CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship Carolrhoda/LernerPublishing. was inspired by a conversation with editor Carol Hinz about a book of poems for adults CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine, which she and I had both recently read. Carol shared her idea of a poetry book that tackles the same subject — systemic racism — except for kids! She thought it might work best as a conversation, and she asked if there was a black children’s poet with whom I would like to have this conversation. I immediately thought of Charles Waters– whom I had never met, and in fact did not meet until we presented together about the book at AASL November 2017!
Lucky for me, when I invited him to collaborate, Charles said YES. And off we went, writing poems madly about some intensely personal and sometimes difficult stuff. Within about 3 weeks we had a draft ready to share with Carol. The book includes paired poems about every day things like shoes and family dinner, and also poems about more difficult topics like the “N” word and police brutality. Illustrations are by the amazingly talented interracial team of Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.
KIRKUS calls the book in their starred review, “A brave and touching portrayal worthy of sharing in classrooms across America.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY states in their starred review, “The poems delicately demonstrate the complexity of identity and the power of communication to build friendships.”
BOOKLIST adds, “Young readers searching for means to have difficult, emotional, and engaged discussions about race will find an enlightening resource in Irene and Charles’ explorations.”
THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE proclaims, “This volume would make an excellent read-aloud or a launch pad for collaborative classroom writing.”