I adore Irene Latham and not just because she included a poem inspired by Hattie Big Sky in her collaboration with Charles Waters, Dictionary for a Better World, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, published by Carolrhoda Books (pages 22-23, in case you’re interested). Irene embraces the fullness of writing in ways I much admire and long to emulate. And even when she writes a dystopian middle grade novel, she offers hope, as evidenced in D-39: A Robodog’s Journey, just out from Charlesbridge Books.
Top 3 Reasons Why I Write Dystopian (and You Should Too)
Hey hi ho there.
While I’ve written poetry, historical fiction, realistic fiction, and nonfiction, for just about every age group, D-39: A Robodog’s Journey is my first dystopian middle grade novel.
- I love a new challenge. Put another way: I get bored easily. And I’m interested in a lot of things. So writing a dystopian tale was a way for me to stretch as a storyteller.
- I enjoy “writing on the edge.” In dystopian settings, it’s the future, and the future is BAD. Which means those inhabiting that setting are facing, often on a daily basis, decisions that reveal what’s most important to them. What relationships matter most? What would you take with you? What dreams carry you through the hard times? I love digging around in these kinds of questions! It helps me learn and process things about myself.
- Writing dystopian allows a space for my real-life obsessions to intersect with my imagination. I have an obsession with the Middle East, no doubt because I spent part of my childhood there. Specifically I’ve been following and trying to understand the (very complex) Syrian War. In this book I was able to use elements of the Syrian War as a framework for the plot—and then I filled in everything else in with my imagination: dogs outlawed! Robodogs! Klynt’s Museum of Fond Memories. The deathstretch and panchobeans and Everlake! (There’s a whole lexicon of invented words in the book.) What an opportunity for freedom and fun!
Of course there were also challenges. I’ve really been focused on poetry and picture books for the past decade – this is my first middle grade novel since 2012! So it took me a while (years!) to complete. While it was important to me to create a dystopian world, I didn’t want it to be terribly dark or violent. This meant keeping some things off-stage and creating main characters who are hopeful problem-solvers. I promise you there are some great surprises in this book… and the journey ends with a beginning (as every journey should!).
Like the narrator says in the book trailer, I hope you’ll “join the journey… read the book!”
Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored 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.