Jacqueline Woodson: Harbor Me

For her tenth birthdayARC from Edelweiss What a difference a year makes Last year was a nonfiction reading year for me and at Thanksgiving I read Jacueline Woodson s new novella to ump start my fiction reading in the year ahead In this year I have primarily been reading fiction to escape the reality that is life in 2020 My reading has taking me to many different times and places providing me with a necessary respite from the world Then there are Jacueline Woodson s books Harbor Me is the sixth one of hers that I have read and I am determined to read all of them because her writing is that good Harbor Me is the most realistic book I have read in awhile it also provides the adolescent protagonists with a respite from the crazy world around them in a safe spot that is only theirs Haley Shondell McGrath is twelve years old and about to enter seventh grade along with her best friend Holly Like most of Woodson s books Harbor Me is set in Brooklyn Seventh grade is Unfamiliar to Haley and Holly because they ust completed sixth grade in an untraditional Montessori like classroom Their school believed that if they brought together eight students who learned differently in one classroom with a dedicated teacher that they were excel in school and transition back to a traditional classroom The eight students uickly became six Haley Holly Amari Ashton Esteban and Tiago They came from diverse backgrounds and all needed a safe space so that they could focus on their learning In Ms Laverne s fifthsixth grade classroom they learned about the early history of New York poetry and all other subjects in a loving safe environment The six students still behaved like typical tweens and Ms Laverne believed that they needed an even safer place away from adults to talk freely The students would be able to harbor each other to safety for the last hour of school on Friday in their own room that they dub ARTT A place to talk I have yet to find many contemporary authors who develop characters in as short a time as Jacueline Woodson Harbor Me is geared toward a young adult audience but contains characters and issues that are taken straight from the issues plaguing society today Haley is being raised by her uncle because her father has been in ail for eight years after an accident that killed his wife Haley s mother Haley is now an eleven year beautiful young lady dubbed as Red to her friends and her uncle has taken on the role of both mother and father to her flawlessly Haley enjoys literature and other typical adolescent activities but is a defined introvert as she keeps the events that shaped her young life buried deep inside of her Holly is the yin to Haley s yang She talks a mile a minute and can not sit still The girls have been best friends since first grade and enjoy sleepovers every week while Holly s mom Kira takes care of Haley s hair and other motherly roles that her uncle can not provide Readers can sense that the girls are the type of friends who will be there for each other for the rest of their lives they will harbor each other through thick and thin The girls are oined in their classroom by four boys with distinct life issues and personalities Esteban s father has been taken to a detention camp because he is in the United States illegally The father sends his children poetry and tells them to dream big because they are American and that means gold The threat of returning to the Dominican Republic is real and students in the ARTT room become Esteban s safety net Amari has been given the talk about how to navigate life safely by his father no nerf or suirt guns because cops do not see that Amari does not think it is fair because he is an American but he wants to do well by his parents so he heeds their warnings He is a gifted artist and turns to painting to get through turbulent times We do not know much about Tiago only that he is Puerto Rican his family comes from the Bronx and that he would rather speak Spanish than English as he does at home Ashton s family moved from suburban Connecticut to Brooklyn after his father lost his ob and received an offer in the city Fate had brought the six students together and throughout the school year they become close friends listening to the advice of their teacher harboring each other Jacueline Woodson adeptly weaves together key issues that are plaguing people of all walks of life today Haley Holly Amari Esteban Ashton and Tiago could be real adolescents who have to deal with issues like deportation police violence and parents behind bars Woodson tells these stories in a way that make them accessible to young readers and also to adult readers who might have difficulties with navigating these unprecedented times When I think of a harbor I think of immigrants passing the Statue of Liberty on their way to Ellis Island to becoming Americans Woodson had this in mind as well and she has her protagonists engage in weekly rap sessions so that they have a safe spot to harbor their dreams on the way to achieving the dream of becoming successful Americans The year 2020 might have thrown us a curve ball but Jacueline Woodson remains a steady voice in young adult literature She reminds readers that Americans come from all walks of life and to be respectful of the differences that has made this country what it is It is refreshing to read her words and I will gladly take the time to see what she has in store for her readers moving forward 4 stars Thanks to a Kid Lit Exchange reviewer for sharing her free review copy from NerdCampMI with usThere are some books that There is a tiny bit of story around the edges with the main character but the overall plot of the book is 6 kids sit around in a room and talk often monologue about Issues That is not a story It might work OK in verse although a plot would still be a good thing to have but it s in prose And it s prose that keeps the impressionistic style and psychic distance of poetry so it winds up being the worst of both worlds It s a girl reminiscing about people sitting around a room talking which is distance upon distance upon distance I always felt like I was watching them talk not even experiencing it from inside the room much less experiencing anything they were talking about. F 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 ready for the rest of their live.

