Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship

1 Mar

34007179.jpgSynopsis: How can Irene and Charles work together on their fifth grade poetry project? They don’t know each other . . . and they’re not sure they want to.

Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional setup to delve into different experiences of race in a relatable way, exploring such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners. Accompanied by artwork from acclaimed illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (of The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage), this remarkable collaboration invites readers of all ages to join the dialogue by putting their own words to their experiences.” (Taken from Goodreads)

14956040_836186526417817_896742680190742366_nReview: I was really excited to read this book after I heard how the authors wrote this book – by sending poetry back and forth over email. And what I really found interesting was that this book not only has two authors, but also has two illustrators, both who I admire for their mixed media and collage style. But, I’ll admit what really drew me to this book was the title.  My partner has locs that reach all the way down his back to his waist and on more than one occasion he’s dealt with people walking up to him and touching his hair (very similarly to when people touch a pregnant woman’s belly) without asking. He’s an extrovert and journalist, so he’s able to take control of the situation pretty quickly, but I find it remarkable how invasive people feel they can be (especially complete strangers).

Another example, my aunt has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair and is also nonverbal and even as young kid, I’d recognize the pointed stares of others kids while on vacation or just walking around the mall. I can remember once instance while on the metro in DC and my mom telling a child (who was staring) “She has a disability which is why she can’t walk and uses a wheelchair to get around.” I honestly don’t remember the child’s reaction, but in my head that was the best way to handle the situation – acknowledge the difference, explain the accommodation and move on. Granted, this acknowledgement can get old if it’s done over and over again during a person’s life, but that brings up the point of how else will a child learn?

Parents and other adults in a child’s life can provide context for teaching kids about similarities and differences in the world and books are a great way to start a conversation. I think this is an amazing title to share with kids who want to learn more about people who are different from themselves. For a long time, parents have tried the approach , “We don’t see color.” Well, people are different colors, different cultures, different abilities, etc. and if kids don’t have conversations with the adults in their world about these differences, how can we expect them to accept them and understand them? Most kids I know may have a few questions, but once they learn, they’re pretty accepting of differences. This was a really interesting book and one that is definitely geared toward the older elementary school and middle school student – one that would be a great book to share a poem or two to start a conversation and maybe a poetry project as well.

Title: Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship
Authors: Irene Latham & Charles Waters
Illustrators: Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Page Number: 40 pgs.

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