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Guest post and giveaway: Irene Latham

October 11, 2012

A while ago I read, and adored, Leaving Gee’s Bend so I’m really excited to see that the author has a new book coming out – Don’t Feed the Boy will be released on October 16.  I’m thrilled to welcome Irene Latham here today with a guest post that most parents will be able to relate to.

Education: NOT One Size Fits All

One of my earliest memories is being on an airplane with my four siblings while my mother quizzed us with math flashcards. We were traveling the world after a 2 ½ year stint in Saudi Arabia. The only way to continue our education was for her to teach us herself—a unique version of homeschooling.

In my new novel DON’T FEED THE BOY, the main character Whit is also in a unique version of homeschooling: his zoo director mother and elephant keeper father have hired a private teacher, Ms. Connie, to homeschool him at the zoo. The entire zoo is his classroom, and he has never attended traditional school.

While this might be a great situation for another child, it’s not working out so well for Whit. He’s lonely. He longs for a different experience—one that involves friends his own age, not exotic animals that never talk back. Even though he loves Ms. Connie, he needs something else. But his parents just can’t see it.

As a parent myself, I went into the education of my three sons with some pretty set ideas. We chose our neighborhood based on the quality of the local public schools—some of the best in our state. It never occurred to me that my kids might need something different than what we were providing them. In that way I was very much like Whit’s mother Vivian.

Then along came boy #2 and 2nd grade. He wasn’t being challenged enough in math and spelling, and he had some behavior issues. One teacher was sure he had ADD and suggested he needed to be medicated. Another teacher said he was just a bored gifted kid—just as troublesome in a public school setting. After much talk and turmoil, we decided we didn’t want to medicate our square peg child just so he could fit in the round hole. I remembered my mother and those flashcards. I decided to bring him home.

We had a great year together, an unforgettable year. We took the unschooling approach which allowed my son to pursue whatever he was interested in. We went on lots of field trips. We had neat projects and great talks and fabulous time together. Yet by spring, he started talking about going back to “regular” school. As great as our homeschool experience had been, he longed for friends in the same way that Whit does.

Since then we’ve had even more adventures in education. I opted to place boy #3 in a Montessori school to finish out 5th grade, and by 6th grade we both wanted to homeschool. But we did it with a goal in mind: acceptance at a special public fine arts school. Boy #3 is a percussionist and so passionate about drums that he spent as much as 3 hours a day practicing. He was accepted and started at the school this past August.

It’s going well for him. Yet I no longer take it for granted that one situation or another will work for the duration. We take it semester by semester. Meanwhile, our oldest son? He’s a senior at the public high school. He’s successfully attended K-12 without interruption or deviation.

If I’ve learned anything from my parenting journey, it’s that different kids need different things. And we as parents need to be aware of and open to those possibilities. This book—Whit, with all his intelligence and humor and empathy—allowed me to explore these issues. I hope I’ve left Whit in a place where he belongs—at least for now.


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

Thanks to Blue Slip Media, I have a copy of Don’t Feed the Boy to give away to one lucky reader.   To enter to win a copy of DON’T FEED THE BOY, simply fill out the entry form.  Contest is open to US residents only– one entry per person, please.  I will use to determine the winner. Contest ends at midnight EDT Thursday, October 18, 2012.   Winner will be announced on Friday, October 19, 2012.  Comments are welcome (and appreciated) but will not get you an entry in the contest.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2012 6:31 am

    Enjoyed this guest post! Homeschooling has an undeserved reputation for being done only by cranks and weirdos, but some relatively normal people have tried it too!

    • October 11, 2012 7:46 am

      Thanks, Laurie -I know some really passionate, committed and creative homeschool folks. I appreciate you looking beyond the stereotype. We’re lucky we live in a place where we have options. Thanks for reading!

