Harbor Me (hardcover)
by Jacqueline Woodson
Imagine putting 6 fifth/sixth graders into a room without any adults. Wouldn’t you wonder what their conversations would be about? I’d think it would be video games and nonsense, but in Harbor Me, these kids come from very different backgrounds. The narrator is being raised by her uncle after her mom died and her dad is in prison, and her best friend is “rich” but resentful towards the kids who call her that. One kid is African American and learning the “rules” for being black (like interacting with police and playing with toy guns). One is devastated over his father being taken by immigration and not having contact with him. A final kid is Puerto Rican and his culture isn’t respected for being “American” even though it’s part of America. These kids begin to realize that although they are very different, they can still feel compassion for one another, and build bridges. They are basically the hope for our future, because they take the time to listen and understand each other.
What I liked about this book is the way it tells very realistic, yet compelling, stories of kids that truly could exist today. There are stories that will tell JUST an African American kid’s point of view, or an undocumented (or documented) kid’s point of view, or even of of a child with mixed race or a parent in prison, but this book tells them all. Not only that, but it shows that none of that matters when it comes to being friends and showing compassion and empathy for one another. We as adults push our own beliefs upon our children. Let’s make sure we’re moving our society forward and not backward, or letting it remain stagnant by not being more open-minded and willing to change.
What I didn’t like about this book is only that I would have liked more background on each student. I think each of them could have had their own book, and I would have liked to see how their new perspectives from the ARTT room affected their futures. It’s really not something I disliked, but something I would hope for in the future, maybe.
Book 66 of 2018
by Jacqueline Woodson
AR Level 4.7, 2 points
Locomotion is another book written in various forms of poetry, but it tells the story of Lonnie, an eleven year old boy who lost his parents in a fire and was separated from his little sister. He lives with Ms. Edna and has a teacher who encourages him to write poetry, insisting he has a gift. Lonnie writes his way through memories of his family, sadness about being separated from his sister, and his discovery of God.
What I liked about this book was that it motivated me to encourage poetry with my own students. Lonnie lived through the heartbreak of losing his family and found solace in poetry. He wrote about what he saw and experienced, or what he was feeling. There’s no reason my students couldn’t do the same.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it was sad. It’s sad to think of a boy and girl living without their parents, who were clearly good parents, especially now that I have children of my own. I don’t want my kids to have to go through life without me, especially if they were to be separated from each other.
Woodson has written quite a few books about the perspective of young, African-American children, and I think being able to read books from a different perspective will help my own students make connections. Anything that helps us to see diversity from someone else’s point of view will generate tolerance and acceptance, which is what we need right now.
Book 39 of 40 (year 2)
Brown Girl Dreaming (hardcover)
by Jacqueline Woodson
AR Level 5.3, 5 points
Brown Girl Dreaming is an award-winning book by a poet I’d never heard of. I picked this book up, because I have to read all of the Newbery Award-winners and honorees. It is autobiographical and follows the life of little Jacqueline from when she was a little girl in Ohio to her time in South Carolina with her grandparents, and then her life in New York. Most takes place during the 1960’s when the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, etc. were in the news, and we get to see her perspective as a young black girl with roots in the north and the south. In addition, we get to read about Ms. Woodson’s evolution as a young writer. While this book delves into race and discrimination, it is very much about hope and faith and acceptance.
What I liked about this book was that it is written in poetry form. I know my students will also appreciate that. I will include it as a recommended read during my poetry unit at school, because while it tells a story, it is also a great example for figurative language and imagery. I also like that the main character tells her story in a hopeful way, rather than being negative. She doesn’t see her friends or others in terms of color, but she understands that she is isn’t treated equally, and has hope that she will someday.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it got a little slow at times. I thought it would be a quick read, but it took me longer than expected. I can’t really say it was the book’s fault. Maybe I just lost focus in my pursuit of a lazy summer.
Book 8 of 40 (year 2)