Copyright © 2018 Jacqueline Woodson 4 If there's one thing I do remember as clear as if it happened an hour ago, it's the afternoon when Ms. Laverne said to us, Put down your pencils and come with me. It was the end of September and we had been taking a spelling test. Esteban had been absent for days, and when he finally returned, Ms. Laverne asked him if he was up to doing some work and he nodded. It helps me forget for a little while, he said. Forget what? Amari asked. That nobody knows where they took him. And now we're packing up everything, Esteban said. Because if they took him, maybe they're going to take us too. I turned back to my test. I didn't want to think about fathers. Mine had been in prison for eight years by then. In the last letter we'd gotten, he said he wasn't sure what would happen with his parole. If he got it, he didn't know exactly when he'd be coming home. I remember zero about living with him. Every good thing that happened had happened with my uncle. I couldn't imagine a different life. Didn't want to imagine it. Not for me. Not for anyone. I was stuck on the word holiday . Did it have one l or two? My spelling had always been bad, but in Ms. Laverne's class it didn't matter so much because we were all at different levels in one thing or another. The words you miss just tell me what you don't yet know, Ms. Laverne always said. It says nothing about who you are. For some reason that made me feel better. I was eleven years old. What eleven-year-old didn't know how to spell holliday ? Put down your pencils and come with me. The six of us stood up. Our school uniforms were white shirts and dark blue pants or skirts. We could wear any jackets, shoes and tights we wanted. I had worn blue-and-white-striped tights that day. Holly's tights had red stars on them. When we stood next to each other in the school yard that morning, our stars and stripes echoed the flag waving from the pole above us. We had spent the minutes before the bell rang dancing around it while Holly sang that old song about having a hammer, I'd hammer out danger, I'd hammer out a warning . . . We stood next to our desks and waited for Ms. Laverne to tell us what to do next. Amari pulled his hoodie over his head, then quickly pulled it off again, the way he sometimes did when he was nervous. Amari was beautiful. His skin was so dark, you could almost see the color blue running beneath it. His eyes were dark too. Dark like there was smoke behind his pupils. Dark and serious and . . . infinite. In that fifth/sixth grade class, I didn't know how to say any of this. I wanted only to look at him. And look at him. Take a picture, it lasts longer, Amari said to me in such a cranky way, it almost brought me to tears. Ashton smirked, then pushed his hair away from his forehead and held his hand there. She doesn't want a picture of you, Holly said. Bad enough we have to look at you five days a week. She had left her desk and was heading over to the classroom library. Holly, back to your desk, Ms. Laverne said. I want you all to take your books. You won't be coming back here today. We all gathered our stuff and followed her into the hallway. Ms. Laverne took out her phone and said, Smile, people. In the photo, Holly and I have our fingers linked together, our tights looking crazier than anything. Amari has his hood halfway on and halfway off, and Tiago, Esteban and Ashton are all looking away from the camera. The picture is taped to my refrigerator now. We all look so young in it, our cheeks puffing out with baby fat, our uniform shirts untucked, Tiago's sneakers untied. We walked down the hall behind Ms. Laverne, her heels softly clicking. I thought about how maybe one day I'd grow up to wear black shoes with small heels that clicked as I walked down a hall. And have students following behind who were a little bit in love with me. Two small kids came running down the hall, but when they saw Ms. Laverne, they stopped and started walking so slowly, I almost laughed. Esteban pulled his knapsack onto his shoulder and held it with both hands. You okay, bro? Amari put his hand on Esteban's arm. Nah, Esteban said. Not really. Amari moved his arm over Esteban's shoulder. And kept it there. 5 When we got to Room 501, Ms. Laverne opened the door and held it for us. Nobody knew what to do, so we just stood there. The room was bright and smelled like it had just been cleaned with the same oil soap my uncle used on our floors. Back when me and Holly were in third grade, it had been the art room, but then someone gave our school enough money to open up a whole art studio in the basement, so now this was just a room we passed by sometimes and said to each other, Remember when that used to be the art room? Welcome to Room 501, Ms. Laverne said. Holly ran in ahead and the rest of us followed and looked around. In the old art room, there were just a few of those chairs with swing-up desks in a circle, a teacher's desk with no chair, a big clock on the wall and some little kid's ancient painting of a bright yellow sun thumbtacked