Over the last year, my family has read the seven Harry Potter books out loud to each other. We have spent many hours curled up inside the world J.K. Rowling built around her boy wizard, his friends, and their journey. Harry Potter has traveled with us – to our winter vacations the past two Februarys, to weekends away, and, last summer, we loaded all the books onto Kindle and took them with us to Scotland and Switzerland. One of my favorite memories from our trip was reading to each other on the sprawling lawn of Urquhart Castle as the wind came off the rolling waters of Loch Ness. Recently, we closed the book on the last page of book seven. My daughter looked at us, tearful, and asked, “Now what?”
I was telling this story the other day and a friend remarked, “Wait, Ana read them all?” This surprised her because she knows my daughter well and knows that she won’t read anything dark. As a little one, she refused to watch most Disney movies on the grounds that “Disney hates mommies!” and wouldn’t watch Tangled until several weeks ago because that witch “totally freaks me out. I mean, she steals a baby and pretends to love her. That’s messed up!”
But she’s fine with Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange. That makes sense.
I asked Ana, “Why are you okay with the Harry Potter books, but you don’t want to try other stuff?” She shrugged and said, “No matter what, no matter how dark, there is always hope. Besides, JK Rowling is funny. She always throws in something funny.” Ana’s right. She does do that. Over the past year, my husband and I found ourselves cracking up as we read, especially because as educators we appreciated her commentary on schooling via the wonderful Hogwarts world.
But I’m a Potterhead now even more than ever for a personal reason. Rowling’s books have acted as a gateway for my child to explore some darker themes, some more complex concepts. We’ve had amazing discussions about racism (all the Mudblood, half-blood threads), about slavery (Ana was Dobby for Halloween last year), about death and love and compassion and betrayal and sacrifice. The list is endless.
Harry Potter has given Ana a literary reference point, one she has embraced with her whole heart. Now, when we read things that are tough, we find her saying, “That reminds me of that scene in Harry Potter …” and she’s able to process more difficult content. I’m not going to be throwing Stephen King at her anytime soon but I’m thrilled to know this series has given her a way to process the harsh things she encounters in the world at large.
The other night, she snuggled on the couch, re-reading book six for about the fifth time, and she said, “Mom, sometimes I feel like these characters are with me even when they’re not.” Then, she giggled, “I know, that’s kind of weird.” I told her it wasn’t weird to me at all. It’s why I’m a reader, why books matter so much to me. I am the sum of all the books I’ve read in my life, all those stories and characters and triumphs and failures help guide me through a world that often doesn’t make sense either. I told her how happy I was she had Harry and Ron and Hermione and Neville and Luna as friends to help her.
I want to end with one of my favorite quotes from Albus Dumbledore. It sums up the reason I love writing YA Fiction, why it matters so much to me to write for this age group: “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”