Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson

When six kids begin having a weekly chat by themselves, they are able to express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world.

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Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Jacqueline Woodson's first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories.

It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat--by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them--everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

Advance Galley Reviews

4.5 stars. Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is poignant yet heartwarming novel with a cast of diverse characters that are exceptionally well-developed and appealing. Although the target audience is middle-schoolers, I highly recommend this quick but powerful read to readers of all ages. Narrated by twelve year old Haley McGrath, she and her five classmates gather together once a week to talk freely to one another without adult supervision. Their conversations are surprisingly deep as they delve into the realities they each face due to their life experiences. Haley is bi-racial and currently being raised by her white uncle and she is apprehensive about the upcoming changes in her life. Her best friend Holly finds it impossible to sit still and she often blurts out her uncensored thoughts. Tiago is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants and he is troubled by the hateful rhetoric he and his mother encounter while conversing in Spanish in public. Amari recounts a recent discussion with his father which highlights the dangers African American’s face even during innocent play. Ashton is the only Caucasian in the group which leads his fellow classmates to mistakenly believe this affords him protection from any type of hardship or adversity. Young Esteban is a going through a heartrending experience that no one should ever have to endure. With frank honesty and surprising insight, Harbor Me touches on relevant social issues through the eyes of these six pre-teens. Through these weekly discussions, Jacqueline Woodson highlights the fact that political and racial issues affect children just as much they do adults. Their stories are captivating and their compassionate and perceptive reactions to one anothers’ plights offer hope for the future of our country. I highly recommend this timely novel which features an engrossing and thought-provoking storyline.

A harbor is defined by Merriam-Webster's dictionary as a place of security and comfort or a part of a body of water protected and deep enough to furnish anchorage. In the story, Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, a teacher provides six, fifth grade students with an opportunity to meet unsupervised for the last hour of every school week. Throughout the book, the reader begins to understand the purpose behind the special meeting place for the students as each one shares a portion of their story. Each student has a weakness that is in need of a safe place yet, they each have a strength in which provides a comfort to another. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling. If I openly share my story with someone, without saying anything, without asking; I have given the other person permission to openly share their story. Maybe not right away and maybe not even to me; but at sometime that other person will often share. In this sharing, we find out we are not alone in this world and we are not the only one who has experienced something difficult in our lives. In this timely published masterpiece, Jacqueline Woodson models how to create a harbor in our homes, in our classrooms, and in our community. She provides a recipe for creating a culture in which our children, students, and citizens so desperately need right now.

This was so beautiful. Jacqueline Woodson has such a knack for writing for young people in a language that they understand without ignoring the complexity of life even for pre-teens. The story of the six kids and the ARTT room manages to tackle a myriad of the complicated life situations that we face from the perspective of children: children with an incarcerated parent, or a parent at risk of deportation; children being bullied, who live their lives in two languages, who are learning the limits that their brown skin put on their freedom. The friendships that these kids forge with each other over a year in class together is a reminder of how community is what helps us to keep moving forward. It's such a moving story in its intricate simplicity.

I think this is an amazing book to be read by all ages. It awakens an open mind to our world today. I laughed and I cried. And I hurt for these kids because although they are fictional, these stories exist in cities everywhere. I strongly suggest that this is shared in classrooms and that parents take time to read with their kids - middle grade and up. It would be just as poignant for elementary aged kids as long as read with patience and explanation and tons of love. I absolutely loved Harbor Me. I am looking forward to owning my own copy and rereading. 5 stars!!!

I thought this book packed a lot of bunch in just a few hundred pages. So many serious topics were touched upon and such a well done and engaging way. I also found the book/plot to be enjoyable and likely to be of interest to teens/preteens so think this title would work well in a school setting (although I am not an educator).

Another gorgeous, moving book from Jacqueline Woodson. This book addresses many big issues thoughtfully. I loved how Woodson captures the different voices for all the characters and the challenge they faced. I definitely recommend for adults and younger readers alike.

You never know what others are going through or dealing with. The kids in this book came together and opened up about their lives and the issues they face. Their discussions brought understanding to each other. Sometimes all we need to do is for others to listen when we talk. I recommend reading this book and passing it on to others. Very relevant.