to the closet door. Esteban asked, Are we getting transferred to a new class? He put his knapsack down between his ankles and hugged himself. Amari had taken his arm off Esteban's shoulder but was still standing close to him. When Esteban shivered, Amari put his arm back. I heard him whisper, It's all good, bro. It's all good. Ms. Laverne's not taking us somewhere we don't want to be. Ms. Laverne sat on the edge of the teacher's desk and folded her arms. Every Friday, from now until the end of the school year, the six of you will leave my classroom at two p.m. and come into Room 501. You'll sit in this circle and you'll talk. When the bell rings at three, you're free to go home. Why can't we just talk in our regular classroom? Holly asked, hopping up onto the teacher's desk. I mean, in your classroom. Our regular classroom wasn't regular. We knew that. But still. Down from there, please, Holly. Ms. Laverne waited for Holly to jump off again before she continued. I don't want to hear what you have to say to each other. This is your time. Your world. Your room. Sounds like you're trying to get an early break from us, Holly said. Give yourself your own kind of half day. Ms. Laverne laughed. One day, Holly, your brain will be very useful to you. Holly looked like she wasn't sure if our teacher was complimenting her. What I'm trying to do is give you the space to talk about the things kids talk about when no grown-ups are around. Don't you all have a world you want to be in that doesn't have people who look like me in it? Nope, Amari said. Yeah, Ashton said. Not really. We like being with you, I added. In the other room. You like what you know, Ms. Laverne said. You like what's familiar. None of us said anything. She was right. What was wrong with liking familiar things? Nothing's wrong with that, Ms. Laverne said, being a teacher/mind reader. But what's unfamiliar shouldn't be scary. And it shouldn't be avoided either. But I don't know what we're even supposed to talk about, Tiago said. Like, schoolwork and stuff? And to who? Schoolwork, toys, TV shows, me, yourselves--anything you want to talk about. To each other. And it's to whom , Tiago. To whom, Tiago said to himself like he was practicing it. To whom. I think any other bunch of kids would have started happy-dancing and acting crazy because there weren't going to be any grown-ups around. But we weren't any other kids. I heard Amari say that's stupid so quietly that I wondered if I was hearing things. Then he said, We could be talking in class if we wanted to be talking. You trying to change the art room into the A-R-T-T room--A Room To Talk. That's tight, Ashton said. He and Amari pounded fists. I like that. Ms. Laverne clapped once and pointed at Amari. You. Are. Brilliant. I could have come up with that. Holly rolled her eyes. I could have added an R and thrown an acronym out there. She said acronym loudly, making sure Ms. Laverne heard. Nice use of the word, Holly, Ms. Laverne said. Okay, so because the art room is now the A-R-T-T room, no one gets in trouble for talking here. You get in trouble for taking out your phone. You get in trouble for being disrespectful-- How're you gonna know if you're not in here with us? Amari asked her. I'll know. And we all knew she was telling the truth. Teachers knew things. That's all there was to it. Well, what if I don't have anything to say to anybody? Amari asked. Ms. Laverne laughed again. Since when do you not have anything to say, Amari? She shook her head and waved her hand to include all of us. I can't believe you all are so resistant. I'm giving you an hour. To chat! You get in trouble for this every single day. How many times do I have to say 'No talking'? Now I'm saying, 'Talk!' Amari tried to hide his smile but he didn't do a great job of it. Okay . . . I'm vibing it. The old art room is the new A-R-T-T room, y'all. And I bet you can draw in here too, if you want, Ashton said to him. Ms. Laverne nodded. Draw, talk. And yes, Amari--the A-R-T-T room is beyond clever. Like I said, anybody could have thought of that, Holly said. Yeah--but I see YOU didn't, Amari said. And like I said, Ms. Laverne told us, in this room we won't be unkind. She started it-- Doesn't matter, Amari. I just want to get it straight, Ashton said. So, school now ends at two o'clock on Fridays? He had pale white skin like my uncle, and hair that always fell into his eyes. Even as he asked, he was holding it back with his hand. Once Holly had said to him, Just cut it already, and his ears turned bright red. My own hair had always been bright red, but lately it had started getting darker and kinkier. If Holly's mother didn't braid it for me, I just pulled it back into a sloppy ponytail that frizzed all around my face. Jeez, Ashton! Holly said. That's not what she's saying. This is so not deep, people. I just don't really understand why we're going into another room, Ashton said, by ourselves. I think, looking back on that day now, that's the line that will always stay with me-- another room, by ourselves. How many