Book review: Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. Illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 39 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5124-0442-5. Ages 8 -12. P7 Q8

This collection of poems encapsulates the interactions that happen between a pair of middle schoolers – a white girl and a black boy. The freestyle poems capture a variety of moments from each child’s point of view, from attending church, to dealing with other students on the bus, to incidents on the news, and dinner with the family. The poems capture the complex feelings of the children, from wanting to fit in, to different ways our parents try to protect us, and forgiving our friends for their misunderstandings as we learn to navigate the issue of race.

This collection reads more as a series of single-page journal entries than as poetry, but the dichotomies that are introduced are important. The POV approach to discussing different experiences around similar topics works well to highlight how different people have different understandings around similar topics. The illustrations are simple and the text is the central focus on each page.

VERDICT: A strong choice for discussions about race in a way that allows for personal interpretation.

May 2018 review by Sudi Stodola.

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