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

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
by Irene Latham and Charles Waters; illus. by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Primary, Intermediate    Carolrhoda    40 pp.
1/18    978-1-5124-0442-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5124-7214-1    $9.99

This clever book of poetry is about finding an unexpected friend. Classmates Irene and Charles (also the names of this book’s coauthors) are paired together for a poetry writing project. Irene is white and, according to Charles, “hardly says anything.” Charles, whose “mouth is like a race car / that never stops to refuel,” is black. Each spread contains poems from both of their perspectives, with Irene’s poem on one side of the page and Charles’s on the other. The children write about topics such as shoes, hair, school, and church. As they get to know each other better, the poems traverse even trickier areas, such as slavery and contemporary police violence against African Americans. Irene and Charles also bond over the difficulties of making friends and a love of reading; the poem “Author Visit” is about their excitement upon meeting one of their favorite writers, Nikki Grimes. The illustrations are in acrylic paint, colored pencil, and collage, and range from ordinary classroom scenes to spare, dramatic images to double-page spreads that visually connect Irene’s and Charles’ experiences into one, showing their similarities. Qualls and Alko’s layering of print newspaper clippings over paint begs readers to take a closer look. Appended authors’ and illustrators’ notes provide more information about the book’s background and development. This volume would make an excellent read-aloud or a launch pad for collaborative classroom writing.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Calling Caldecott co-author Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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