Tuesday, August 20, 2019

CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters.  Illus. by Sean Quals and Selina Alko.  Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, 2018.  40p.  ISBN 978-151240442-5 hc. $17.99  Gr. 3-6  JNF 811.6

It all starts when Mrs. Vandenberg assigns "The Poem Project," a classroom activity that pairs Charles with Irene, resulting in an awkward partnership between two students with few shared interests or experiences.  Charles lives in a black community and Irene lives in a white neighborhood (note that these are also the authors' names).  Since they don't have much in common, they decide to write about experiences from their everyday lives.  The separate poems coming from their individual perspectives show how family culture influences the way they see the world and interact with it.  Each two-page spread features a poem from Irene on one side, with Charles' contribution on the other side.  The titles of poems by Charles are printed in black ink, while Irene's are white against a colored background.  When they decide to write about buying new shoes, their experiences under the supervision of very practical parents is similar, as well as their conversations with their supportive families; but their relationships with other students in the classroom are challenging in different ways.  They both want to fit in, no matter what their skin color is or where they live.  As they write about their daily experiences, they begin to understand each other as individuals - and as friends.  Mrs. Vandenberg must be pleased with the results of her assignment.
Lynette Suckow, Superiorland Preview Center, Marquette, MI

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