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?’ Then she said, ‘I want each of you to say to the other: I will harbor you.’
I will harbor you.
- Excerpt from Harbor Me
When Ms. Laverne tells six of her fifth/sixth grade students that she wants them to spend Friday afternoons at school in a no-adults-allowed room, talking and getting to know each other, they aren’t exactly thrilled. They aren’t friends, and what are they supposed to talk about, anyway? What’s the point? It mostly seems like a big waste of time.
Slowly, though, the six students begin to learn about each other, and discover that despite their differences they have some important things in common. They may have faced loss, racism, bullying, or poverty. Their parents might be immigrants or undocumented or born in America. But they all have scars that are only just beginning to heal, and over the course of the year, they form a powerful bond, learning to accept each other—and themselves—for who they really are.
Jacqueline Woodson (award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming) has spun a story that deals with important present-day issues, but also one about childhood, growing up, and searching for your place in the world. I loved the characters, and the way the story unfolded—as a series of one of the students’ memories as she looks back on that life-changing year. I would highly recommend it for ages eleven and up, but although the book is about fifth/sixth graders (the main character, Haley, is eleven), slightly older readers may actually enjoy it more. Stunning, timely, and sometimes heart-wrenching, it’s especially good for book groups and discussions.
There are some books which are unforgettable because they are about past events that really happened. Harbor Me is powerful because it is about the present day, and how for millions of Americans, America isn’t really free.