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.


Book review: Runny Babbit Returns, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein

Silverstein, Shel. Runny Babbit Returns. HarperCollins, 2017. $19.99. ISBN 9780062479396. 89 pages. Ages 5-10.  P7 Q9

If you like tongue-twisting word play, you will enjoy Runny Babbit Returns, a collection of forty-one poems and drawings that were assembled from the completed but unpublished works in the Silverstein archive. Featuring Shel Silverstein’s style, this New York Times bestselling poetry book was awarded Amazon Best Book of 2017 and Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2017. This story is filled with spoonerism poems following Runny Babbit and some of his friends, Goctor Doose, Dungry Hog, and Skertie Gunk, as they have adventures. Some of the poems are simple to understand and others are a little more difficult. The illustrations are black and white with large characters. Children who have a good grasp of language will enjoy the challenge of figuring out the poems.

Verdict: I read this book to kindergarten, first and second grade students. The children who enjoyed the poems really liked them. The other children caught on as the children shouted out what the poem was supposed to say. The children’s eyes lit up when they were able to decipher what was trying to be said. Over half of the students in each class said they would check out the book to read with their families. This poetry book would be a good addition to any public and elementary school library. has an event kit which includes reproducible Storytime activities, exploring poetry, a decorative event poster and even Runny Babbit rabbit ears one can download that go along with this book.

March 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: I Am Loved: A Poetry Collection, poems by Nikki Giovanni, selected and illustrated by Ashley Bryan

Giovanni, Nikki. I Am Loved: A Poetry Collection. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan. “A Caitlyn Dlouhy book.” Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781534404922. Unpaged. Ages 6-10. P6 Q7

If you are looking for a collection of beautiful heartfelt poems that show love, this is the book for you. The message that you are loved comes through clearly, including young and old alike. Even though I do not think children will gravitate toward this book, children might like having the poems read to them. My favorite poem is the kidnap poem because it guides you through what would happen if you were “kid napped” by a poem.  The last page has a mirror so that the child can look in to see their own face. Some of the concepts will go over the heads of younger children. Illustrations include art from multiple eras: Tibetan mandalas, American quilts, Madhubani paintings and 1960’s psychedelia. As an adult, I appreciated many of the poems and the depth of them.

Verdict: This book combines art and poems with a focus on love and family. I recommend it for libraries with elementary age children and for public libraries.

February 2018 review by Tami Harris.


Book review: Full of Fall, by April Pulley Sayre

Sayre, April Pulley. Full of Fall. Beach Lane Books, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781481479844. 40 pages. Ages 4-8. P8 Q8

Simple poetry leads the reader through the progression of changing leaves as the landscape prepares for winter.

There is information at the end of the book on the science behind the changing colors and life cycle of leaves.  Photographic illustrations include close ups and far away shots highlighting the beauty of leaves. The words are simple, but combined with the pictures, it is an elegant picture book. Words create motion, “They float and sink. They snag and swirl.”

Verdict: This book makes a great addition to a library with young children. The colors are delightful, the words are simple, and the information at the back of the book helps the children learn about fall.

October 2017 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Wake Up!, by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder

Frost, Helen. Photographs by Rick Lieder. Wake Up! Candlewick Press, 2017.ISBN 9780763681494. $15.99. UNP. PreK-3. P5 Q8

Wake Up! is an inquisitive poem comprised of words and wildlife photographs. Each photograph is joined by one half of a sometimes-rhyming couplet. Helen Frost has previously published three books with a similar formula, also working with Rick Lieder. This newest one continues the “nature from a different perspective” theme of the series by including unusual shots of animals that are not likely to be observed by the hobbyist hiker or bird-watcher. This particular book would not be broadly recommended if not for the inclusion of additional information about each featured plant and animal. After the poem, a thumbprint of each photograph is followed by each organism’s name and a brief fact. This addendum greatly improves the usefulness of the book.

Verdict: Like the three previous books in the series, the photographs are very good. Though not the favorite in the series, this book would be a good addition to a nature lesson or poetry lesson in a PreK- 1st grade classroom.

September 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López

Engle, Margarita. Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics. Illustrated by Rafael López. Godwin Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2017. ISBN 9780805098761. Unpaged. $18.99. Ages 8-12. P7Q9.

Engle uses this beautiful book to bring our attention to a number of Hispanic people who lived in geographic regions that are now part of the US. It isn’t about the most famous Hispanics necessarily, but about people who “faced life’s challenges in creative ways.” Some of these figures include the Cuban poet José Martí, the first woman to pilot a powered aircraft, Aída de Acosta, jazz musician Tito Puente, and curandera (folk healer) Juana Briones. The book is organized chronologically by birthdate, with each person described with an illustration and poem in a spread. The poems are in free verse, and tell each inspirational person’s story in simple but evocative language. I really like the illustration style- it reminds me of political posters from an earlier time (in fact, the illustrator created the Nuestra Voz posters that were used in 2008 during the Obama presidential campaign). López is well known for his use of color and texture that reflects his native Mexico. There is an introductory letter, notes about the each of the individuals in the book, and a list of other amazing Latinos.

VERDICT: This book would be an outstanding addition to any public or school library, and could provide excellent material in a middle school or high school Spanish language classroom.

Engle, Margarita. Bravo! Poemas sobre hispanos extraordinarios. Illustrated by Rafael López. Henry Holt and Company/ Godwin Books, 2017. ISBN 9781250113665. Unpaged. $18.99. Ages 8-12. P7Q9.

I read the Spanish version alongside the English version. My Spanish isn’t good enough to comment on the quality of the poetry in Spanish, but it was a fun exercise to work through each poem. I can imagine the two versions being used side by side in Spanish classes or with Spanish speaking ESL students.

September 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Pomegranate Witch, by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Doyen, Denise. The Pomegranate Witch. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Chronicle Books, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781452145891. Unpaged. Ages 4-7. P7Q8

When the glowing red pomegranates hang heavy in the gnarled old tree and the old Pomegranate Witch who lives on the farm refuses to share the fruit, the local children declare war.  Told in rhyming text, with eerie, atmospheric watercolor and dip pen illustrations, this rollicking story of inventions and adventures is the perfect lead in to Halloween, when the Pomegranate Witch leaves for the night and the Kindly Lady takes over the farm to share the ripe and luscious pomegranates with the neighborhood children.

Verdict:  From the beginning to the endpapers, this lovely book is one to read and re-read.  Highly recommended for all children’s library collections.

September 2017 review by Jane Cothron.