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

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

Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illus. by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Carolrhoda, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5124-0442-5

Two classmates—serving as stand-ins for poets Latham and Waters—reluctantly pair up on a poetry-writing project and reflect on their identities, relationships, and the role race plays in their lives, in more than 30 candid, thought-provoking poems. The students aren’t initially close (“She hardly says anything. Plus, she’s white,” thinks talkative Charles after being assigned to work with Irene), but that soon changes. The children’s passions and preoccupations are revealed in poems that explore topics in parallel—new shoes, dinnertime, parental punishments, and police violence, among them—and the racial divisions of the children’s churches, communities, and school become clear, too. “I smile when Shonda/ comes over, but she doesn’t/ smile back,” writes Irene. “You’ve got/ the whole rest of the playground,/ she says. Can’t we/ at least have this corner?” Qualls and Alko (Why Am I Me?) play into the moody, reflective atmosphere in mixed-media collages whose teardrop/budding leaf motif underscores the way that conversation can lead to growth. The poems delicately demonstrate the complexity of identity and the power of communication to build friendships. Ages 8–12. [em]Authors’ agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. Illustrators’ agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Jan.) [/em]