Author Interview: Irene Latham

Today I have Irene Latham, author of Don't Feed the Boy, sharing a bit more about her writing and her fantastic middle grade novel.

Irene Latham is a poet and novelist who lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama. Her debut novel Leaving Gee's Bend was named a Bank Street College Best Book, a SIBA finalist, a Crystal Kite Finalist and ALLA's Children's Book of the Year. As a child she dreamed of being a zoo veterinarian and even trained as a teenage zoo volunteer. All it took was observing one surgery to convince her that perhaps she'd better just write about the animals instead. Visit her at


 Describe your book in five words or less. 

 adventure & friendship at the zoo

What has your road to publications been like? 

The road to publication has been surprising. I submitted this novel as the follow-up to my first novel LEAVING GEE’S BEND. My editor at Putnam thought it was “something special,” and was eager to take it to acquisitions. I thought it was a done deal! But no . . . the publisher thought the book was “too quiet,” and it was rejected. So, my agent next sent it to Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook Press where it was accepted for publication (with interior illustrations!) and embraced with much enthusiasm. I was so pleased when we landed with Stephanie Graegin for the art. Her drawings hit the perfect note of tender warmth.

How did the idea for Don't Feed the Boy come to you? 

I got the idea in a bookstore. My father and I were talking—he’s a voracious reader (Book Monster!) who consumes a book a day, which makes him a wonderful person to bounce ideas off of—and I was thinking about how we as parents have these obsessions, but what if our kids don’t share them? (Like the football family whose kid would rather be in the band.) I said to my father, “what about a boy who lives at the zoo and feels like he’s born the wrong species?” My father laughed. That’s how I knew I had a good idea.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?

I have two favorites: the beginning and the end. At the beginning, I love that feeling of being in love with a new idea. I very quickly create a rough plot and dash out three chapters—and then I hit a wall. Every time, it’s a struggle to push through the endless middle that includes finishing a first draft and revisions after revisions after revisions. And then there’s the end: connecting with readers! Just today I got an email that said, “p.s. I hope nothing bad happens to Stella.” Which means a reader is engaged, and now as co-conspirators, writer and reader, we get to share an experience through the pages of a book. It’s miraculous and wonderful and never ceases to create in me a sense of awe.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books? 

This Maya Angelou quote says it all: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Growth as a writer, and growth as a human being, is not always easy and is not always pretty. Characters like Whit in DON’T FEED THE BOY inspire me to keep moving forward in order to create the life (and books!) I want.

Thank you Irene for stopping by today! 


Kristen is the co-blog owner of The Book Monsters. Kristen is an Elementary School Library Media Specialist in the Chicago suburbs who loves reading. Why else would she be a librarian?

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4 responses to “Author Interview: Irene Latham

  1. Beth Cutwright

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I will be seeking this book for my adolescent grandsons! Sounds like we’ll all love it!

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