Book Review: Can I Touch Your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Can I Touch Your Hair is a poetry collection written by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. 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.

Can I Touch Your Hair is an honest and touching collection of poems that address so much more than race. The collaboration approach was perfect, giving the scenario and the result an authentic feel- because it was real. I think the open discussion involved in the poetry and matching illustrations does a wonderful job of highlighting some of the challenges adults and children face when they are willing to try to form understanding across lines they might not even want to acknowledge. I love that the characters each had missteps along the way, but they just kept trying to find their way and discovered that it is through communication and a willingness to listen and apologize when necessary is all that is needed to understand each other.

While the main topic here is bridging the racial divide and open up communications, I think it could be used as a great starting point for so many divides in our society. We are all the same at heart, we all need the same things, and by exploring our differences and similarities I think we all could forge friendships like the fictional classmates if we are willing to put forth the same effort with open hearts and minds. This is a poignant and important read for children and adults alike.

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