Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
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Annotation: Poems from the alternating perspectives of two young students, one black and one white, cover such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners, while exploring wider issues of race, friendship, and individuality.
Genre: Poetry
Catalog Number: #157064
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Copyright Date: 2018
Edition Date: 2018
Illustrator: Qualls, Sean,, Alko, Selina,
Pages: 39 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 1-512-40442-X
ISBN 13: 978-1-512-40442-5
Dewey: 811
LCCN: 2016045348
Dimensions: 27 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
When they can't find partners quick enough, Charles and Irene get stuck working together on their poetry project. To Irene, Charles is too opinionated. To Charles, Irene is mousy and dull. They are too different, especially since Irene is white and Charles is black. In mirrored verses, the pair discover their similarities and respectfully examine their differences vering topics as mundane as buying shoes, and as topical as police brutality, corporal punishment, and white guilt. Latham and Waters see this work as a conversation between their fictional, young poet doppelgängers, meant to heal divides and start conversations. Similarly, the art is a collaboration between a husband-and-wife team, blending collage, colored pencils, and acrylic paint into dreamy abstractions that feature a motif of word flowers blooming across pages where Irene and Charles finally seem to connect. Young readers searching for means to have difficult, emotional, and engaged discussions about race will find an enlightening resource in Irene and Charles' explorations.
Horn Book
Classmates Irene (white) and Charles (black) are paired for a poetry-writing project in this clever collection. Each spread contains poems from both their perspectives. As they get to know each other, the poems traverse trickier areas (e.g., slavery, police violence). Acrylic, colored-pencil, and collage illustrations range from ordinary classroom scenes to double-page spreads that visually connect the characters' experiences.
Publishers Weekly
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. Authors- agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. Illustrators- agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Jan.)
School Library Journal
Gr 47 The conceit of a poetry project is this basis for this underdeveloped effort at unpacking racism in a school setting. The poems are presented from two perspectives: Irene's, a white girl, and Charles's, a black boy. ("Mrs. Vandenberg/holds up her hand./Write about anything!/It's not black and white//But it is./Charles is black,/and I'm white.") They take turns responding to everyday occurrences at home, at school, and in public. Charles's poems occasionally introduce important questions ("why do people who/want to look like me hate me so much?"), while Irene's are myopic and fail to challenge bias. In particular, a running thread involving Irene and a classmate, Shonda, is rife with unexamined stereotypes. Shonda is first introduced in "The Playground" as one of the freeze-dancing black girls who won't let Irene join in (" You've got/the whole rest of the playground,/she says. Can't we/at least have this corner? "). Later, when Irene learns that Shonda's family tree is "draped/in chains," she writes her a note apologizing for slavery. Disturbingly, their eventual friendship is compared to The Black Stallion : "I smile/the same way Alec does/when the stallion/nuzzles him/for the very first time." The writing is didactic, with stale imagery (white and black piano keys "singing together"). Qualls and Alko's artwork, done in acrylic paint, colored pencil, and collage, provides literal interpretations of the poems and lacks a certain spark, likely owing to Charles and Irene's almost permanently solemn facial expressions. VERDICT However earnest, this is a clumsy attempt at tackling interpersonal and systemic racism for middle grade readers. Della Farrell, School Library Journal
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
A fresh approach to exploring interracial communication.In an unusual, long-distance collaboration, poets Latham and Waters have crafted a collection of poems that explore the intersection between race and childhood friendships. Each poet reveals his or her individual perspective on shared experiences by imagining their childhood selves existing in the current day of complex racial realities. Their interactions, expressed through poetic verse, navigate the ambiguous and often challenging feelings that children encounter as they grapple with identity and race—a process forced on them when they are paired for a classroom poetry project. The story takes readers through school days, interludes with concerned parents, and polarizing peer interactions. In one scene, young Irene, who is white, feels ostracized when she isn't invited to play freeze dance with the black girls on the playground. At the beach, young Charles, who is black, is teased by white kids who wear dreadlocks and cornrows, appropriating the culture of black people, while bullying and spewing hate toward Charles. In between the uncomfortable moments are lighter, universal childhood scenarios, as when Charles asserts his choice to be vegan at a traditional soul-food dinner or when Irene describes the solace she finds in her love of horses. Interracial couple Qualls and Alko contribute graceful illustrations that give the feelings expressed visual form.A brave and touching portrayal worthy of sharing in classrooms across America. (Picture book/poetry. 8-12)
Word Count: 3,068
Reading Level: 4.6
Interest Level: 3-6
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.6 / points: 0.5 / quiz: 195373 / grade: Middle Grades
Lexile: NP
Guided Reading Level: U
Fountas & Pinnell: U

Two poets, one white and one black, explore race and childhood in this must-have collection tailored to provoke thought and conversation. 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.

The poem project
Writing partner
Shopping with dad
Sunday service
Beach day
The athlete
Horseback riding
Fresh start
Dinner conservation
Best and worst
Officer Brassard
Why Aunt Sarah doesn't go downtown after dark
The N-bomb
Piano lessons
Bedtime reading
Author visit
Quiet time
Blooming flower
Dear Mrs. Vandenberg.

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