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In this timely juvenile novel, author Jacqueline Woodson relates the stories of six students in a Brooklyn, N.Y., grade 5-6 classroom who know they aren’t like other kids—“our learning felt like a race we were losing while the other kids sped ahead.”

Their teacher, Ms. Laverne, surprises them when she explains that for the last hour each Friday, they’ll have the opportunity to talk to each other, with no adult interference, in the school’s old art room. Each is apprehensive and wonders, What will we talk about?

Week by week in the ARTT (A Room To Talk) room—so named by one of the students―their anxiety and awkwardness give way to trust and truth-telling. The students, who come from various ethnic, religious, and socio-economic groups, share stories of a father gone missing amidst fears of deportation; a parent killed in a tragic accident; an imprisoned father; encounters with racial profiling; and experiences of discrimination for being black, brown, white, half black\half white, rich, poor, or an immigrant.

As their stories unfold, the students grapple with the meaning of freedom and whether or not they are experiencing it. One black student shares his father’s assessment: “like we were suspects from the day we were born.” Another student, a child of Puerto Rican immigrants, wonders why “this place acts like it doesn’t have any future dreams for us.”

By the end of the school year, the students have become what Ms. Laverne envisioned: harbors for each other.

Relevant to the current United States political climate, Harbor Me is worthwhile, not only for juvenile readers, but also for parents, teachers, youth pastors, social workers, and anyone who loves youth and works for their wellbeing. (Nancy Paulson Books 2018)

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