other rooms by ourselves have we walked into since that day--even if they weren't real rooms and we didn't know that's what we were doing? I stood there thinking about my father. In six months or a year--I didn't know exactly when--I'd be walking into another room, the one where my father lived with me. And as I stood there, Esteban was inside the room where he didn't know where his dad was. He glanced at me. That day, no one but Holly knew that my dad was in prison. I felt like I was betraying Esteban. Like I should have been standing next to him, saying, Hey, it's gonna be okay. But I couldn't. I couldn't tell the truth about my dad to help him. So I looked down at my skirt and thought about rooms. I wondered about Tiago, Holly, Amari and Ashton--what were the rooms for them? What did they hide inside those rooms? Another room, I thought. We are always entering another room. That day, Ms. Laverne pushed us out--from the Familiar to the Unfamiliar. It felt like an hour passed as she waited for us to say something. I looked at the clock. The second hand made an echoing sound when it ticked. It was five minutes past two. Fifty-five minutes left. You can do this, Ashton. You all can do this, Ms. Laverne finally said. And with that, she walked away. With that, she let us go. Excerpted from Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
New York Times Review
|MIDDLE-GRADE READERS live ín a WOnderful-awful, in-between time that holds both the last moments when toys seem magical and the first breathless discoveries of what deodorant and mascara wands are meant to do. By now, they know about the world's harshness, but they may not be quite ready to face it full on. These three powerful authors push the edge of comfort in their latest works - presenting the loveliness that the best childhood moments hold alongside the realities of inequity, profound loss and deep neglect. Readers (and their parents) will be all the better for it. "we think they took my Papi." The first line of Jacqueline Woodson's harbor me (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 176 pp., $17.99; ages io and up) jolts the reader into the news cycle through the eyes of a child. As this captivating novel moves forward we will hear, see and feel more through this lens. It's a powerful vantage point, and one that holds both the practical realities and the lyrical poignancy of 11-year-old voices in equal tension. Woodson's most recent middle-grade work, the National Book Award-winning "Brown Girl Dreaming," was a memoir. These pages belong to sixth graders in Brooklyn who, when given a space to talk, discover how sharing stories can heal. Haley Shondell McGrath introduces herself by speaking into a hand-held recorder that her uncle gives her: "I am 11 years old. My father is in prison. My mother is dead. But don't feel sorry for me." Haley is part of the class of six students who've been assigned to Ms. Laverne because they learn differently. One day in late September, Ms. Laverne leads the kids to a former art room and tells them it's theirs: "Your time. Your world. Your Room." The kids dub it the ARTT room, A Room to Talk. Conversation is halting at first, but - as happens in confined, grownup-free zones of childhood like camp and clubhouses - the room soon becomes a refuge. Classic middle school exchanges about parents insisting on audiobooks instead of video games ("So not fair! ") brush against bigger moments, and Woodson captures both the inexperience and the innate wisdom of age 11. Ashton, who is white, clashes with his good friend Amari, who is black. Both struggle to understand their place in the neighborhood (why some boys follow Ashton, the rare white kid in school, and slap his neck till it's red) and in the world (why Amari can't play with his Nerf gun in the park anymore, but Ashton can). Holly has a story too, and she says to Amari, "I don't like when you call me rich girl." And then there's Esteban, who often sits in the window. Like his missing Papi (whom we hear from in beautiful letters from a detention center), he has a poetic voice. "Before, you used to hear the word immigration, and it sounded like everything you ever believed in. It sounded like feliz cumpleaños and merry Christmas and welcome home. But now you hear it and you get scared because it sounds like a word that makes you want to disappear." There is no escape from the outside world in this book, from the political tempest swirling around us. But sometimes a closer look, a deeper understanding, a different point of view, is better than an escape - especially for kids trying to make sense of the time they were born into. Ms. Laverne tells the students to ask themselves: "If the worst thing in the world happened, would I help protect someone else?" Their promise to one another resonates even after you finish the book: "I will harbor you." IN MEG MEDINA'S MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS (Candlewick, 368 pp., $16.99; ages 9 to 12), Merci's harbor is an extended family living in Las Casitas, which is what she