Latham, Irene and Charles Waters. Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. Poetry. Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, Illus. Carolrhoda, 01/2018. 40pp. $17.99. 978-1-5124-0442-5. OUTSTANDING .GRADES 2-6.
This book of poems ambitiously tackles the issues of race and stereotypes from two children’s points of view. Irene, a white girl, and Charles, a black boy, have been assigned to be partners for a poetry project at school. Each double page spread features a poem from each child’s point of view on a related topic: feeling left out on the playground; attempts to cross invisible racial lines; police brutality; or simply what kind of shoes they’d like to have. This format creates many opportunities for readers to relate to both characters’ feelings while learning more about what it is like to be from a different background. Meanwhile, authors Irene Latham (who is white) and Charles Waters (who is black) create enough detail and depth to their characters that they feel like real children who don’t necessarily shoulder the burden of representing their entire race. They are their own people, and the poems consequently succeed in making readers feel for them and think about all our differences. Simple, childlike artwork created from acrylic paint, colored pencil, and collage serve well to illustrate the action and emotions of each poem, but do not enhance the text beyond what is written. It is the poems that speak the loudest and are sure to spark both individual reflection and group discussion.
Renee Ting, Independent