I hate to say it, but I feel genuinely underwhelmed by Irene Latham and Charles Waters’ Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. The book is illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, though the only image I really ever saw was the cover since I got this book in audio format. In that sense, I can’t really speak to the artwork other than to say that the cover is cute, but not my favorite. Truthfully, I’m not sure if the audio played a role in my feeling underwhelmed. But the audio doesn’t seem like the best format for this book.
A conversation about race.
Can I Touch Your Hair? seems like the sort of book that’s intended to create a conversation. This is incredible since we really do need to be discussing race more often and, yes, with our children. The problem comes in with the fact that the conversation about race isn’t always clear enough. When told from the perspectives of two young children just beginning to understand race themselves, that’s not surprising. Many issues are raised, however, very few are discussed further. I think the closest it ever came was during the conversation of school shootings. Even then, due to it’s short poem format, the book doesn’t really delve deeply into much.
As a book for parents to use to begin a conversation, this book isn’t that bad. As something a kid is coming across on their own, it’s less impressive. I liked the introduction to poetry and I liked the introduction to conversations about race… But there are a lot of missed opportunities to really build more upon the conversation as a whole. We’re foisted into the lives and experiences of these two children without ever really getting the time to digest and understand what these experiences truly mean. As an adult, you can recognize many of those themes and features. But I don’t think children will be able to.
I love spoken out loud poetry. It’s one of my favorite things in the whole world. That said, I couldn’t really get into it here. I’d always thought poetry as an audiobook would be amazing, but this book was here to prove me wrong. I got distracted so many times while listening that I had to listen three times before I managed to catch all of the moments. And so much of it never really had the impact I was hoping it would. Whether that is an issue with the poetry itself or the narration, I can’t say for sure.
In the end, one truth remains clear; this book is difficult to focus on in audio format.
As a final note:
I’m honestly really disgusted by the fact that paddle-spanking disciplinary measures were included in the first place, let alone completely glossed over as though it’s perfectly acceptable to hit your kid with a block of wood. I don’t care how normalized this was in the past or if it was something Irene experienced as a child, herself. The fact is that it shouldn’t have a place in a children’s picture book in the year 2020. It especially shouldn’t have a place when it is suggesting that this sort of child abuse isn’t problematic.
For that single moment alone, I would never read this book to a child of mine. I am certain that there are many other books out there discussing race that I could use without having to subject a young mind to the suggestion that a parent hitting them in this abusive manner is okay.
So, while this book has some merits, I ultimately just found myself disappointed for a number of reasons. It’s one of those things where I find myself respecting the main goal of this work, but I do feel that there are many books that handle it in a much better way.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.