Author Spotlight: Irene Latham

May 21, 2021

We are pleased to feature author Irene Latham and her latest middle grade novel, D-39: A ROBODOG'S JOURNEY (Charlesbridge, May 18, 2021). Enter to win a copy below!

Illustrator: Jamie Green
Designer: Cathleen Schaad

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

My first bits of writing (at age four) were love poems—for my mother. I'm a shy person, so I wrote furtively for many years, though with lots of encouragement from my parents. It never occurred to me to pursue writing as a career, even though I was constantly writing. It wasn't until I was in the throes of motherhood (we have three sons) that I decided to educate myself about how to get published. So I started with my first love: poetry. For adults. And I had some lovely success, including publishing in literary journals and anthologies, winning a chapbook contest, and publishing three collections. But I was always tinkering with children's fiction—because I've been an avid reader of it my whole life— and when I attended my first SCBWI conference, I knew I was in the right place! I signed with Rosemary Stimola, and Putnam/Penguin bought my first book for kids, a middle-grade historical fiction novel called Leaving Gee's Bend. I earned an MFA from generous, gifted editor Stacey Barney, and we've worked together on many projects since then (and more in the pipeline).


Congrats on your forthcoming middle-grade novel, D-39: A Robodog's Journey! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.

D-39 is dystopian middle grade about what happens when real dogs are outlawed, and a lonely girl who likes to tinker discovers a robodog. There's also a war, and a neighbor boy, and a missing mother—and a journey, obviously! It was inspired by my love of books like The Giver and The Road and movies like Star Wars (droids!) and The Sixth Sense (I LOVE to be surprised, and D-39 has a BIG secret!). It was also inspired by my interest (obsession) with the Middle East (I lived there as a young child), particularly Syria, and my curiosity about what it means to be a hero—I wrote the book to find out my own answer.

You write across a lot of age ranges as well as poetry. How do you decide what form a story or idea takes? Do you have a typical creative day?

I tend to do my best writing in the morning, and I determine pretty quickly what age group a project is best for. Nearly everything starts out as poetry for me, so often it takes me a while (and a lot of experimental writing!) to figure out what works best. I've learned to let myself PLAY, and to be really open to what presents itself to me—to at least TRY whatever calls to me. For instance, I knew D-39 was a middle-grade novel, and I wanted to see if dystopian would work in the verse format. I started with traditional poems with line breaks, but over time the poems transformed to boxy prose poems—which in my mind resemble the “burrow” Klynt, her father, and D-39 shelter in during part of the story. The shape provides a sense of safety in a dystopian world that also has a BUNCH of made-up words! (I had SO MUCH FUN inventing words for this world!)

What projects are you working on now?

During 2021 I'm chipping away every day at a project that feels like my life's work. It's for adults, and it's a huge undertaking, and I am alternately overwhelmed/deflated/ready to give up and ecstatic/energized/fulfilled by the process. I have a proposal for the completed project on submission, so we'll see what happens!

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same as you'd give to aspiring authors? 

A writing friend gifted me some words I keep very close, and I find them powerful for younger me as well as today-me and anyone who's ever felt called to write: Keep writing. It's what the world needs most from you.

What is something most people don't know about you?

I got off Facebook in 2011—ten years ago!— and look! I'm still writing, publishing, and sharing my books to groups of all kinds. (Did I mention I am a shy person?) I'm also currently on a Twitter hiatus that very well may be permanent. 

Where can people find you online?

My website: has upwards of 90 pages of content! And I've been an active blogger (since 2005!) at D-39 book trailer, Discussion Guide, and activity sheet are now available. Also, readers can view hundreds of poems through my (free!) ARTSPEAK project (poems inspired by art). This year's theme is “Four Seasons.” 

Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the co-authored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

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  1. Irene is a talented writer and poet. I love learning from her words!

  2. I have been loving novels in verse and have been inspired to think about trying more poetry in the future. I love the premise of this book and just added it to my Goodreads TBR. Stories with dogs are my favorites as dogs are amazing, loyal and loving creatures.

  3. OMG, a robodog would be so cool. Brilliant idea. Thanks!

  4. Book looks great, look forward to reading it!

  5. I think we'd enjoy learning how things work out with robo-doggy!


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