Jacqueline Woodson previews her gorgeous new book Harbor Me
Celebrated children’s author Jacqueline Woodson is back with two new books.
Woodson is the National Book Award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming, and a four-time Newbery Honor winner. Her new books, Harbor Me and The Day You Begin are set to be released on August 28, four years after her award-winning memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.
Harbor Me explores the minority experience in the United States by introducing a group of classmates who form a bond as they discuss timely topics — everything from their fears of deportation or being racially profiled to being judged by their accents, skin color, or parental heritage. Woodson has also exclusively shared the cover for the book with EW, which you can see below, along with an excerpt.
“In this chapter of Harbor Me, the children in a combined fifth-sixth grade special education classroom are brought to an empty classroom where their teacher hopes they will begin to open up to each other in a way young people don’t do when adults are present,” Woodson tells EW of the excerpt, which you can see below. “The six children, Haley, Tiago, Esteban, Amari, Holly, and Ashton, are coming from very different lives but in this room, they begin to see the way in which their connections to each other create a harbor against everything that threatens their daily existences.”
See the cover and excerpt below, and pre-order the book ahead of its Aug. 28 release here.
Excerpt from Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson
When we got to Room 501, Ms. Laverne opened the door and held it for us. Nobody knew what to do, so we just walked in and 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 those chairs with a swing-up desk 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 hand 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.
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 ARTT 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.