Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
What would happen if you intentionally leave a group of kids alone in a classroom?
This story framework, a group in a confined space for a specific period of time, is generally reserved for adult literature. Think: a sequestered jury, a therapy group, passengers on a plane/train etc. The most notable equivalent application for teens is The Breakfast Club. But a group of students deliberately put together in a classroom without an adult present is something I don’t offhand recall in another work of juvenile fiction.
It’s a bold construct that really works. It works so well that I became a virtual member of the group, as the dynamic slowly, often painfully, evolves. I could relate to each student. It was easy to picture myself as an unseen participant in the room.
Concepts of immigration, incarceration, racial disparity, and economic inequality are woven into the narrative. While these are important issues, it’s the relationship among the six kids that is imprinted on my mind and heart. Each voice is distinct and offers a unique perspective.
Kudos for the cover design. It captures the essence of creating harbors for kids.
- Haley is of mixed race with the distinguishing feature of red hair. An uncle cares for her while her father is in prison.
- Tiago uses art as a means of self-expression. He is proud of his Puerto Rican culture and heritage.
- Holly is Haley's friend. She often speaks before she thinks.
- Esteban lives with the uncertainty of deportation.
But rich in dreams, cuz in this country you can be anything.
- Amari is Esteban's protector and defender.
- Ashton is the only white member of the group.
and I know I can trust you, right?
- Freedom and what it means to be free. Consider the larger context of freedom in a world view and compare that with the granular from the standpoint of classroom rules.
- Familiar vs. the unknown
- Time: the passage of time and our perceptions of time. Consider the words “always” and “moment”
- Friendship: what it means to be a friend and the long-term effects of friendship
- Harbor: what is a harbor (this may be a new concept for students living in land-locked areas) and what does harbor mean in the larger sense.
- Poetry as a means of expression
- Tragedy: the place that tragic events have in our lives
I was also intrigued by the choice to forgo quotation marks and use italics to denote dialog. This stylistic decision is well-suited to the narrative.
As a former classroom teacher, I can easily see this as a class study, with a copy of Harbor Me for each student. Reading and discussing together, the shared experience would help students create their own ARTT.
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