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.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 7 reviews

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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.


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.  


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.


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

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 -- fifth-graders in this case -- 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLittlebookpage March 24, 2019

Heavy topics for 5th graders

My daughter was assigned Harbor Me in her 5th grade class and I read this book to help understand what she was reading and be able to answer the questions she w... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byflvfairy May 6, 2021

This was a waste of my school time

*some spoilers* I did not like this book because it was way to confusing from flashback to normal time. She put no character development and you barely get to k... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old March 18, 2021

really good, highly recommended

I love Jacqueline Woodson and all of her books so much. Although Harbor Me is a little bit confusing in the beginning, it is so worth it. It has a great message... Continue reading

What's the story?

In HARBOR ME, six fifth-graders 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories and immigrant tales

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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