in an urban area where there was a significant amount of diversity. It’s fair to say I was picked on because of my white skin, red hair and freckles. I was called, “goat, whitey, cracker, spots” and other fun things that made me feel different and isolated. However, when I left school every day and went into the larger world? I took my white skin with me. I knew that, even then.

When I was eight, a couple moved in next door. Tim and Carol. They were kind and laughed a lot and I don’t quite remember how I found my way over to their apartment. Tim taught me how to play dominoes and Carol taught me how to do the hustle. Then, they would both sit on the couch, endlessly, and cheer me on as I butchered the dance moves. They were also fond of Barbara Streisand and they played her records for me. Over and over and over. Carol dug out a microphone (actually, she probably went out and bought it), and plugged it in so I could sing “Evergreen” in stereo. Over and over and over. I’m sure the neighbors loved it. They fed me snacks and chased me with pillows and we watched silly television together. They own a piece of who I am as a writer because they offered a place for me to escape to.

As a kid, I always wondered why they left their door wide open while I was there.

Now I understand.

Perhaps any couple would have done that. Being alone with a child could open you up to all sorts of accusations. But I don’t think so.
They were black. And I was white.

I’ve thought about this often over the years. And I’ve wondered what my responsibility is. Is acknowledging my white privilege enough? What about raising my three daughters to be compassionate, to stand up for what they believe is right. Is that enough?

I don’t know.
Article from Vanity Fair talking about how they are to
retrain police after the killing of Eric Garner because of an
illegal choke hold.

But here is one small something we can do. While reading articles on the internet over the last few weeks, I discovered that we have no organization, federal or state, who oversees police shootings. No one is tracking it. Not the FBI or the CIA or anyone you might think would be responsible to follow such things. If this isn't an example of the ostrich with it's head deep in the sand, I don't know what is. How are we supposed to hold people accountable and fix what, obviously, isn't working, if we don't compile this data?

There is movement called Fatal Encounters, people who have come together to try and compile data on police shootings covering the years from 2011-2013. They are crowdsourcing, so we can all help. Go here for more information. You don't have to give anything but a small amount of time. One scary statistic reported by the Los Angeles Times said that almost 10% of gun deaths in Los Angeles County in 2011 were police shootings. The article is here.

When I see wrong in the world, it bothers me to know I can’t change it, or change people. I know I can’t fix racism or the amount of people who die in police shootings. But. I can do my part by not looking the other way. I can speak up. I can continue to support my kids when they speak up. I can be open to diversity in my stories and support others who do the same. I can honor the freedom I’ve been given instead of blending in, being invisible.

Too many people are invisible. Too many people do nothing. Let’s not be those people.

Let’s honor our freedom.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Tenth Requisite: Freedom by Jen Cervantes

Johann Woflgang von Goethe wrote:
“Nine requisites for contented living:
Health enough to make work a pleasure.
Wealth enough to support your needs.
Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them.
Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them.
Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished.
Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor.
Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others.
Faith enough to make real the things of God.
Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future.”
I add a tenth: and the absolute freedom to experience it all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ferguson and Freedom

Like many people this summer, I've been watching the events in Ferguson, MO and at U.S. detention centers with more dismay and grief than I can properly express in a blog post.  But since this month's theme is on freedom, I'd like to try to say something coherent here.

When we talk about freedom, we often talk about the freedoms we receive--and less often about the freedom that we give.

The most basic freedom that we give others is recognizing and honoring the fact that they are human just as we are.  Even when they look different.  Even when they talk in a language we don't understand.  Even when their history is different than ours.  Even when they have beliefs that we don't share.  Even when we are uncertain around them, even when we feel intimidated, and even when we are scared.

And we owe this to everyone because just as we are the protagonists of our own life story, they are the protagonists of theirs--which means we don't get to treat them like throwaway characters or extras or red shirts.  We treat them like the people that they are, and we hope they treat us like people too.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monthly Theme: Right To Write vs. Write To Right by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

In last year's anthology BREAK THESE RULES, I wrote about listening as something active that can move one toward justice, as a preparation, giving oneself a chance to let things simmer, breathe, and be transformed. In a sort of Part Two to that piece, I had the opportunity to contribute to IMAGINE IT BETTER: Visions of What School Might Be ((also edited by the wonderful Luke Reynolds -- read his fabulous A CALL TO CREATIVITY, it's great stuff.) This time I wrote about writing instruction in schools; going beyond rubrics and formulas and formats to also give young writers freedom and space explore, to explain, to wonder, to wrestle. Writing instruction can be an authentic invitation to "Say what you mean and mean what you say," to own one's work in myriad ways. Perhaps an emphasis on writing for empowerment will encourage students to trust their voices and tell their stories, to write for analysis, agency, and empathy. To stretch their imaginations into the beyond (Wang 2009). I believe that by transforming writing instruction, we can nurture learners who ask questions -- learners who never stop learning. If we want to nurture thinkers, makers, collaborators, and leaders...let's write.
The other essays in the collection are amazing -- even if you're not a classroom teacher, I urge you to check it out and spend some time thinking about education (of all kinds) in American culture, what it is, and what it could be. Can you tell how honoured I was to be included in this group!

