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

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  1,163 ratings  ·  273 reviews
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 d
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published January 1st 2018 by Carolrhoda Books (R)
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Average rating 4.34  · 
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 ·  1,163 ratings  ·  273 reviews

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Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For a long time, maybe as long as children’s books have been published in America, there has been an unspoken understanding amongst white parents that when it comes to race, the less said to children the better. White people are particularly attached to the notion that if you don’t mention race, don’t speak its name, don’t bring it up in any way with kids, then they’ll never notice race on their own and they’ll grow up to become wholly unprejudiced individuals, incapable of even a single racist ...more
La Coccinelle
I don't even know how to write this review. I'll probably be called a racist no matter what. The book wants to start a dialogue, though, so here goes:

The feeling I get after reading this book as a white person is guilt. Why? I can't quite explain it, but it probably has something to do with the way white people are demonized throughout the text. Apparently, we all hate black people, yet paradoxically want to be them at the same time. If we braid our hair a certain way, or get a tan, or want to j
Gary Anderson
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When students Irene and Charles end up as partners for a poem-writing project, they slowly and bravely begin to explore how the issue of race affects their lives. Irene’s white perspective and Charles’s black perspective are inherent even when they begin by writing about a subject seemingly devoid of racial context—shoes. Their next topic, hair, opens a dialogue that includes the emotional effects of race-based conflicts at school. As the children move on to poems involving their friends and fam ...more
Rod Brown
Jun 27, 2019 rated it liked it
A decent tool to start a conversation with kids about race, diversity, microaggressions, etc. It's a cute concept, where the authors, a black man and a white woman, imagine how they might have developed a friendship if they had gone to school together as children. It says it's poetry, but don't let that scare you off, as it is free verse where sentences just seem to have random hard returns in the middle of them.
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Moving, smart, brief book of accessible poetry aimed at kids, but a great read for any age. I didn't realize it was a children's book when I ordered it from the library. So glad I read it.

Treat yourself!
A lovely book that gives a nudge to readers about the need to move gently into uncomfortable conversations rather than avoid them completely.
Prince William Public Library System
I love, love, love this book of poetry. I initially picked it up because I love books that talk about manners regarding things we may not always think about. When it comes to manners and etiquette, it is so much more than please/thank you, or which fork to eat salad with. Especially when it comes to race and gender.

Latham pairs two poems on similar subjects: one from the perspective of a black boy, and another from a white girl. The poems discuss things like family, making friends, food, etc. an
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book of poetry very much. I think difficult topics were dealt with gracefully and honestly. I only gave 4 stars rather than 5 because I'm not certain that the language of the poems matches the age of the characters and the age which the collection seems to be marketed to. I love that the message wasn't "we're all the same". Because we aren't, we are all different. But when we get to know one another we can find the things we have in common and build bonds and relationships and und ...more
Straight forward, earnest talk about on issue that, at times, can be difficult to talk of.
Jul 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: childrens-books
Has a great premise and lofty goals, but ultimately I didn't feel it achieved them. So many issues were raised, mostly around race, and then not dealt with. This would be a great conversation starter for a class assignment, but as a stand-alone book, I felt a lot of issues needed more nuance, more context, more discussion, just more. Trigger warning for the pages that touch on child abuse, which is brought up matter-of-factly as discipline and not mentioned again. Most of the other issues are ar ...more
Ellie Labbett
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Quite an original collection of poetry about two children who are paired together for a poetry project. Initially judging each other on the basis of the colour of their skin, Irene and Charles are reluctant to get to know one another. However, a friendship begins to grow as they open up through their poetry writing, gradually realising that their lives are more similar than they first thought, each having rocky home lives and having made regretful mistakes.
To me, it was not the poetry that makes
Carla Johnson-Hicks
This book is a tough one for young children. I am not sure if they would understand the concept. I think older primary and junior or intermediate students would understand the messages much better. This is not poetry that rhymes or follows patterns, it is free-style with a serious message. The poems depict situations that the authors have either been involved in or witnessed. It shows that there still are race issues in our society, but there is hope they can be overcome with listening to others ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Goodreads app, I am furious with you! Just wrote a very heartfelt review for 45 minutes, only to have it disappear upon posting. Aaarrrggghh!
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
smart, accessible, important. definitely inspiring me to read more picture books and put them in my classroom.
Bethany Parker
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I cannot wait to read this aloud to my middle schoolers. This book illustrates the dangers of judging books by their covers and the illuminating joys of being open-minded to unlikely friendships. I think every age would get something important out of this picture book.
The authors Irene Latham and Charles Waters collaborate in this book of poems that centers around the idea: what if they had met as poetry project partners in a contemporary fifth grade classroom? As a white girl and a black boy, what kinds of misunderstandings, differences, and similarities would they have? In alternating POV poems, questions of race and friendship are explored.

