Harbor Me

By Jacqueline Woodson

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Informational Resources:

Author Information:

Author biography on Penguin Random House website:


Author interview about Harbor Me with C-SPAN (5:50):


Activities & Resources:


Harbor Me teacher’s guide (Penguin Random House website):

Click to access 9780399252525.pdf

Harbor Me activity guide (National Council of Teachers of English):


Sharing stories:

Preserve the memories of people who are important to you with an oral history interview. This article gives an overview of the interview process for kids:


Personalize this list of questions to help friends or relatives share their stories:


Make an accordion book to display the important events in a friend or relative’s life:


Share important family information in a digital family history museum:


Use a word cloud site to create an image that represent the life of a friend or relative:



Esteban’s father communicates with his son through poetry. Select one of the father’s poems from Chapter 22, 29, 33, or 38. Illustrate this poem, reflecting its emotion and message through the images you create.

Select an object that played an important role in Harbor Me, such as the voice recorder or the uncle’s guitar. Think about all the ways this object contributed to the story. Draw the outline of the object on a piece of blank paper. Inside the shape, write a poem about the object and its importance to the story.

Create a magnetic poetry set. Make sure to include words that relate to Harbor Me’s  plot, characters, themes, and mood.  Share your magnetic poetry set with a friend who has also read the book:  

Click to access Magnetic_Poetry.pdf

Select a character from Harbor Me whom you found particularly interesting. Write three different types of poems about this character, using the information found in the Poetic Forms section of the Poetry4Kids site:


Helping friends with personal struggles:

Explore quotes and resources to help kids deal with bullying:


The six friends in Harbor Me helped each other through some very tough personal times. Which of the good friend qualities in this Wonderopolis article do you recognize in the book? Which characteristics have you found most important when a friend offers you support?


Exploring cultures:

Find out additional information about some of the cultures that were mentioned in Harbor Me:

The Lenape:


Dominican Republic:


Puerto Rico:


MakerSpace Activities:

Using materials in the MakerSpace, create a journal for daily reflections. If a kid-friendly paper trimmer and hole punch are available, try out these directions for a DIY project:


Imagine a space that would be the perfect safe harbor for you.  Sketch a design of the space and then create a 3-D model of your harbor. Include made-to-scale furniture, equipment, and decorations to complete the project.

With a group of friends, select a scene in Harbor Me. As a team, create the script for the scene. Decide on the cast and rehearse the script until the actors are familiar with their lines. Find a quiet location without distractions and record the scene. Share with other friends who have read the book to prompt additional discussion.

Conduct an oral history interview with an adult or classmate  Then create a podcast based on the interview:



Discussion Questions:

Read the quote by author Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) that appears at the beginning of the book. Explain how this quote relates to Harbor Me.

Looking at the cover of the book, identify the silhouettes by name, left to right. Then write a sentence about each figure, explaining why you associated that character with that image.

Define the word harbor. Share scenes in the book that are examples of this word. Does it make a difference if the word is used as a noun or as a verb? Explain your answer.

The first line in the book is “We think they took my papi.” What effect does that opening sentence have on the mood of the book? What questions does the statement create in the reader’s mind? Having read the book, what opening sentence would you substitute for the one that the author chose?

Ms. Laverne is in many ways a very unusual teacher. List this teacher’s special qualities and explain why these characteristics are important to this particular group of students. Share whether or not you would like to be in this 6th grade teacher’s class.

“Eight special kids” is the way that Haley refers to the group that has been selected to be in Ms. Laverne’s class (Chapter 2). Why is the word special in italics? Why have these students been selected for this small class with an outstanding and loving teacher? By the end of the book, describe how the word special takes on new meaning for this little group.

At the end of Chapter 2, Haley says, “So much can change in a minute, an hour, a year.” Give an example from the book to support a powerful change for each measure of time in Haley’s statement — minute, hour, and year.

In Chapter 5, after the group has been introduced to the A.R.R.T room, Ashton says, “I just don’t really understand why we’re going into another room by ourselves.” Why did the school set up this room for the six student to use just for talking once a week? What effect would the presence of an adult have had on the conversations? What was the ultimate result of the weekly conversations?

Haley’s uncle leaves his comfortable life to take care of his niece while his brother is in prison. How would you describe Haley’s uncle?    

