Review of Can I Touch your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

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.

We were kindly sent a copy of this book by Rock the Boat News, they were asking for MG readers for this poetry collection and it’s one that we thought would be a thoughtful read. I’m saying “we” as I read this with my daughter Biba, almost 9, over a couple of nights. I have to say that the first thing that really stands out it that it feels VERY American, hardly a surprise as it’s written by American authors but Biba found some of the terminology hard to relate to and having to explain the mundane, such as recess, kind of diluted from more important points. The poetry style is free verse which allows each poem to not be constrained and I very much enjoyed that each full page spread focused on the same issue but from the point of view of each of the main characters. The poems aren’t all about race though and actually covers lots of ways in which people can be different, from the sports they play to the foods they eat. As the only vegetarian in our house I found the poem about Charles being a vegan a really interesting read because I take the ease of my meals for granted but it did make me think of the young people trying to make changes in their lives that goes against everything in their heritage.

It brings about important talking points and as Biba has grown up with a number of friends from mixed heritages, it was often confusing for her that anyone would be treated any differently because of the colour of their skin. Whilst the message of acceptance wasn’t as necessary for us, it did open up a discussion that we didn’t even realise that we needed to have and to paint a whole societal picture about what happens when there are those who want to treat others differently for arbitrary reasons. There was one poem about the use of the N word which we didn’t read as I didn’t want to introduce her to something so hateful at this age and I didn’t feel comfortable having that discussion with her yet. But this book did push me outside of my comfort zone as a parent (although evidently in a good way) as it promoted thoughtful discussion not only about inclusivity but also friendship, bullying, personal space and acceptance. It’s a good conversation starter and as its a short read there is plenty of opportunity to really invest in the messages.

Biba’s review – This book gets 2 thumbs up, I liked that it was poetry and I thought it was really good. It made me sad when I found out that people get treated differently because of the colour of their skin.

Biba would give it a 5* and I a 3* so lets meet in the middle and give this a thoughtful 4* review

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