I have a colleague who reads and recommends books. And that in itself is a treasure. But it also happens that the books she shares with me always bring some aspect of the lives of the students we teach into a bright light of clarity. That light may highlight the humor in situations that make us laugh, it might burn a bright spotlight on an injustice that makes us cry, or it might be the hot light of anger when we recognize a child's face through a character surviving a situation no kid should be made to endure. Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me brought all of this and more to this teacher of diverse learners who also considers it a privilege to live in the company of children every day.
The students in Harbor Me are as authentic as they come. These characters reflect the daily dramas that teachers and students are all too familiar with: incarceration, immigration, bullying, learning differences, race, adolescence, and schools as places where the most fragile of young people wait to be seen and heard. They were fortunate to find exactly the teacher they needed in Ms. Laverne. The students and the reader respect this teacher for her subtle masterful ways of building her students' self-esteem and standing back to allow them the opportunity to have real conversations and to become bonded as friends. Every student has a story, and under Ms. Laverne's careful guidance, every story is told to a loving audience when the teller decides she is ready.
As I read some of the later chapters of Harbor Me, I became so invested in the story of the main character, Haley, that I had to put the book down, take some deep breaths, and wipe away tears. It takes a brave, honest, and compassionate author to tell the little huge stories of our kids' lives with the respect and elegance that they so deserve. It takes someone who listens with reverence and speaks skillfully. It takes a person who sees no child as an object of pity, and all children as worthy. That is the author who tells of Amari, Haley, Holly, Tiago, Ashton, and Esteban. And I grateful to her for it.