"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Sunday, June 17, 2018

ReedALOUD: Harbor Me

I read Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson and I can't stop thinking about it. Woodson has created a novel that allows the reader to focus in and become deeply connected with the characters while also forcing us to to look outward, seeing the impact of economic, cultural and societal forces on these characters. Harbor Me is a poignant and timely story whose characters' stories both break and break open our hearts.

Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton, and Tiago know they are different. 

"Learning felt like a race we were losing while the other kids sped ahead."

They are placed into their own classroom with their own teacher. Oh, but what a wonderful teacher Jacqueline Woodson has provided for them. Ms. Laverne is affirming and empowering.

"The words you miss just tell me what you don't yet know, Ms. Laverne always said. It says nothing about who you are." 

What Woodson does so importantly is allow the reader to experience the students' sense of themselves as learners, reminding readers that learning style has nothing to do with intelligence, which these students demonstrate time and time again throughout the story and come to understand about themselves. 

Another thing that makes Ms. Laverne a fabulous teacher is that she sees what her students need. She pushes Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton and Tiago from their comfort zone and into the unfamiliar. The six are given time within the school day, without any adult supervision, to find a way to help each other by talking about the things they would not talk about in front of a teacher. 

"Ms. Laverne said every day we should ask ourselves, "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? The she said, "I want each of you to say to the other: I will harbor you."

At first they are afraid and unsure of this unsupported and unstructured time, but slowly, as they open up, they find solace and strength in each other's stories. The six push each other to think more deeply and more broadly. 

Their weekly time in the ARTT (A Room to Talk) becomes a time of healing and growth as well as a time of hope.

"Like that thing Ms. Laverne said about how we have to harbor each other, you remember?" I nodded.
"I feel like your story does that. You're my same age and you have to be strong for your dad. It makes me feel like I can be strong too."
"And everyone else said, Yeah."

This story is by Jacqueline Woodson, so not only is it written beautifully, it includes some thought-provoking poetry. Esteban's father, who has been taken away and detained, sends him poems. The poetry is Esteban's, but in sharing it, he cements his bond with the other five students. The students also realize how much they do know and understand as they explore the poems. 
"Maybe this mountain sings of promises and families broken. Maybe 
it holds inside it a beautifully remembered dream. 
Tell him to hold inside himself 
all good memories - hugs. Friends. Laughter. 
Tomorrow holds no promises but now is not the time for tears.

As Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton, and Tiago learn to trust each other, they delve into tough conversations about illegal immigration and deportations, bullying, racial profiling, family financial insecurity, and family members serving time in prison. These six middle schoolers are having the types of conversations we should all be having. 

Where Jacqueline's characters find safe harbor in each others words and stories, so too will readers, all readers, but especially those who feel marginalized, disenfranchised, bullied, and scared. 

Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton, and Tiago. 

Remember these names because they will will harbor you.

I received an advanced copy of the book, so you will have a wait a bit for this one, but the wait is worth it. Put it on your book order. Now.

The advanced reading copy has uncorrected text, so any quoted text may not be the same in the final copy. 

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