Books Early Readers Genre Lifespan of a Reader Picture Books Poetry Poetry Friday Reading Themes Voices From The Fringe: Social Justice

[Poetry Friday] Navigating The Oft-Unspoken Complexities Of Race and Friendship in a Collaborative Picturebook In Verse

"As A Child" by Vidyan Ravinthiran.

Myra here.

Thank you to A Year Of Reading for hosting this week.

Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems Of Race, Mistakes And Friendship (Amazon | Book Depository)

Poetry by: Irene Latham and Charles Waters Illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko Published by Carolrhoda Books (2018)
ISBN: 151240442X (ISBN13: 9781512404425). Literary Award: NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book (2019). Book borrowed from Overdrive. Book photo taken by me.

I was thrilled to find this picturebook by Poetry Friday Friends Irene Latham and Charles Waters on Overdrive and knew that it would be perfect for our current reading theme. This collaborative poetry book imagines what it would be like if Irene and Charles “met in a current-day-fifth-grade classroom in a suburban school with a 60 percent white and 40 percent minority population.”

These are not feel-good, sugar-coated, kumbaya-themed poems that refuse to see colour and drum moralistic lessons of acceptance. They reveal piercing questions and touch on sensitive topics that are often left unexplored. They also capture feelings of fear, insecurity and alienation (see below):

I find the poems to be honest, bold, with a genuine desire to learn from each other. In the Authors’ Note, they shared:

... during this poetry project, we experienced fear, but we were open; we made missteps, yet we stumbled forward; and we learned things, and it changed us.

Having multi-racial husband-and-wife tandem Selina Alko and Sean Qualls added even further depth to this collaborative project – as they used stark black and white colours and trademark collage artwork that powerfully convey the complexity of emotions expressed by young Charles and Irene in this picturebook and the people close to them.

Among all the poems, these two below are my favourite as they show initial attempts to forge a friendship borne out of isolation and feelings of otherness.

I will definitely be sharing this picturebook in my upcoming workshop with teachers and librarians for the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong as I discuss Reading for Social Justice and Transformative (Anti-racist) Education in my Keynote Speech. What a privilege to know both Irene and Charles through the Poetry Friday Community.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: Charles Waters and Sean Qualls are PoC from the USA.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

7 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Navigating The Oft-Unspoken Complexities Of Race and Friendship in a Collaborative Picturebook In Verse

  1. Oh, I love this book, too! I’m so glad the spotlight on its important messages and the amazing poets, Charles and Irene, is spreading worldwide. 🙂


  2. Such a lovely book from such engaging writers, and Poetry Friday poets, too!


  3. I love this book by Irene & Charles, too, Myra, and am happy you finally got to read it! Happy Poetry Finds!


  4. maryleehahn

    How fun to find Irene featured on YOUR blog, too! She’s a wonder. (And so is Charles!!)


  5. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] Meet Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel from Syria – Gathering Books

  6. This looks really wonderful. Ruth,


  7. Pingback: [My 2020 in Books] Favourite Books Read in 2020 – Gathering Books

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