Harbor Me

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Harbor Me

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.--from the publisher

192 pages    978-0399252525    Ages 10 and up

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

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If you put six 5th/6th graders in an otherwise empty classroom at 2:00p.m. on a Friday afternoon and tell them to talk to each other, what will happen?

Ms. Laverne has just closed the door and left Haley, Holly, Amari, Ashton, Tiago and Esteban alone in Room 501.  Instead of "No talking, " their directions are, "Talk to each other."

What unfolds over the next days and weeks is a steady stream of surprising honesty and authenticity.  These are kids who take the time to hear about the pain of deportation, prejudice and racism, bullying and a struggle of a father in prison.

Their stories bring them together to are about each other.  Empathy and acceptance are born along with the understanding that we all need to harbor each other.

Told in the voices of children, this book has the power to kindle awareness and understanding with a hope that we will take time to walk in each other's shoes and discover our own power to care for another person and make that one small difference in the world.

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com

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“Such a situation could have long-term, devastating effects on young children, who are likely to develop what is called toxic stress in their brain once separated from caregivers or parents they trusted. It disrupts a child’s brain development and increases the levels of fight-or-flight hormones in their bodies, Kraft said. This kind of emotional trauma could eventually lead to health problems, such as heart disease and substance abuse disorders.”

-- Washington Post, “‘America is better than this’: What a doctor saw in a Texas shelter for migrant children,” by Kristine Phillips, June 16, 2018

“All has seemed lost before only to give way, after decades of gloom, to light. And this is in large measure because, in the battle between the impulses of good and evil in the American soul, what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’ have prevailed just often enough to keep the national enterprise alive.”

-- Jon Meacham, from THE SOUL OF AMERICA: THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS (2018)

“We think they took my papi.”

In HARBOR ME, through the eyes of Haley, a motherless and father-imprisoned young biracial woman, we come to know the lives and thoughts of six young students who have been assigned to a 5th/6th grade special needs classroom. These six tweens have been fortuitously blessed with a wise and innovative teacher, Ms. Laverne.

Ms. Laverne establishes a routine for the class: On Friday afternoons, the students conclude the school week by moving to an art room without the teacher to talk among themselves. In this venue, which one student dubs “A Room to Talk,” they share their hopes and fears. Topics that arise over the course of the story include racism, police brutality, bullying, and wealth and privilege.

Given today’s headlines, and the shocking utterances of candidate-and-then-President Trump, it seems appropriate that the first and foremost issue probed in HARBOR ME is immigration.

“Esteban had been absent for days, and when he finally returned, Ms. Laverne asked him if he was up to doing some work and he nodded.

It helps me forget for a little while, he said.

Forget what? Amari asked.

That nobody know where they took him. And now we’re packing up everything, Esteban said. Because if they took him, maybe they’re going to take us too.

Immigration is where HARBOR ME starts and ends. Esteban reveals that his father, an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic, has been apprehended by ICE. Through much of the book we don’t know the whereabouts of Esteban’s father nor whether Estaban, who was born in the US, will suddenly disappear from school.

It’s particularly meaningful for me to be writing about immigration at this point in time. I’m currently on my first visit to southern Italy and Sicily. This is where my maternal grandparents each emigrated from more than one hundred years ago, before meeting and marrying in New York. I literally exist because of the past generosity of America to welcome those looking for a better life.

When I read about ICE agents tearing toddlers from the breasts of their mothers and putting them into detention camps, in an effort by the president to negotiate a “better” deal on immigration “reform,” I am deeply disturbed, as I’m sure you are. How can America speak with moral authority, when our government behaves in this fashion? For the sake of these children, and for the sake of our country’s future, we need to find our better angels right now.

Jacqueline Woodson, currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, has crafted a middle school novel that is in equal measure poetic and topical. And frequently heartbreaking. Through the voices of these six characters--Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Tiago, and Ashton--HARBOR ME immerses young readers in peer discussions of issues that, sadly, far too many of our children face on a daily basis.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations: http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

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