These questions are not always answered— this is one of those books you’re likely to label a “conversation-starter.” T
Elaine Fultz
Could this join Joyful Noise as Newbery winning poetry? Fingers crossed. Latham and Waters write as fifth graders named Irene and Charles who have dialogue and epiphanies about race when they are not voluntarily matched as partners for a poetry project. The poems tackle serious issues -- the N word, Ferguson, White guilt, and a blue-eyed Jesus in a Black church, for example. The creators' statements at the end of the book are as important as the poems. The poets have never met IRL. The illustrat ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The back of the book summed it up perfectly for me:

""Can I Touch Your Hair? is a compelling portrait of two youngsters dancing delicately through a racial minefield.""-J. Patrick Lewis, former US Children's Poet Laureate

I also enjoyed it because it was easy to relate to the poetry, from the touching of his hair to praising a blonde hair, blue eyed Jesus in Sunday church service. I can also relate to making friends with white kids at this age in a similar manner.

This book presents a overwhelming
I was intrigued by this idea of kids trying to understand race and each other through an alternating-voices novel-in-verse. But I found the poems a little shallow and didactic, and it didn't have a great flow. And I don't really like the illustrations, so that doesn't help.
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a novel in verse for younger readers features two children from the same classroom and how they see the world around them.
Jordan Henrichs
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Loved the format and message. Some of the poetry didn't feel like poetry to me. But maybe I just don't know poetry.
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very sweet story told through poems of a boy and a girl who, despite racial and other differences, end up finding that what they have in common and what they can learn from each other is most important.
Irene and Charles tell a story with poetry in their new book, Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, of a boy’s and a girl’s inner feelings, about self, feelings about each other, universal kid concerns and deeper racial questions. Through sharing parts of those feelings, about what might be termed “safe” subjects, these two kids learn about each other, learn that they have a few common likes and dislikes. Maybe they can even be friends? It is a good path but doesn’t sta ...more
Courtney Weathers
Mar 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wow
This book of poetry mirrors the thoughts of two students, one White girl and one African American boy. They are partnered to write poetry based on their experiences and interests, and they see just how alike and different they are. This is a WOW book for me because it explores these two students as being different because of their race but it focuses on them as individual people with interests and personalities that make them similar. I also like how it showcases how African American students ar ...more
Alyx Campbell
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I cannot wait to share this with my colleagues, parents, and students. The poems really resonated with a childs' perspective, and opened the door to some important, albeit potentially uncomfortable conversations about race. I loved that it did not paint either child with a broad stroke of the brush, but gave them each such individuality and character, while still facing challenges that both races face. The poems seemed to be crafted with such care, only to be matched with the beautiful mixed med ...more
Maureen Schlosser
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In this important book about opening up to conversations about race, two fifth-grade classmates share their personal experiences while working on a project together. Told in poetic form, we hear from two different viewpoints; one from a white girl, and the other from a black boy. Topics based on current events help shape the relevance of the story. For teaching purposes, this book would work well with an older audience when discussing empathy, race, and point of view. Discussions around "Can I T ...more
Laura Giessler
I love this book for the topic and the way it approaches it: talking about race from two different points of view. Two kids--one black, one white--find themselves working on a poetry project together. We get to know them, their differing perspectives and experiences, and we follow the growth of their friendship. Such a conversation starter! There is so much here to discuss, and the pairs of poems provide a way in to talk about issues that we too often avoid. Importantly, the book is written and ...more
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: First-Fifth graders. Grandparents. Anyone.
Shelves: poetry
Update: I'm still thinking about this book the next day. I think the storyline resonated so much because there is a unique message of forgiveness. There cannot be true togetherness or healing without forgiveness. Our society is so quick to condemn. Humans err. We are all human. And while, unlike the book, not everyone is going to say they are sorry, we can still forgive and be a part of moving forward.

Very sweet storyline and illustrations and well handled subject matter. Some poems
Julie Suzanne
This was a sweet poetry/picture book in which a caucasian girl and African-American boy work together on a poetry project in class. They become friends as they share their personal poems about their lives with each other. The text gives children much to talk and think about regarding race. I definitely recommend this to elementary classrooms and then even going to recommend this to our 6th grade teacher who has her own students write poems for a class anthology. I’m not sure how realistic these ...more
Maria Caplin
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that I want to share and begin conversations. One that will open eyes along with hearts as we discuss race, mistakes and friendships. "Here we are still getting use to each other, sideways glances ...." A door has been opened.
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Irene Latham is a poet and novelist who was born the middle child and first daughter of five kids.

Irene has lived all sorts of places and traveled worldwide. Since 1984 she has called Birmingham, Alabama, home.

She thinks growing up with three brothers was great preparation for raising her three sons. She also thinks getting a sister was one of the best things that has ever happened to her.

Irene i

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