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
Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
by Dean Robbins, Illustrated Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Orchard Books, 2016
Ages 4-8, PreK-3
Two Friends visits a fascinating corner of 19th Century American history, when slavery still gripped the nation and when women hadn’t yet won the right to vote. Even then (and still today!) Americans were fighting for equality for all, which is promised to us in the Declaration of Independence.
In the midst of freedom movements, people draw together to share ideas, to lift each other up, and to help each other keep trying to make change. So, it shouldn’t have been surprising for me to learn from this picture book that Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass found solace and support between them in Rochester, NY.
But, it was a delightful surprise to learn that by candlelight, over tea and cake, Anthony and Douglass imagined what change might look like and feel like and what it might take. They never doubted that enslaved people would become free or that women would vote.
Two Friends reminds me that at the heart of any kind of change we will find friendship and shared dreams.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Grades 1- 5
Arthur Levine Books, 2015
Society of Illustrators Original Art Show 2015 * NAIBA Carla Cohen Free Speech Award 2015 * Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015 * Book Links 2015 Lasting Connection * A New York Public Library Notable Book for Reading and Sharing
Author-illustrator, husband-wife duo Selina Alko and Sean Qualls collaborate to present this celebratory portrait of a bi-racial family in The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. Through intimate, simple language readers follow the courtship of Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred “String Bean” Jeter, a woman of African American and Cherokee descent.
The two fall in love, but according to Virginia law in 1958 interracial marriage is illegal, so they exchange vows in D.C. Soon after the newlyweds return home, the police raid their bedroom in the night and arrest them both. “Tell the court I love my wife, and that it’s just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia,” Richard told his lawyers.
Their legal battle rose all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, after which Richard and Mildred returned to Central Point, having won the right for themselves and other interracial couples to marry. This book gives young readers the opportunity to reflect upon racial justice, self-identity, and ways in which historical narratives shift over time. A mixed medium of paint and collage contrasts bold, stark images of injustice against whimsical, uplifting panels that leave no doubt about it: love will prevail.
Who Will I Be, Lord?
By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Random House, 2009
Picture book, Ages 4 and up, Pre-K and up
Additional formats: e-book
Honors: 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Award
In Who Will I Be, Lord?, a young girl reflects on what she will be like when she grows up, as she traces her family tree through story after story of multiple generations. She recounts what she knows about Great-Grandpap, who was a mailman and a radio-show banjo player. The story deepens when the girl recalls the family history of how Great-Grandma, who made the best cakes ever, married Great-Grandpap, and their inter-racial marriage prompted people to say Great-Grandma was crazy.
Along the story goes, meditating on all the people in the family: a preacher, a teacher, a pool shark. A jazzman, a mama, a papa. A dreamer. The girl asks after each, “What will I be, Lord?”
This picture book would be a great read aloud for parents or teachers to kick off a conversation about how family shapes who we are and who we want to be. The refrain that echoes through the text—“what will I be, Lord?”—invites readers to pause and consider how they are connected to those who came before them.
The personal stories of the child’s relatives portray individuals with dreams and struggles and love for each other. The illustrations do such a fine job of connecting the physical traits of each family member to one another down through the generations.
At my grammy’s house, she devoted the hallway to displaying portraits and photographs of our family, all the way back to my great-great grandparents and up to and including my sister, my cousins, and me. I loved to look at the faces of all my people to see who looked alike and who looked like me. I loved to hear the stories of farmers and teachers, shopkeepers and preachers. Who Will I Be, Lord? swept me up into that same wondrous feeling. – Gigi