"The hardest part of telling a story is finding the beginning." Where do we start the dialogue in this country about acceptance and respect for others? It seems as if the collective has lost their minds. Each side is focused on rhetoric, everyone consumed by a war of "Us" versus "Them". We have forgotten that WE the people are the country that we are supposed to "indivisible" and what we are supposed to stand for is "justice and liberty for ALL". Harbor Me is Jacqueline Woodson's first middle grade novel since her moving autobiographical novel Brown Girl Dreaming which earned her the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and a nomination for the Newberry Medal. The protagonists are Esteban, Tiago, Holly, Amari, Ashton and Haley are six students assigned to a special education class. Their teacher understands the need for them to have their voices heard, to have someone understand where they are coming from. She creates a safe space for them to talk free from adult oversight. As their walls come down the group realizes that they can turn to each other in dealing with problems like bullying, racial profiling, deportation and parental incarceration. They gain comfort in being each other's harbor from the storm. Harbor Me is a wonderful book that serves as a testament of the power and beauty at the heart of the human spirit. "If the worst thing in the world happened, would I help protect someone else? Would I let myself be a harbor for someone who needs it?’ Then she said, ‘I want each of you to say to the other: I will harbor you.’ I will harbor you."

I loved this novel about a group of six middle grade students who sit together each week to share what is happening in their lives, their hopes and fears, and their aspirations for the future. Woodson is not afraid to tackle big issues such as deportation, family members in jail, racial profiling and immigration, and this novel is richer for her commitment to allowing children's voices be heard on these topics. This book would be a wonderful read-aloud or literature circle discussion book for middle graders - there is just so much to talk about and discuss. Additionally, many adults would benefit from reading this book; Jacqueline Woodson is a compelling storyteller, and examines the issue that the US and many of its residents are dealing with on a day to day basis.

I’m not the target audience for this book at all, but I love Jaqueline Woodson so much that I requested it from Penguin First to Read even though it is meant for a much younger reader. While this one doesn’t transcend its middle grade designation the way Brown Girl Dreaming does, it does discuss important issues of cultural and socioeconomic divisions in a way that is accessible for a young reader. Woodson manages this accessibility without coming across didactic or condescending to her young audience. I don’t remember anyone writing this way for young people when I was one, but I’m glad we have her now.

This was my first Jacqueline Woodson book but it will not be my last. This was a beautiful book about the "special" kids in school who have so much to say. We're never told explicitly why these kids are separated in their own class and it doesn't matter. To even further this, their teacher sends them to an empty art classroom, dubbed ARTT (A Room To Talk) and they are left to their own devices for an hour, no teacher, no rules, say what you want. This was a mix of kids from different races, cultures, backgrounds, and family situations who found a way, thanks to their teacher, to open up to each other, relate, and understand. I think they were 5th graders? Haley is the narrator and gets a recording device from her uncle and decides to record their conversations to look back on. They agree to get together 20 years later and listen and I would've *loved* to have had an Epilogue where they do!! This book is a wonderful tool for middle graders to show them what is happening in the United States right now.

Sign me up for the Jacqueline Woodson fan club. In this slim novel, she manages to explore identity, race, immigration, and the deep need we all have for a safe haven. Through these 6 young people who are courageous enough to be honest with each other, we learn about freedom and all kinds of American. And Woodson calls on us all to do for each other what the kids do, to promise to harbor one another in the storms of life. I highly recommend it for everyone, but it is written for young readers and particularly appropriate for them. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

A middle grade novel tackling big issues, this is largely a quiet novel. It combines the simplicity of 6 kids sitting together in a classroom for an hour each week just talking with the issues that face them, including race, class structure, bullying, deportation, parental loss, and the prison system. The meaning of freedom threads through the narrative in a rumination on what its meaning is and should be in the current United States. This is a terrific book for kids and adults. It will help educate some and allow others to be seen. It is a quick read that is tremendously worthwhile and not preachy, simply demonstrative. Lovely.

Like "The Breakfast Club" for a new (and slightly younger) generation. Six students come together every Friday in the ARTT (A Room To Talk) room and as they start to open up to each other, they find that each one struggles with something: racism, bullying, trauma, losing parents in some way (accidents, immigration raids), etc. And through opening themselves to each other, they bond together as a group of different but not-so-different-really friends. This book had the potential to be really powerful, but it fell a bit short for me for two main reasons. First, the discussion of the issues was a bit heavy handed. I know this is a middle-grade YA book so it's not going to be super in-depth, but I think there could've been more "showing" and less "telling" to really pack a punch. Second, although Woodson writes beautifully, there were times where I couldn't help but think "no tween talks like this!" The characters were all so poetic and supportive and hopeful and calm, and while I would love to believe that a group of 11-year-olds would conduct themselves like that, I honestly find it unrealistic (granted, I'm Gen X, so we were full of ennui and nihilism even then). Regardless, this is an important story for the times we live in and I think would be a wonderful tool for teachers to generate valuable discussion with kids this age. And, Esteban's papi's poems were beautiful.

Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson, is being marketed as a middle grade book. It is a contemporary story that tackles some of the many social issues we in the U.S. are having to confront every day: poverty, racism, the prison/criminal justice system, single parenthood, and more. As such, this is a story that every age group of readers in this country can relate to because, even if none of the children's stories is your particular story, you either know someone who is in the same situation, or you've been hearing such stories on the nightly news. One if the purposes of contemporary fiction is to help people work out their own issues vis a vis the characters in the book, and/or feeling less isolated or alone because you can see yourself depicted in the story. This is especially important for middle grade readers, as they often do not feel they have a safe space to express themselves or ask questions about the issues they're struggling with. In Harbor Me, Woodson creates that safe space for the kids in the book by having them be in a weekly chat group - where no adults are present - so they can share their stories with one another and not be judged. They also dont have to worry about censoring themselves because an adult is listening. The sessions become, essentially, a peer led group therapy session of sorts. And, like in other group therapy sessions, these kids will, hopefully, learn more about themselves, each other, and will develop empathy, understanding, and compassion - for themselves, and others. I feel Harbor Me succeeds as a middle grade book. As such, it is not expected to go into lots & lots of detail. It's not supposed to be too long, or bogged down with too much backstory or exposition. If Woodson's goal for the book was for it to be a safe space for the young reader to see him/her self and her/his friends, and to let the reader know that she/he is not alone, than Woodson has accomplished that goal.

This book tackles difficult subjects that are probably on the mind of a lot of kids today. Racism, immigration, police, kids just being downright mean to others... and for that, I say that this book can be a help to some kids, especially if they are fearful of what is going on in the world around them. The characters were written like kids, with worries and fears that kids their age would have. The biggest drawback that I think I had to this story was that it seemed a little preachy. Every week, the kids in the ARTT classroom (stands for A Room To Talk) would talk about some of the issues that they were having. It was always a political hot-button issue. Perhaps the book would have been longer if the kids had talked about other things, but in a way, by not having other things in there, it flattened the kids to stereotypes. I think that perhaps the story could have been better in that regard. But for kids that are having trouble dealing with the world and the fears around them, this might be a useful book.

To start, I would definitely recommend this book! The youth are diverse ... Caucasian (albino?), African American, Mixed race, illegal from Dominican Republic, parent in prison etc. This book portrays from a child's perspective, the fear and uncertainty of their situation. During their one hour a week, they open up about those fears and their dreams. They begin to not only recognize their own fears, but to also SEE the fears the others are facing. They become stronger together, but also somehow stronger individually. A couple places in the book rang a little too one sided for me, but overall, this is an excellent book. I found myself highlighting quotes. One of my favorites, "I want you to know that we are all flawed, he said. We all have those days we just don't want to show up." Isn't that the truth?!

When I discovered that Jacqueline Woodson had released another book I couldn't wait to get a copy to read it. I read Brown Girl Dreaming to my class and Harbor Me did not disappoint. This book is about six very different kids that are put together in a class and are given the opportunity to talk with each other each week without the interference of an adult. It is through these weekly conversations they learn more about each other. More people need to take the time to get to know each person's story. If they could better understand what they are going through they would have more empathy. So many times people are quick to judge others because they don't know what they are dealing with. Jacqueline Woodson did a great job of incorporating today's top news issues (immigration, bullying, racism, and having a parent in prison) into the student's stories. Every student has been touched by at least one of these issues. This will be a great read aloud for my students at the beginning of year as we build the classroom community. They can connect with the characters, discuss and begin to bring about change. It is so important to stand for each other-I will harbor you, a powerful message. Thank you to Jacqueline Woodson for another powerful book. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read the ARC!