Wish there d been 215 pages rather than 192 to allow for some of those connections That said Ms Woodson has somehow managed to write a handsome novel at less than 200 pages If she stopped and thoroughly examined in depth every character to the same extent that she follows Haley you d be looking at a book that was at least twice the length of the one here And while I wish I d been able to know than Their Convenient Amish Marriage (Pinecraft Homecomings just one thing about some of these characters I can t help but admire the almost Hemingway esue succinctness of the narrative After a while it got me to thinking about how we meet characters in books and how we meet them in real life When you meet someone new your brain essentially reduces that person to their most essential parts This is in large part because we have to find a way to consolidate and organize the information about that person as uickly as possible Authors in turn have to mimic that process on the page AND for a younger readership that s been reliant on compartmentalization for years It takes a certain amount of talent to accomplish this Talent Ms Woodson has in drovesWhen Ms Woodson does delve deep into a character the story ends up in some interesting places Four of the kids in the room are described pretty darn well Esteban is hard to separate from his own headspace but I liked how you got glimpses of his life away from the page His nails were bitten so deep there was a ring of pink skin at the top of his fingers It looked painful Haley meanwhile was of interest to me because she highlighted something I ve noticed in my own 7 year old daughter For children memory can be shockingly short I ll read a book repeatedly for months when my kid is four only to find she has no memory of it at all at six Haley is old enough to want of her own forgotten memories As she says at one point I d lock every moment of memory inside a room in my brain and hope they d multiply like cells in our bodies until I was a grown up all filled with memories Maybe that s what made us free Maybe it was our memories The stuff we survived the good stuff and the bad stuff And it s thoughts like this that push this book out of the ordinary into the distinguished In some ways the author is working a lot of themes into a single novel She touches on everything from the Lenape to the reasons why black boys have to get a talk from their dads about why they can t play with Nerf or water guns in public any to the death of a dog that manages to be heartbreaking in a shockingly short amount of time Sometimes these elements land with the reader and sometimes they don t but you cheer on the effort Plus you get a lot of really good lines along the way Lines like I think this is what the world is stories on top of stories all the way back to the beginning of time This sentiment is echoed later when Haley remembers a moment when a familiar painting was taken off the wall leaving a pale green suare behind This disturbs the girl immeasurably I didn t want to believe that was all there was That when one thing went awayust the pale ghost of it remained I wanted to believe in stories on top of stories Always something else Always one ending Esteban s dad s poems are a clever inclusion too Essentially they enable Ms Woodson to slip some poetry in there that would be too mature for the kids to be able to write but that remains simple enough for them to parse themselves A friend of mine mentioned to me recently that in some ways Jacueline Woodson s two books for children out in 2018 Harbor Me and The Day You Begin contain similar themes Of the two they preferred the picture book and I do see why For a lot of people Woodson manages an emotional resonance in those scant 32 pages that can be elusive in novels like this one Harbor Me has strong emotional beats in the usual places even as it doesn t go for the ugular as often as I wanted personally For example when it becomes clear that Esteban and his father are gone I wanted of a kick to my heart Other choices didn t appeal to me personally like the fact that most of the book is a flashback from present day right at the beginning For the first fifteen pages I was confused and felt that the book had some difficulty finding its feet Once it did however it continued forward cool and collected That pretty much summarizes a lot of how I felt about the book I didn t always agree with the author s choices but I couldn t argue with the results At one point I wrote in my notes Oh man It s good It is I don t think it s perfect but perfection is kind of beside the point I ve only touched on a few of the myriad elements spotted throughout this book Ripe for discussion this is the book that will get kids thinking and talking and maybe most importantly for some listening for decades to come For ages 9 12 I don t often read books targeted for the middle school reader but this is Woodson and I love how she tackles difficult subject She does the same here portraying six eleven and twelve year olds all a different ethnicity and from different backgrounds All six have a harder time academically in school for a few it is the language barrier for another not being able to be still They are in an experimental classroom and have an amazing teacher who sees a need and fills it the best way She let s them leave her classroom making available an empty art room ust so they can talk about whatever they want without adult involvement The kids call it ARTT a room to talk At first they find this awkward but eventually we learn their stories and what herartfelt stories they areWoodson show how the many problems so many face whether it is a parent in prison the abrupt growing up of s black boy or a young boy whose father has been taken by ICE affect these young people She does it in a way that is easy to relate too and takes many of our nation s headlines making them personal If one can see and get to know someone different than you ones views change as these six kids experience this for themselves I felt for all of them uite impossible to notA fantastic reading and learning experience for middle schoolers a book that will open the lines of communication or so I believe I know ust the young lady a big reader who will appreciate this book and she will be receiving it. H 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