calls their three pink, flattop houses that sit side by side. Medina quickly establishes their warm, congenial home life as the center of Merci's universe. But sixth grade throws the best of us off balance, and when Merci - who attends a private school on scholarship - is assigned to be the buddy of a cute new boy in town, jealousy swirls in her friend group. Meanwhile, there are troubles at home as the family's adored grandfather, Lolo, starts to forget things and act erratically. The 11-year-old's worldview shifts uncomfortably - her friends have fancy bikes and swimming pools and can "do dumb stuff" at school, but she always has to prove herself. As her Papi tells her after she gets caught breaking a rule, "The value you add to the school has to come from you, because it's not coming from our wallets." It's clear that Merci loves her family. But she also chafes at family responsibilities, especially the expectation that she'll watch her little cousins more now that Lolo is less reliable. "Find someone else... I'm not your servant!" she shouts at her aunt after a stressful day. Caught between the world of family and peers, the comfort of Las Casitas and the enticing new call of independence, Merci Suárez is a delightful heroine who, despite real challenges, never wavers in her strong sense of self or her fierce love for la familia. Readers will appreciate watching her navigate how to hold on to what matters when it feels like everything is changing. THERE IS NO HOME, harbor or even a reliable adult in sight at the opening of Kate DiCamillo's Louisiana's way home (Candlewick, 227 pp., $16.99; ages 10 and up). This companion novel to the award-winning "Raymie Nightingale" stands on its own, but follows the adventures of a character we met in the previous book, the unforgettable Louisiana Elefante, known to be the daughter of famous trapeze artists. In "Louisiana's Way Home," her cantankerous Granny ferrets Louisiana away from their Florida home in the middle of the night only to wind up on the side of the road with a major toothache. They detour to the dentist, and then end up in a Georgia motel, with now-toothless Granny alternately sleeping and groaning in pain. Louisiana, with her quick, insightful takes on everyone she meets, grabbed readers' hearts in "Raymie Nightingale," and in this book she isn't about to let go. Though her life has been filled with hardship and uncertainty - and there are more painful secrets to come - she continues to operate with a sense of wonder and practical optimism (the pages shine with it). As Granny lies immobile, Louisiana meets a boy named Burke who tells her he can get her anything she likes from the motel's vending machine. Louisiana, always hungry, finds this idea irresistible, and though the ill-tempered motel owner advises her not to listen to Burke, Louisiana knows it's already too late: "I believed him entirely. I believed everything about him." Adult readers will worry for Louisiana. She has faced so much adversity, yet she remains gentle and open. She is also strong as steel, though, and we come to know that Louisiana sees people - really sees them - and she tends to trust the right ones. A couple of times, she reminds herself, and us: "There is goodness in many hearts. In most hearts." When Burke leads her to his home, a pink house that smells of baking cakes, she finds a loving set of parents inside. Of course, they're not hers. Nothing is, really, but Louisiana is no fool. "I will have to find some way to rescue myself," she tells us, a truth we must all face along the way. MELISSA WALKER'S latest middle-grade novel is "Why Can't I Be You."|
Publishers Weekly Review
|Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) celebrates all that is essential and good for humanity-compassion, understanding, security, and freedom-in this touching novel about six children with special needs. Sixth-grader Haley and her best friend, Holly, don't know much about their four male classmates when they are placed in a self-contained classroom. They soon discover the things that they do and do not have in common when, on Friday afternoons, their teacher takes them to ARTT (a room to talk). Here, without adult supervision, the class can have conversations about anything. Usually the students use the time to unburden themselves of problems ranging from a parent's deportation to bullying in the schoolyard. Haley is the last to spill her secrets, about her mother's death and why her father is in prison, and afterwards she is rewarded with a feeling of lightness, "like so many bricks had been lifted off me," she says. Woodson's skills as poet and master storyteller shine brightly here as she economically uses language to express emotion and delve into the hearts of her characters. Showing how America's political and social issues affect children on a daily basis, this novel will leave an indelible mark on readers' minds. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.|
School Library Journal Review
|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.|