I received this book as an advanced reader copy from First to Read in exchange for my honest review. This book is about 6 student who are placed in a special classroom. Every Friday they have the chance to talk about whatever is going on in their lives, this ranges from immigration, bullying, racism, having a parent in prison. This story touches on children go through “adult” issues and what happened when they have an outlet to express it. However ,I wish the book was a bit longer to see how these characters developed. Overall I would give the book four stars.

This was a very timely and beautifully written book about six teenagers who sit down every Friday and talk about their fears and struggles. Estaban's father has been deported back to the Dominican Republic and he lives in fear of when his mother will be taken next, Haley's dad is in prison and ashamed of him. There are other topics mentioned such as racism, poverty, and bullying. The author excels at developing the characters as the book progresses. They start to trust each other more and more until they are each others harbor. I predict this book will be nominated for many awards. Definitely a must read for all ages.

I received this book as an advanced reader copy from First to Read in exchange for my honest review, so here we go. I was first introduced to Ms. Woodson's work when I read Brown Girl Dreaming for one of my classes when I was pursuing my library science degree, so when the opportunity came to read an advance copy of her newest book, I jumped at the chance. This is written for middle grades, which is a younger audience than the young adult books I usually read, but a good book is a good book, no matter what age it is written for. This book is told by Haley, whose father is in prison for killing her mother in a car accident. She is in a class at school with five other children, and it is a "special" class, but it is unclear why they are in this "special" class. On Fridays, from 2pm until the end of the school day, these six children got to the ARTT room. There they talk about anything and everything. They learn about Esteban's father who was picked up by immigration, about Amari not being able to play with his toy guns anymore because of an incident where a young, black boy was killed, about Tiago and the prejudices his family feels because they speak Spanish all the time, about Ashton who doesn't feel like he feels in because he's white, about Haley's situation with her parents. We never really learn about Holly in the room, and I am not sure why that is (and frankly, it's one of the reasons I could never give this five stars on Amazon). These adolescent kids learn about the world and themselves in that room on Fridays. There are some problems with the book though. As I mentioned, we never really hear about Holly except that she is perceived as rich by her peers. That seems unfair, when all the other kids share. There's also the jump in time from midwinter to Easter. Like, most of the book takes place in a succession of Fridays, but then jumps several months. That doesn't work for me. The ending also seems rushed and doesn't really fit. Like I said, I knew going in that this would be a good book, and it was, but there were some flaws that I just couldn't overlook.

I really enjoyed this book! Harbor Me is about 6 students who come together to just talk about whatever issues they are currently facing. It deals with current life situations. I highly recommend this book to middle schoolers/teachers of middle school aged students. I give this a 5 Star ?? ???????? Thank you to First To Read for an advance digital copy. I received a free advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

Six fifth and sixth graders meet every Friday for the last hour of school before the weekend. The reason? Just to talk. By doing so, they each reveal the stories from their vastly different backgrounds while finding surprising commonalities. Jacqueline Woodson is a master of lyrical prose with an emotional punch and Harbor Me highlights these strengths. These students in their weekly meetings consider racism, immigration, death, privilege, bullying, yet each topic is approached in such a real and empathetic way. What’s truly beautiful is that this reads less like a ‘problem novel’ and more like a natural, ordered outpouring of the chaos surrounding children today.

Harbor is a timely intermediate novel about the importance of stories, of empathy, and of understanding. It's about how the things that make us different can bind us together and make us all better--if only we're willing to connect with each other. Six kids of varied backgrounds are put in a room together one day each week. Why their teacher does this is never properly explained, and how they manage to begin relating to each other so quickly defies belief, but neither of these things matters in the end because their stories come together to form something beautiful.

Such a beautiful, timely read! Jacqueline Woodson's lyrical prose and character insights make this book an absolute gem. Highly recommend!

Lovely, lyrical, timely. This is the book we need right now. Wonderfully written characters who transcend the "issues" they embody to become fully realized. So while the book is political, it never forgets the humanity behind the headlines. Highly recommended.

For a middle grade novel that is less than 200 pages, this story manages to cram in quite a few serious subjects including race, imprisonment, deportation, and the death of a parent. The ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), is a place where 6 students in a special learning class get to meet every Friday unsupervised for an hour. They are allowed to talk about whatever is on their minds and throughout the course of the school year they share some of their deepest thoughts and fears. There was a little bit of a Breakfast Club type vibe going on in terms of a group of kids who by the end of their time together share this bond and really opened themselves up to one another. Some really touching moments in the book. Would definitely recommend if you are looking to support books with diversity that explore important and timely topics. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy!