Listened to this one on audio from my library and REALLY enjoyed it I particularly liked the interview section at the end Six kids A room to talk For a whole school year six kids go into a room where they are to talk to each other Throughout the course of this book they reveal stories about their diverse backgrounds Harbor me was great I flew through this book it is uite short but I loved every bit about it This is the first book of Jacueline Wood son s that I have readI know right She s such a great well known author and I hope to read from her in the future The hardest part of telling a story is finding the beginningWhere 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 ustice and liberty for ALLHarbor Me is Jacueline 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 protago This book has EVERYTHING love family friends middle school transitions and the devastating realities faced by so many of our children in this country It brought me tears goosebumps and gratitude that I m alive in a world with people like Jackie WoodsonSeriously buy copies for your libraries and every family you know For a middle grade novel that is less than 200 pages this story manages to cram in uite 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 t A good book whether it s written for a nine year old a nineteen year old or a ninety year old can tilt your perspective if only momentarily Consider the concept of the happy ending and what it s supposed to resemble What does a real happy ending actually entail in real life In children s books many times the ending of a given story is happy when day is done In real life something happy may happen to a child but where s the ending in all that As an author Jacueline Woodson doesn t eschew a sense of completion when you get to the end of her books Kids could spend a long time debating whether some of her endings could be so simplified as to call them happy or not Harbor Me falls into that category The satisfaction a reader feels upon its completion is intrinsically tied to its writing but to call this a happy book is to diminish it Shooting for the moon Ms Woodson manages to fill this svelte title with a host of different ideas lessons and teachable moments And while I don t think it knocks it out of the park with every swing it still manages to be one of the most interesting and well written books of this or any other yearIt sounds like a social experiment than anything else Six kids are removed from their classmates and placed in their own room for a weekly discussion Their teacher s rules are clear Every Friday the six of you will leave my classroom at two pm and come into Room 501 You ll sit in this circle and you ll talk When the bell rings at three you re free to go home Putting kids in a separate space together can end with either a Breakfast Club situation or a Lord of the Flies conundrum Predictably at first the kids don t want to say a word but when Haley starts bringing in a hand recorder something cracks open Esteban is able to talk about his dad recently taken by the police and sent back to another country Amari about the restrictions put on black boys in America Ashton on being one of the few white kids in their Brooklyn school But it s Haley herself that has the hardest time talking About her mom s death Her dad s incarceration As the room comes together and bonds people listen to one another and everyone gets and ending Happy or not Now every children s book that strives to imbue its pages with weight and meaning must contend with a danger that I like to call the rogue cute The rogue cute is that moment where the author s writing tips from meaningful into faux meaningful From something that is honestly moving into something that feels like it s trying too hard All children s books novelists contend with this issue to varying degrees of success Ms Woodson is no different and there are times when she is successful than others For example to read this book is to accept that it is to a certain extent an idealized situation Six kids mostly strangers to one another are placed in a room where they may argue disagree or even tease but who are in the end devoid of cruelty That s the premise but fortunately there s a lot going on here than ust that As with many children s books Ms Woodson is conveying a message but where she may seem to be painting with too broad a brush in some places at other times she s uite circumspect For example many novels for kids stress the need for us to empathize with one another Woodson actually turns the concept of active listening into a whole book without hitting the reader over the head with the message Each time a kid in the classroom wants to speak everyone lets them with a minimal amount of interruptions or interjections Euity and diversity trainings often include a portion of the training where people are taught this very skill Leave it Ms Woodson to model this behavior for the next generationAs for the six characters some are better delineated than others I found myself thinking that single character points being bullied moving etc are rarely proper stand ins for personality traits So I do wish ust a smidgen work had gone into showing precisely why this group has bonded as tightly as it has I understand that much of it has to do with being able to talk honestly in a safe space I guess I ust. Jacueline 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 storiesIt all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat by themselves wit.

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I used to say I’d be a teacher or a lawyer or a hairdresser when I grew up but even as I said these things I knew what made me happiest was writingI wrote on everything and everywhere I remember my uncle catching me writing my name in graffiti on the side of a building It was not pretty for me when my mother found out I wrote on paper bags and my shoes and denim binders I chalked stories a