Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship
By Irene Latham and Charles Waters, Illustrated by: Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Carolrhoda Books, 2018
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-6
Other formats: e-book
Nothing is ever truly black and white. That’s what two classmates in the book Can I Touch Your Hair? learn in fifth grade when they reluctantly wind up paired together for a writing project and believe they have nothing in common.
Irene and Charles’s differences in gender, style, and friends are already stark. Throw into the mix the fact that Irene is white and Charles is black, and both students fear they’re in for an uncomfortable and unmanageable few weeks.
Yet, once each begins to write on the same subject as the other about his or her life experiences and perspectives, Irene and Charles discover that while the differences between them are indeed tangible—in shoe shopping, dinner conversations, church services, hairstyles, and favorite sports—their differences are unique preferences or circumstances that can be appreciated.
They also learn that color is only skin deep. Even with varying experiences, opportunities, and challenges, at the end of the day, their matters of the heart aren’t so unalike at all, and thus, a friendship unfolds. Readers will experience Charles’s perspective on why it’s annoying to have someone touch his hair, and Irene helps readers understand how one can make awkward fumbles in expressing herself even with the best of intentions.
This book could serve as a great conversation starter for adolescents from middle school age to older youths. Adults may even find it helpful to read these poems with a child and share their own experiences navigating race, identity and friendships. The vibrant illustrations by artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko are an excellent companion to these compelling poems and will help young readers make sense of what it means to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone to try and understand others. – SHA
When My Sister Started Kissing
By Helen Frost
Margaret Ferguson Books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Ages 10 – 12, Grades 4 – 7
Additional format: e-book
Honors: A Boston Globe Best Children’s Book of 2017* 2017 BCCB Blue Ribbon Book * 2017 New York Public Library Best Book for Kids * 2017 VOYA Top Shelf Fiction * 2018 NCTE Notable Verse Novel * 2018 CCBC Choices Book
Claire can barely recall her mom. Only tiny shards of memory remain from that terrible day when Claire was still a toddler and her mother was killed during a lightning storm on Heartstone Lake.
Claire and her sister, Abigail, are heading up to lake for their annual vacation with their dad, but things are very different now. It’s not just Dad with them anymore. This time they’re traveling with his new wife, Pam, who is about to give birth to a new baby.
So much is changing as they settle into their cabin. Abigail has grown closer to Pam. She’s wearing makeup and calling herself Abi among the other teenagers at the lake, including boys. Claire is left to fend for herself, against a new stepmother who has cleared out her mother’s things in the cabin and against the loneliness of being left behind by her sister. It’s on the lake that Claire does her best rowing and thinking—the very lake that took her mom, the lake with the strong current, the lake that only the strongest swimmer can navigate in safely. It’s in these waters that Claire will grow up and find a way to let go of the past.
This lovely story is everything a novel-in-verse should be: evocative, spare, and masterful in its use of poetic forms. It’s told in alternating points of view by Claire, Abigail, and by the lake itself who has watched each girl grow up over the years.
There are wonderful notes at the end of the book about the forms used: quatrains, free verse, acrostics, as well as references to the many poets whose famous works are part of the poems in the book. (These include Gwendolyn Brooks, William Blake, Pablo Neruda and more.) This is a true delight, a quiet book about sisters and loss and change. MM
Haiti My Country
Poems by Haitian Schoolchildren
Illustrated by Rogé, Translated by Solange Messier
Fifth House, 2014
Picture book, poetry
Ages 6 and up
ISBN-10: 1927083230/13: 978-1927083239
Honors: New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books
When I was just out of college, I visited Haiti for a couple of weeks with a group from my city, Richmond. We stayed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and in Hinche, the capital of the central plateau.
How I remember the people in Port-au-Prince is that they shouted at me on the boldly painted taxi-trucks, called tap taps, about very specific policy issues related to the U.S. that I knew nothing about and cannot now recall. I will never forget how that experience redefined my understanding of citizenship and human rights.