  2. October 11, 2012 7:48 am

    Thank you so much for having me! I do hope you enjoy meeting Whit — if nothing else, he and Ludelphia have that “go your own way” mentality in common. 🙂

  3. October 11, 2012 8:25 am

    I had some very similar experiences keeping my kids in public school in Ohio, although we let the younger one skip third grade instead of home schooling him. It’s sobering how readily teachers recommend medicating a kid–especially a boy–instead of challenging him.

    • October 11, 2012 4:20 pm

      Jeanne, you are so right… and I understand it from the teacher’s side too: they are under so much pressure when numbers and scores count for so much — who has time to deal with a “special” kid? It’s a real problem. Incidentally, I, too, skipped a grade (and I turned out just fine!). 🙂

  4. talesofwhimsy permalink
    October 11, 2012 9:34 am

    I love that you’re willing to do what each child needs. Seeing them as individuals with independent needs. Bravo!

    • October 11, 2012 4:21 pm

      Thank you for reading — it’s not an easy road! Parenthood is just full of surprises, isn’t it. 🙂

  5. October 11, 2012 10:11 am

    Thank Heaven for square pegs! They make our lives interesting. I’m anxious to read your new book.

    • October 11, 2012 4:22 pm

      Thank Heaven for square pegs, indeed! Thank you for that. And for reading! I hope you enjoy Whit’s adventures.

  6. October 11, 2012 10:55 am

    O, how I love Irene.

  7. October 11, 2012 12:05 pm

    Thank you for hosting this giveaway, Kathy! I’ll post it in my blog’s sidebar. As for the guest post, it is interesting and informative–education should be tailored to the child as much as possible. Each child is a unique person with different strengths and learning styles.

    • October 11, 2012 4:24 pm

      Suko, thank you for stopping by! Every time I think I’ve got things figured out with this parenting/education thing, I find out, um, no, in fact, there’s another door, over here, in the back, that you didn’t see! I hope you enjoy Whit’s story.

  8. October 11, 2012 12:10 pm

    I totally agree with a parent looking at what their child needs over what other people try to herd them into, and loved this guest post. It’s excellent that all of her children got what they needed in such different ways, but they all turned out so wonderfully.

    • October 11, 2012 4:26 pm

      Thank you so much for stopping by! And yay for going against the herd, when it’s necessary. Happy reading!

  9. therelentlessreader permalink
    October 11, 2012 3:16 pm

    Thank you for such a wonderful guest post! It resonated with me because of my youngest daughters similar issues. My two oldest kids did well in public school. My youngest daughter has been homeschooled for the last few years. Each child IS different and a one size fits all attitude towards education isn’t realistic.

    • October 11, 2012 4:27 pm

      Oh, therelentlessreader, you are a kindred soul! Lucky daughter, yours. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  10. Patty permalink
    October 11, 2012 3:57 pm

    The author seems to have found that perfect balance that made everyone happy!

    • October 11, 2012 4:28 pm

      Hi Patty, and here’s to balance! We certainly strive for it, and isn’t that half of it at least? Really, it’s just being open-minded and looking around corners and not settling for the status quo. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  11. October 11, 2012 4:29 pm

    That is a great reminder that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to our children. I think I’m guilty of that sometimes.

  12. October 11, 2012 5:20 pm

    This sounds like such a sweet book, and I enjoyed hearing the author’s inspiring parenting experiences. Good food for thought.

  13. October 11, 2012 6:36 pm

    Great guest post! I loved reading about the author’s different experiences with her three kids. The book sounds fabulous too!

  14. Beth F permalink
    October 11, 2012 7:50 pm

    What a fantastic post. It’s so true that in education one size does not fit all.

  15. October 11, 2012 8:27 pm

    Everything she said is so true. Not every school fits every kid. I’m so glad that she had to options for her sons!!

  16. October 16, 2012 1:53 pm

    Thanks for the great guest post! Although Gage is only 2 (well, almost) my mind is open to the many schooling options, stemming from his inability to sit through a library storytime anymore. If I weren’t his mother I would recommend medication, haha.

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