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The power of story and the year of reading Harry Potter out loud

The power of story.  I recall the difficult year I read J.K. Rowling's seven books of Harry Potter out loud to my kids.  As was the case for millions of people around the world,  Rowling entertained us, and changed us, and helped us along the way.

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When I read the entire Harry Potter series out loud to my sons, I was a newly single mother, recovering from a divorce. Eli, my older son, was going on eleven, the same age as Harry in the first book.  Lev, my younger son, was six.  It took us an entire year to read the series out loud.

Others helped: Louise Solomon, my sons' aunt, Ruth Ozeki, my dear friend, and my brother, Joel.

The dog would leap up onto Eli's bed and whatever adults were around that night would assemble in the boys room, sitting on the floor or settling into the big chair or flopping down on the bed. With only the reading light illuminating the room, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone would begin.

Ruth loved that the stories were so ridiculously overwrought, they just begged to be overacted.  Joel inspired her. He was such a ham, and she loved listening to his renditions. She felt she could fully indulge her inner ham, too.

In Ruth, we had a professional storyteller.  Ruth had been reading from her two popular novels, My Year of Meats and All Over Creation, for more than a decade.  She'd read to 2,000 people in Central Park.  She'd read at universities and on radio and TV.

“It felt like I was casting a spell. Drawing you all in, occasionally hearing a burst of laughter, but mostly listening to my voice and the boys’ rapt silence. I remember feeling so grateful to the books, because I love reading aloud,  but mostly when I do it, it's in the context of a public performance, and I'm reading something that I've written, which means that I'm requred to feel a kind of personal investment in the outcome.
But these books were not mine.  I didn't have to take them personally.  I would simpy enjoy the act of reading, for its own sake," she said about the stories that filled our evenings.

"I just loved curling up in the big chair in Lev's room, with the rest of you all piled in bed, aware of my own voice rising and falling, aware of the quality of the boys' attention, aware of you gently scratching Lev's back while Eli scratched the dog's ears.”

While I would inevitably get tired half way through a chapter, Louise and Ruth  would always finish. They usually kept going long into a second chapter, while Eli would prop himself up on his elbow remaining utterly still lest he break the spell and they'd stop.  Lev would snore softly in the background. They'd read until both kids were  asleep and then laugh with satisfaction that they'd outlasted them. 

Louise and Ruth were up for endless discussions with the kids the next day about the plot, the characters, the author.They'd confer with them to see what they'd missed, at what point they'd gone to sleep.

Much of the story went over Lev's head. But like the rest of us, he relished the community we formed around reading Harry Potter. 

Eli's questions were endless, his understanding of Harry's struggles deep. 

  People you love will die

Harry showed us so well that if you keep your heart open, make a good, close friends and stay loyal to them, be brave and understand the difference between good and evil, you can not only face your demons but possibly defeat them. 

I add possibly because Rowling doesn't sugar coat the truth. What I admired about her most, as I read chapter after chapter out loud, was that she never tried to dupe kids into thinking there is a formula to getting through difficulties.

Evil is real and you have to face your demons head on. I was shocked and, well, terrified, when Louise intimated  as we got into Book 4 that some of my favourite characters were going to die.  She had already read the series out loud to her neice and she knew what was coming.

Die! 

Children? 

(4) Comments

becca July 21st 2011 | 11:11 AM

I, too, very much enjoyed harry potter. I'll be turning 20 this year, so I grew up with harry potter. It was such a huge part of my childhood. And I understand how no other stories can compare well to it.

however, I have some suggestions for other series you could try, that I absolutely love.

There is the Percy Jackson Series, which it fantastic, especially if you enjoy greek mythology like I do. It follows the adventures of a boy named Percy as he discovers that he is a demigod (one parent being a god and one being mortal).

Also, there is the Peter and the Starcatchers series, which I loved from the second I read the synopsis. This series is kinda like a prelude to Peter Pan, but so much more.

Finally, there Is the Fablehaven series. These books are just amazing. If you love magical lands, this is a must read series. It follows the story of a brother and a sister who discover a magical world hidden right in front of their face.

linda's picture
linda July 21st 2011 | 5:17 PM

Hey, Becca, I really appreciate these suggestions. I'm going to check them out.  Thank you.

Edward Ngai July 21st 2011 | 6:18 PM

Remarkable how the lessons I have taken from a young man- Harry- are transcendent, less individual than generational. Evidently I am not the only one to take these real-life lessons from Harry's fantasy world.

Thank you for writing, and though I may not be anymore, I will always be reading these wonderful stories.

Michelle Pham July 24th 2011 | 10:10 AM

Try the Hunger Games, Linda! (Suzanne Collins)