Harbor Me

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Harbor Me Book Poster Image
Kids get safe space to tell their stories in moving tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows the reality behind the headlines as it delves into the lives of students affected by police brutality, immigration enforcement, parent incarceration, and a family going through a job loss. 

Positive Messages

Don't judge a book by its cover. Having conversations is an important way to overcome differences. Friendship can help kids experiencing hardship.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The students are largely their own positive role models.They hold themselves accountable and allow for learning from their mistakes. They help and support one another. They emphasize friendship and group care.

Violence

A story shared about a woman who was killed in a car crash, with no gory details. A national news story mentioned about a kid playing with a toy gun in the park when police shot him. A bullied kid is a victim of "necking" -- when kids slap another kid on the back of the neck. The kid doesn't report the bullying, but it does end when friends stand up for him.  

Sex

Typical middle school crush experiences, though nothing comes of it. An adult uncle teases his niece about wanting to date and make cousins for her to play with.

Language

No swearing, but an allusion to it in the term "the H word"; an eighth grader flips off a group of students.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention that a man drove drunk and crashed his car, killing a woman.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson, the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, is her first middle-grade novel since winning National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming. It celebrates the importance of allowing young people a safe space in which to share their stories. The book deals with immigration and class issues, police brutality, driving under the influence, parent death, trust, and breaking down walls between people of different backgrounds to find common understanding and experience. Parents should be prepared to discuss the government's enforcement of immigration laws, anti-immigration sentiment, police brutality, and "the talk" often given to black boys about the police, parental loss, isolation, and peer counseling.

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What's the story?

In HARBOR ME, six students who are already considered an experiment because they are "special needs learners" are put together to talk among themselves for the last hour of class. They all think it's a dumb idea until Estaban's dad disappears and they suspect he's been deported. When the worry becomes too much, Estaban starts to open up. Haley records their first talk, and slowly each one of them -- Haley, Estaban, Amari, Ashton, Tiago, and Holly -- tells the story of their life into Haley's recorder. Everyone has a story, and everyone's story deserves to be told. The question is: How will the story end?

Is it any good?

Jacqueline Woodson weaves a masterful tapestry of stories illustrating the lives of everyday American kids dealing with serious issues, including racial profiling, deportation, and incarceration. Harbor Me is familiar, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, as Woodson shows what happens to the real families behind the headlines. As the kids open up and find shelter in one another, they find strength, support, love, and hope as well.

It's refreshing to see kids who actually talk rather than tweet, text, and Snapchat their feelings. Young readers will love to see what they have in common with the characters, and parents and teachers will love the diverse perspectives and can use Harbor Me to kick off discussions of many important social and political topics in the news.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how middle school relationships are shown in Harbor Me. Is it easier or harder to connect with kids your age with so many different ways to connect on social media?

  • How does the way the characters in the book feel about the issues and incidents they're dealing with compare with the way the media portrays such issues?

  • What makes a family? What do families have in common? What are some of the differences?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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