The Promise of Magic
It’s the most successful movie franchise of all time, and one of the most popular children’s book series of our generation. I’m talking, of course, about Harry Potter. Recently, I promised one of my students that I would read them. All seven books. Somehow, a promise to a child is twice as important. Seven books to read: watch this space to see how long it takes me!
This student of mine is in primary school, and has read them all. My sister, who is twenty-seven, has also been hassling me for years to get started on them: “They are so brilliant,” she says. “J.K. Rowling is a genius. They start out as children’s books with really simple storylines like finding your place in a new school, winning sporting matches and coping with differences.”
And then, my sister points out, they begin getting more serious, dropping clues about objects or characters or places for readers to pick up on. Take note of this, J.K. Rowling seems to be saying. Read carefully. This is significant. I believe that children are discerning enough to be able to cope with serious issues in books. Even the earliest, “lightest” children’s books carried serious themes: Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Secret Garden and so on.
Having read the first few pages of Harry Potter, I can understand how readers are engaged from the very beginning. Harry is an outsider in his own family, mistreated, ordinary. Children especially seem to respond to this. They are drawn in by Harry’s ordinariness. Perhaps, like a lot of children, they too think they are ordinary.
Emma Watson, who plays Hermione, said recently, “Little girls are told they need to be delicate princesses … Hermione taught them they can be warriors.” Of all the Harry Potter characters my sister likes, Hermione is her favourite. “She is intelligent, resourceful and thinks critically. She is active and physically strong. Hermione is a good friend and a compassionate person.” Not a bad role model, indeed.
I love seeing students of mine read for the joy of it. Parents and teachers know how beneficial it is for children to read. But kids don’t read because they know it’s good for them: they pick up a book and stick with it because they love it. Just like adults do.