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Yes, We’re Reading Harry Potter 7

I am, once again, eating my words.  Remember how I said that we were a long way from starting Harry Potter 7?  Yeah, not so much.  Our plan had been to read the His Dark Materials trilogy next, but the ChickieNob started getting stressed about spoilers.  A lot of their friends were reading book 7, and the chances were increasing that someone would accidentally say something in front of them.

That, of course, is not a reason to race head-first into a book you’re not ready to read, but what cemented the deal was that she finally explained why she wasn’t ready.  She didn’t want to start book 7 because that meant the series ended.  She wasn’t scared, she wasn’t upset.  She just didn’t want to get to the last book.

Once I explained that we were going to do an infinite loop of Potter, and that the end of book 7 was only a halfway point in understanding the series — we still needed to read them a second time through once she understood all the back stories because she would have a different understanding of the other 6 books — she told me she was ready.  So we sat down and started.

Actually, first we had a 5 hour marathon session of reading aloud Wonder.  Had to finish the book we were on.  My throat was a little scratchy after that, but you do what you need to do when your child is biting her lip, urging you to race the spoiler clock.  After we finished Wonder, we opened 7 and read the first few chapters.

This is what I’ll say about book 7, and this is a complete assumption since I only have my own point-of-view, but I strongly suspect this is true: it is very different to read this book as a minority (especially part of a group that has been through a historically recent or current mass genocide) than as part of the majority.  It is very different to read about Voldemort’s plan to exterminate Muggle-borns and create a pureblood race of wizards.  It is very different, especially in light of continued anti-Semitism in the world, especially Europe.

The twins read.  The twins hear adults talking.  They know about Copenhagan.  They know about Paris.  They know about Berlin.  They were keenly aware of the differences that came from going to shul in London vs. going to shul at home.  They know what is going on.

None of us can read and process book 7 as a Muggle-born wizard, but Jewish children (and many other minority groups) can read these books through a lens of  being cognizant of the hate that exists in this world.  It doesn’t create a deeper reading, but it creates a different reading.  I sense that some kids process these books differently from their white, Christian, straight, non-disabled friends.

Reading the books together — and I’m a strong believer that Harry Potter books should be read together with adults whenever possible — has raised a lot of questions about hate; questions to which there are no sufficient answers.  It stands against reason that the very same people who currently perpetuate that hate are also sometimes people who have read Harry Potter.  Isn’t that odd?  That you can have someone read these books and still come away from them believing their own cultural or religious or sexual superiority?

Sort of misses the whole point of the series.

11 comments

1 Chickenpig { 03.03.15 at 8:42 am }

I am so jealous of your amazing, wondrous, fantastic kids. Sometimes it is hard to read your posts because of how amazingly cool your family is. 🙂 I have tried so many times to get my twins interested in Harry Potter, but one is convinced that it is too scary, the other is only interested in non fiction. My daughter seems to be my only hope, but right now she only wants to be read Black Beauty, which is a good book, but it is like eating a loaf of dry toast night after night. How can this be??? There must have been a mix up at the lab, because there is no way these boys are our children. I’m just going to have to tie them into their beds and start reading aloud. They’ll have to come around eventually, right?

2 Mel { 03.03.15 at 9:24 am }

Cool is not often a word I hear used to describe me…

So I run a book club at the twins’ school, and this year we’re doing a deep reading of Harry Potter. Some kids entered knowing they don’t like HP. Some kids read HP already and loved it. Some kids had no clue what to expect with the books. We’re split 50/50 between boys and girls, and about 80% or more have been doing book club for years; some because they want to do it and some because their parents want them to do it.

What has kept the kids engaged is taking an experiential approach. I think some kids struggle with imaginative thought, so a book set wholly in a magical world where they have no frame of reference is really difficult. Some kids can imagine Quidditch without having ever seen Quidditch played. And some kids can’t wrap their brains around Quidditch because it’s a foreign sport they’ve never seen in action.