In Chapter 36, Holly and Haley talk about Haley’s sad and angry feelings about her father. Holly suggests that Haley wants forgiveness and not forgetness for her father. Why is Haley so filled with hard feelings for her father? What is the difference between forgiving and forgetting? How does Haley show her father that she forgives him and what difference does that forgiveness make in their relationship?

Choose the A.R.R.T room student who is most unlike you.   Explain the ways in which you and that character are different. Share why those differences would or would not  keep you from being friends.

Think about the six students in the A.R.R.T. room. Which character would you be most likely to choose as a friend? List the qualities in that character that you think are important in a good friend.

For each of the six students, choose one adjective that you think describes that character. Then share examples from the book that helped you choose each adjective.

The author inserts real-life issues into this fictional story, set in present-day Brooklyn, NY. For each of the six students, identify a contemporary problem in their lives that could easily appear on any nightly news program. Now choose one character and describe how that 21st century issue causes personal difficulty in the book..

The author often tells the story of these six special students through flashbacks. Do you find leaving the present to describe actions from the past to be an effective way to present the story? Support your answer with examples from the book.

Instead of creating a book where all of the characters are introduced in detail in the first one or two chapters of the book, the author reveals important information about each character as the book progress, almost like unwrapping a package inside many layers of tissue paper. What is the effect of this style of writing on the reader?

Room is an image that is used often in the book. The children spend Friday afternoons in the A.R.R.T room. Haley keeps memories locked up in different rooms inside her head. Choose a room, real or imaginary, that is important to you. Describe the room and explain why that space is important to you. How would you respond if that room were no longer available to you?  

Haley’s uncle would often tell her stories before she went to sleep and would often say, “Don’t forget the happy ending.” Do you think this book has a happy ending? Explain your answer with examples from the book.

During their time in the A.R.R.T.room, each of the students talk about their families, all of which are as different as the students themselves. How have these six students also become a family? Describe how these students reflect the characteristics of family.

Several times throughout the book, the author refers to the Familiar and the Unfamiliar, implying that doing the Familiar is easy and the Unfamiliar, a challenge. What difference did facing the Unfamiliar make for these six students?  What are your strategies when you are confronted with something that is unfamiliar?

Book Talk Teasers:

Ask students the question, “Where do you feel safe?” Give everyone who wants to contribute the chance to share. Then tell the group that a special safe place is at the center of the action of the book. Encourage students to read the book to see if their safe place resembles the space these six students share.

Project a image of the cover of the book. Ask students what they think this book will be about.  Affirm everyone’s answer without giving away any of the plot details. Suggest that students can read the book to see who has correctly predicted (or come close) the book’s plot just by looking at the cover. Have multiple copies available, if possible.

Read Alikes:


Alvarez, Julia. Return to sender After his family hires migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure, eleven-year-old Tyler befriends the oldest daughter, but when he discovers they may not be in the country legally, he realizes that real friendship knows no borders.

Buyea, Rob. Mr. Terupt falls again. Several students relate their experiences helping Mr. Terupt move the old classroom to the sixth grade annex during the summer vacation.

Harrington, Janice N. Catching a storyfish. Keet knows the only good thing about moving away from her Alabama home is that she’ll live near her beloved grandfather. When Keet starts school, it’s even worse than she expected, as the kids tease her about her southern accent. Now Keet, who can talk the whiskers off a catfish,” doesn’t want to open her mouth. Slowly, though, while fishing with her grandfather, she learns the art of listening. Gradually, she makes her first new friend. But just as she’s beginning to settle in, her grandfather has a stroke, and even though he’s still nearby, he suddenly feels ever-so-far-away.

Pearsall, Sheley. All of the above. Five urban middle school students, their teacher, and other community members relate how a school project to build the world’s largest tetrahedron affects the lives of everyone involved.


Arqueta, Jorge. Somo como las nubes = We are like the clouds. This bilingual (Spanish/English) collection of poems recreates the experiences of thousands of children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, who have been forced to abandon all they know because of poverty and violence in their home countries. The verses address the love they feel for their countries of origin, their fears about violent gangs, the loneliness that surfaces when friends leave, and their own fears about the upcoming journey.

Giardino, Alexandria. Ode to an onion: Pablo Neruda & his muse. Sad about the subject of a poem he is writing, Pablo Neruda visits his friend Matilde who shows him, through a simple onion, that happiness can be found even through tears.

Latham, Irene. Can I touch your hair?:poems of race, mistakes, and friendship. Poems from the alternating perspectives of two students explore such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners.