In all the places of the world I have visited, there is no place where the clouds have felt so close or the stars so crystal as in Hinche, Haiti. We visited in the dry season, but even so, water tumbled down from the mountains into clear, deep pools. The people in Hinche shared goat stew and plantains and pumpkin soup on the Feast of the Epiphany. They sat down with us and talked about all people working together, sharing the heavy load, making change one step at a time, and never giving up.
I believe that some of the strongest girls in all of the world must be Haitian girls. Some of these girls are poets, praising their homeland in Haiti My Country, a collection of fifteen poems by Haitian teenagers, all from the village of Camp-Perrin in the southern part of the country.
The young poets bring the beauty and hardship of Haiti into focus, and Rogè’s introspective portraits of them reveals youth full of generosity, joy, skepticism, inquisitiveness, and determination.
They write lovingly of trees—mango, soursop, papaya, avocado, pomegranate, mahogany, and giant oak. Of red birds and hibiscus. Of honey and hard labor. Of course, they write of roosters! And, they write of lost smiles and worries and better tomorrows to come. – Gigi
Dust of Eden
by Mariko Nagai
Albert Whitman & Company, 2014
Historical fiction; Novel in verse
Middle grade and Young Adult
What happens when your own country turns against you in suspicion?
Dust of Eden, a novel in verse, is the story of Mina Tagawa and her family following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when their lives in Seattle are changed forever.
Told from the point of view of Mina, a middle school girl, Dust of Eden spans three years during which the Tagawa family goes from being seen as beloved neighbors to being perceived as enemies of the state. Taunts begin at school, even from lifelong friends. Mina’s father is soon arrested. And finally the family, under the requirements of Executive Order 9066, is forced into an internment camp in Idaho.
How does a girl survive when the world she has known her whole life turns against her? Is the answer to bear the pain with silent dignity—ngaman—as her grandfather does? Is it to prove your patriotism by enlisting in the service as her brother does? How do you forgive people who have hurt you for no reason?
This slim volume lays bare some of our nation’s difficult history, but it always stays true to the heart of a young girl as she tries to make sense of hate. I admire this book for its lovely writing, for its gateway to history, for Mina’s quiet strength, and for all the ways that her story reminds us of the high cost of fear disguised as patriotism. ~MM
Hands and Hearts
By Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Amy Bates
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book /Poetry Ages 3 – 7
ISBN: 1419710222/ 978-1419710223
I was initially drawn to Hands & Hearts for nostalgic reasons. During my daughter Judith’s early childhood, we often retreated to the Outer Banks, just the two of us—laughing, running, building sandcastles, and fighting waves like the mother-daughter in this tender book.
If there is any place on Earth where words are unnecessary, perhaps where words even get in the way, that place must surely be by the sea. If there is anywhere on our planet that gives a girl the courage to glide from prose into poetry, it must be the ocean.
Such is the experience depicted in Hands & Hearts. A mother and daughter spend a rich and silent day at the ocean using the poetry of American Sign Language to communicate as they bury their toes in the sand, dive into whitecaps, and hide from the sun. Poems, pictures, and a sign language key unite to make Hands and Hearts an enchanting read. – Gigi
Poetry Speaks Who I Am
Edited by Elise Paschen; Series Editor: Dominique Raccah
Sourcebook Jabberwocky, 2010
Awards/recognitions: * National Parenting Publications Award
Oh man, do I love this book-and-CD collection – and I say this as someone who is not particularly drawn to poetry. (Forgive me poets!)
There are more than 100 poems here that range from the well-known masters you might find in school (Emily Dickinson, for example, and Langston Hughes) but there are also poems that deal with gym showers, bra shopping, and meeting Malcolm X’s mother. The collection feels accessible across cultures, across sexes, even across generations. I stuck the CD in my car, and soon enough, I was making up reasons to go to the store, just to hear the poets speak in their own voices. That is, until my eighteen-year-old daughter swiped it and took it to school for her own listening pleasure. Now, it makes me ache to think that we ever try to teach poetry without hearing it as spoken word. MM
Click here to see what I mean. (Audio by permission of author Rebecca Lauren and Sourcebook Jabberwocky)
Check out their website: https://www.poetryspeaks.com/