So when Harry eats a chocolate frog, we eat a chocolate frog. When Harry got his wand, we made wands so we could feel them in our hands. When Harry plays Quidditch, we go down to the field at recess and I lead a game of Quidditch. We make potions, wave our wands trying to cast spells, and eat every food mentioned in the book. When they got sorted into their houses, I made them wait an extra week so find out which one they were in so they could feel how anxious the kids felt in the book. And right now, they earn house points by answering questions or doing something cool (like staying after to help clean up the room), which means they also get to feel the satisfaction and pressure that the kids in the book feel over house points.

Do all the kids love Harry Potter? Probably not. But all show up and politely participate week after week. And that’s good enough for me. Who knows; maybe this exposure will make them find it and love it down the road. Or maybe it will teach them that they like books set in reality and they’ll forgo a whole genre of books. I’m okay with that, too.

3 Charlotte { 03.03.15 at 12:09 pm }

I totally agree with Chickenpig with regards to your kids. They are the absolute coolest and I wish I could meet them. They sound like they will run the world one day!!
Also…I am so in love with your book club approach and wish I could come to your kids school and learn HP that way. I have never been able to get into it for all the reasons you mentioned.
And Mel…you are the Coolest of the Cool. Truth.

4 Moira { 03.03.15 at 12:38 pm }

Oh my goodness, I love you for reading HP with your children. I literally grew up with this series–I read the first two in 7th grade when those were the only ones out and got each book after at a midnight release 🙂
I really do think they are such a powerful series and a HUGE teaching tool. I cannot wait to read them with my kids.

5 Junebug { 03.03.15 at 1:13 pm }

What an amazing idea to get the props to go along with the stories! You are so clever, Mel.

6 jjiraffe { 03.03.15 at 7:03 pm }

Yeah – it was really, really hard for me to read the (spoilers!!!)

…scenes in the Ministry in the 7th book. Straight up Nazi metaphor with the terrifying Delores Umbridge standing in for Goebbels. Shudder.

I do hope that the tough lessons of HP (choices vs talents, bravery in small and big ways, not where the person comes from but who they are, do what’s right, not what’s easy) stick with as many readers as possible. That would be a true legacy for Rowling to leave the world.

7 No Baby Ruth { 03.04.15 at 6:21 am }

Oh how I hope my kids love Harry Potter!! I have a feeling it’s not nearly as huge of a thing here in Spain, but I’m not really sure, as my kids are still so little.

Also, about this book club. H0w does it work? Is it only in the twins’ grade level? Do you move up with their class? Or is it cross-grade? When did you start? I would absolutely adore doing something like this with my kids’ classes someday in the future (and their school is bilingual so I think i could do it in English as a complement to the education plan…).

8 andy { 03.04.15 at 1:47 pm }

5 hour reading session? My voice gives out at the 2 hour mark. Good on you!

9 Tiara { 03.05.15 at 7:48 am }

I am so awed by the 5 hour reading marathon & hope I can cultivate that type of experience into my relationship with E. People talk about perfect days? That would be top 3 for me, spending a day reading & immersing ourselves in a book together.

10 Bronwyn Joy { 03.05.15 at 9:57 pm }

I’m getting a lot of pressure to read book four. P read the first one in November and before I knew what was happening he’d checked book two out of his school library and started reading it himself. Which was unexpected, since he’d barely got to the point of reading himself whole picture books before that, and also, he first had to figure out where the school library was and how to use it. So that’s how much he likes them.

But I’ve said book four is too old for him and we argue about it weekly at the moment and the only real reason I’m winning is because he’s lost his temporary school library ID (they haven’t even given the new students permanent library ID yet and he’s already read two Harry Potter books). So I don’t know what to do about that one but what was your point?

Oh yes. Hate. Yes. It’s easier to know what’s right than to do what’s right. You actually have to form it into a habit or an instinct – otherwise the battle is too exhausting to win often enough. Reading the books is a good first step, but the practice is the key.

That’s the other thing we argue about a lot lately.

11 Anat { 03.08.15 at 12:19 am }

Yeah, that is what completely bewildered me about Orson Scott Card and Ender’s Game. Ender perpetuates a genocide, and spends the rest of his life trying to atone. The entire series is about understanding the Other… and yet somehow, Card still hates homosexuals. Just. Don’t. Get it.

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