Thank you for my ARC of Harbor Me! After reading the first few pages of Harbor Me I was reminded of the movies Freedom Writers and Dangerous minds. It takes place in a classroom with a group of kids who are going through a lot. The main character/narrator, Haley, goes into detail how her father was taken away and is in prison. Her mother is also deceased so her uncle is the one who’s raising her. She also had a classmate, Esteban who’s father was also taken to prison, but an immigration prison. Throughout the book Estaban tells stories that he remembers from his father. His sadness can be felt in each word. I really enjoyed how the author briefly touched on the history of the Lenape people of New York. Haley goes on to say how she never really thought about Indians and how they were just people with feathers on their heads, but after learning about the Lenape people she realized how wrong she was. This is why I love reading books. I have never heard of the Lenape people and this gave me the perfect opportunity to read more about them. One part of the book that tugged at my heart was when Amari, one of Haley’s classmates, had ‘the talk’ with his father. I’m not talking about the birds-and-the-bees type of talk. I’m talking about the “don’t play with toy guns, don’t walk with a hoodie pulled down too low, don’t look suspicious for a black boy” type of talk. My own child is going to the 5th grade soon and my husband and I have had this same talk. It’s a tough one but a necessary for his survival. And not to spoil anything but Chapter 11 is probably one of the best chapters to sum up America as a whole. On August 28th please go out and buy it. It’s powerful and an extremely thought provoking read.

Harbor Me is about wishful thinking, how our education system and our lives should be. Six children in Brooklyn are allowed to discuss their personal life issues like immigration, fear of growing up, race, the generation gap, poverty vs privilege, and parental loss. Through the course of one school year, these six children make lasting friendships and teach one another that they can learn to cope. They can harbor one another. This novel is realistic fiction for middle grades at its best.

Something... someone close to my heart just came closer with this story. Six kids share their stories- each one of them so real and relevant today. Told through a child's eyes, the fear our children face are discussed- deportation, racial profiling, and bullying. Harbor Me will be welcomed in my classroom as a class read aloud to not only have as a mentor text for what is going on in their world, but as an impactful story that brings people together to harbor each other.

Thanks for ARC of “Harbor Me” by Jacqueline Woodson. I loved this book! I don.’t think age, race, gender , etc would bias your reading enjoyment. There is something in this book for everyone. If you are grappling with our chaotic world, this book might be a remedy. Share your story, trust your friends and take courage that telling your story only makes you stronger. What a timely read!

There is a reason why Jacqueline Woodson is a well respected novelist and this book proves that. Brilliant! Just brilliant. Growing up in the 80s, this book felt like a modern day Breakfast Club to me. Each character had their own personalities and became lovable to the reader. I devoured this book. It would make an awesome addition to any classroom. I will be buying the hard copy for my third grade classroom. I could definitely see it as a read aloud. I just loved this book.

“I think this is what the world is—stories on top of stories, all the way back to the beginning of time.” Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me is a touching novel in which six students from differing backgrounds are given every Friday afternoon to talk among themselves. Despite their different experiences, each student learns that everyone has a story to tell. Harbor Me was quick read with many culturally relevant topics from a child’s point of view. As a teacher, I can easily see this novel being utilized in a classroom to discuss diversity and teach empathy. Even non-teachers can enjoy this heartfelt story about friendship and growing through hardships.

Six 5th and 6th grades in a special ed class-- kids who don't fit in the mainstream, in more ways than one-- are given an hour a week by their exceptional teacher to talk to each other with no grownups around. They begin to tell their stories of immigration, the loss of a parent, fear of police brutality, and economic stress. They learn to talk to each other about privilege, race, and grief. They start to really listen to each other-- to harbor each other in friendship. This is a beautiful, warm, timely book. At its core, Harbor Me is about empathy and immigration-- and in the summer of 2018, I can't think of a better topic for middle grade and adult readers alike. I loved each of the characters in the story. Despite the challenges that they went through, including the detention of a parent by ICE, these six kids cared for each other with so much heart and I enjoyed every page. Thank you to First To Read for this ARC!

Amazing! I could not stop reading! I cannot express in words how this book made me feel about each character, the world today and look within myself. My heart ached for the characters and I cheered for their bravery and friendship! Made me wish I knew them. A MUST read! Best book of the summer for me!


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