At long last, we’ve found ourselves in the magnificent world of Harry Potter, with its moving photographs, talking hats, invisibility cloaks, nearly headless ghosts, flying cars, magic-less muggles, and wizards. We’re on book two, and N is addicted. She pays close attention to the fine details — notice above how she’s drawn patches on Ron’s clothes to illustrate that the Weasleys don’t have much money; and how Harry’s scar forms a lightning shape on his forehead. Hermione, ever studious, holds a pencil and paper.
We whipped through the first book in record time, and then watched the movie. N, following the advice of her auntie, who traveled the Potter road with her son years ago, viewed many scenes through the holes of an afghan, as if that barrier could protect her from the likes of Severus Snape, Argus Filch, or the evil Lord Voldemort, who lurks who knows where — maybe everywhere. Her auntie, alongside us for the show, was as excited as we were, partly because it’s such a good story, I think, but also because of the memories she has of moving through the Potter series with her son, who’s off to college this fall.
This is something I’ve noticed when I mention these books to parents with children of a certain age: they absolutely glow when they recall reading them with their kids. One friend recently wrote that her daughters were a perfect age for Harry Potter when the first book appeared.
“Since the books usually came out in June or July, we would take them up to the cottage with us and I can remember reading aloud for hours during long summer afternoons and evenings, none of us wanting to stop the wonder and excitement of the story or the warm relaxed feeling of connection as the three of us sat cuddled together…. Reading and long lazy summers, and my girls. My version of heaven.”
As a writer, I have mixed feelings about phenomenal sensations like Harry Potter. The books are really good, but it’s frustrating to see how such successes put everything else in shadow. Wikipedia states that, “The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, became the fastest selling book in history, moving 11 million units in the first twenty-four hours of release.” Those sorts of crazes rub me the wrong way — not just for books, but for Cabbage Patch Dolls and Silly Bandz. But nonetheless, here I find myself, a Muggle, totally absorbed in this magical world.
The books are especially intense for N. I have to regularly remind her that “He’s probably going to be okay. There are five more books, after all, and he’s in all of them.” Still, when reading, we have to follow up with a chaser of Ivy and Bean or Clarice — “to take the Harry Scaries away.” I understand the books get increasingly dark as the series goes along, so I’m not sure how quickly we’ll move through them. Just last night, we had to stop reading altogether because, along with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, we were rushing past flaming torches down a Hogwarts corridor and we came upon Argus Filch’s cat Mrs Norris hanging by her tail, “stiff as a board, her eyes wide and shining.” An ominous message had been scrawled on the wall: “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.”
It was too much for N; she needed a break. As we closed Harry and opened Clarice, she whispered, “Good thing Harry doesn’t die. Because there are five more books, right?”
Yet it’s obvious we’ve entered a different phase, and though from a writer’s point of view the stories we read are becoming increasingly complex and exciting, from a mother’s point of view, the transition is bittersweet.
Recently we were visiting my mom, and on the first night we settled in with Harry to read another chapter. We laid in the bed facing the dresser, which held all the things it has always held: a tiny candle; a silhouette picture of me from Disneyland; three sets of children’s books each contained in boxes.
These are the stories we’ve always read at Grandma’s house — AA Milne, Beatrix Potter, and Mother Goose; fairy tales and abridged versions of Dorothy and Alice. There’s something about boxed sets that N loves. I suppose they feel like little gifts; the stories themselves are elevated, somehow, by this special presentation.
She jumped out of bed, rushed to the dresser, and grabbed one of the book sets, easing a book free. She opened to a random page, held the book to her face and breathed in.
“Mmmm,” she said. “I love these books. Smelling them gives me old memories.”
How wonderful to know that at seven, she already has a cache of memories about reading. It reminds me of Rosemary Wells saying, “Reading to your little one is just like putting gold coins in the bank. It will pay you back tenfold.”