Death of family member

Dowell, Frances O’Roark. Chicken boy. Since the death of his mother, Tobin’s family life and school life have been in disarray, but after he starts raising chickens with his seventh-grade classmate, Henry, everything starts to fall into place.

Moore, David Barclay,The stars beneath our feet. Unable to celebrate the holidays in the wake of his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting, 12-year-old Lolly Rachpaul struggles to avoid being forced into a gang himself while constructing a fantastically creative LEGO city at the Harlem community center.

Schmidt, Gary D. Pay attention, Carter Jones. Sixth-grader Carter must adjust to the unwelcome presence of a know-it-all butler who is determined to help him become a gentleman, and also to deal with burdens from the past.


Woodson, Jacqueline. Harbor Me.  Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2018

Horn Book                                                   

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

Intermediate Paulsen/Penguin 179 pp. g

8/18 978-0-399-25252-5 $17.99

One day, Ms. Laverne gathers her small class of fifth and sixth graders and walks them over to the old art room, where she invites them to talk to one another—without her. Every Friday at two o’clock, narrator Haley and her classmates sit in a circle during the last hour of the school day to talk about whatever they want. At first, the six students are skeptical and question Ms. Laverne’s judgment in leaving them alone—in pushing them “from the Familiar to the Unfamiliar”—but they soon realize the gift that she has offered them. While grappling with challenging issues of immigration, racism, incarceration, grief, and loss, they also explore deep issues of identity, community, family, change, and forgiveness. The power of remembrance is also an important theme, with Haley offering her voice recorder as a medium to collect her classmates’ stories and voices. As the school year unfolds, the safety and sanctity of their space deepens, as do their friendships. Woodson’s (Brown Girl Dreaming, rev. 9/14) latest will speak to young people’s insecurities and fears while recognizing their courage in facing them, and her craft as a weaver of words and imagery is evident on every page. A timely tribute to the resilience of young people and to the power of human connection that often overrides our differences. MONIQUE HARRIS

Reprinted from the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine with permission from The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com                                                     


Harbor Me.  (Starred)Woodson, Jacqueline (author).

Aug. 2018. 192p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $17.99 (9780399252525). Grades 5-8. REVIEW. First published July, 2018 (Booklist).                                                 

Six fifth- and sixth-graders, all in a special class for those who learn differently, are suddenly given, by their beloved teacher, an extra hour of safe space—an empty classroom where they are told they can talk about anything or nothing. At first, it’s nothing. Then, Haley, the book’s narrator, describes how each child begins to unfold. Esteban’s story demands to be told first; Immigration Services have taken his father away. The others lend sympathy and support, and then, over the course of a school year, more confidences are shared. Ashton, one of the school’s few white kids, is bullied. Amari sketches guns and worries about being shot. Puerto Rican Tiago struggles with being American, yet not American. Haley’s own story is intertwined with that of her best friend, Holly. Haley’s red hair comes from her father, but he’s in jail and Haley’s mother is dead; an uncle cares for the hyperactive Holly. The plot, at times, creaks, especially the setup. But the magic is in the writing. Woodson tells stories torn from headlines but personalizes them with poetry and memories, blunting their trauma with understanding and love. Haley’s history weaves in and out, drawing readers close. These children become each other’s safe harbors, and Woodson brilliantly shows readers how to find the connections we all need. — Ilene Cooper   

Used with the permission of Booklist  https://www.booklistonline.com/

School Library Journal (August 1, 2018) 

Gr 4-6-In sixth grade, Haley is part of a special class of six kids that include Holly, Esteban, Amari, Tiago, and Ashton. On the first Friday of the school year, Ms. Laverne tells them to grab their books and follow her. She leads them to what used to be the art room and gives them some simple directions. They are supposed to sit in a circle and talk. The students are confused at first. What are they supposed to talk about? Ms. Laverne assures them they can talk about whatever they want to and need to. The next Friday, Haley comes in with a recorder, telling her friends it’s so that they won’t forget each other. Through the “recordings,” readers get to know each of the six classmates through their own words. Each character reveals the difficult things they’re balancing in their lives, whether it’s an incarcerated parent, a dead parent, a family split apart by immigration policies, a father who lost his job, or their daily struggles with racism and microaggressions. Woodson’s spare, lyrical, and evocative prose carries the story seamlessly, weaving in themes of justice and family, friendship and courage. VERDICT This is a timely and beautifully written story that should be on library shelves everywhere.-Stacy Dillon, LREI, New York © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 

Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal ©2018