Monday, August 25, 2014


My dog Jake on a walk: what freedom looks like.
When I got my master’s, my mom encouraged me to stay home and devote full-time attention to my writing.  Chalk it up to the fact that I was only 24—or to the fact that I was a straight-A, never-failed-at-anything-before type-A kind of gal—or to the fact that I’d already published a few short pieces—but I honestly thought I’d have no problems publishing a novel.  I was green and a bit full of myself, probably.  And I was 100% confident it’d take a year to so to write a novel, it’d sell, and I’d be off and running.

Try seven and a half.  Seven and a half long years to get my first yes.  (And a horrible time, about four years into it, when I questioned everything, and nearly gave up my pursuit of becoming a novelist completely.)

When I landed that first deal, I was green and a bit full of myself, probably.  I was “in” the publishing world, I thought, and was 100% confident that my struggles would be behind me.

Since then, I’ve gotten good reviews and crummy reviews.  I’ve sold work and struggled to sell work.  I’ve been excited by sales numbers and disappointed by sales numbers.  I’ve won awards and lost awards.  Those close to me have been excited by book releases and have also, in some cases, refused to read my books.  I’ve been offered author events and refused author events.  

I’m not so green anymore, and I do not expect any of that to stop anytime soon.

So often, as an author, it feels as though I’m constantly seeking others’ permission: permission to publish, permission to advertise, etc.  I’ve finally realized that one of the best things I can do for myself is give myself permission—and the same kind of no-holds-barred freedom my mom gave me when I got out of school.  Freedom to muck up a draft, toss it in the trash, and start again.  Freedom to try a new promo idea that may or may not work.  Freedom, most importantly, from the ridiculous notion that at some point in my career, everything will become smooth sailing.  It isn’t—it won’t—it’s writing.  It may very well be the hardest gig going—and the most exciting—and the only thing that makes me feel like me.  

I don’t know that the next book I write will be well received.  I don’t know that anyone will buy it.  Rather than a sure thing, publishing now feels to me like going to a party that I know could either be an utter disaster or the night of my life.  

But isn’t the thrill of the unknown really one of the most exhilarating parts of the whole process?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Smack-Dab-in-the-Classroom: AVATAR--Using Middle Grade Books in the Classroom by author Dia Calhoun

Why did I devour books in middle school? Because I loved to imagine I was the book's hero/heroine--or sometimes another character. What fun it would be to have students adopt a character they admire as an Avatar, or secret identity, a character they want to emulate. For a day or a week, students could weigh their own actions/responses by thinking about what their chosen character might do in a similar situation. Here are a few examples:
  • A student must think her way out of a situation: He/she could ask: What would Violet do? (A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, Lemony Snicket)
  • A student needs to save someone he cares about who is feeling trapped. He/she could ask: What would Ivan do? (THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, Katherine Applegate)
  • A student needs courage. He/she could ask: What would Eckhart do? (AFTER THE RIVER THE SUN, Dia Calhoun)
  • A student must figure out something mysterious. He/she could ask: What would Zoomy do? (THE DANGER BOX, Blue Balliett)
  • A student is faced with a great temptation. He/she could ask what would Winnie do? (TUCK EVERLASTING Natalie Babbit) 
The student could then write an essay about his/her experience of living in the world from his/her admired character's point of view. I would have loved an assignment like this!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Freedom—Yikes! by Laurie Calkhoven

I have an active career as a freelance children’s book writer. As much as I enjoy that, I’m known to grumble a bit about the fact that I don’t have time to write “my” books. I finished Michael at the Invasion of France (the last of my Boys of Wartime novels) three years ago. Since then, I’ve been too busy to do more than think about writing anything of mine. Not that I’m complaining.

Then, I hit a freelance drought in the spring. I was busy with speaking engagements so I didn’t really notice at first. But suddenly this summer I had a lot of time on my hands.  And no paid work.

I’ve been asking for this for years, right? You’d think I’d be grateful (aside from the freaking out about money part). But like others who posted this month, and I’m quoting Bob Krech here, “the kind of freedom that was in front of me was a little scary.”

I sold the Boys of Wartime series in 2007. Ever since, everything I’ve written has been under contract. Not only was I facing a blank page. I was facing a blank page with no guarantee of income.

What was I going to write? What if nobody bought it? What if it turned out to be a big waste of time? Gradually, with lots of deep breaths and meditation, I pushed those questions and doubts aside and made a start. I tried to find the joy I had when I started my first novel, when simply the act of creating characters and story and putting words down on paper made me giddy with happiness. A time when I wasn’t dependent upon my writing for income.

It was a slow start. I had an idea, but not a lot of confidence. I tried to go through all the usual steps I take to start a novel, to get to know my characters. It wasn’t working. My process for this book turned out to be different from that for all of my other novels. I had to stop trying to force things and simply let it come. By the middle of the draft, once I got out of my own way, I found myself laughing at the things my character was getting up to. I found the joy in discovery.

Two weeks ago I turned over a complete first draft of Roosevelt Banks, Good-Boy-in-Training to my critique group. Tonight, with their help, I’ll start thinking about how to revise it.

Yay, freedom. But also, yikes!  And now I’m ready for a new freelance job.