Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)

Today I read a fantastic Children's Book-A-Day Almanac blog post by Anita Silvey.  It inspired me to write what the Harry Potter books have meant to our family.  In 1998, the year Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published in the United States, our oldest daughter, Libby, was five, and she was an avid reader. She first read it when she was in first grade.  Much to my shame, when she asked me to read it afterward because she loved it so much, I put it off.  I can't explain why I did that.  I feel a little like some of the first publishers who read and rejected it must feel like today.  Fortunately, that didn't stop Libby from pursuing fellow Harry Potter readers.  At that time, my husband traveled a lot, so she brilliantly slipped the copy of the book into his suitcase without saying a word about it, burying it below a few t-shirts.  Ed remembers opening up his suitcase late that evening in the hotel and discovering it.  Of course, he read it.  Who could resist that kind of marketing?  After sharing his enthusiasm with me and chuckling about the way he was introduced to it, I finally read it.  The magic had begun...

I often call it the second greatest story ever told, and part of my love of the series includes the way the entire Harry Potter saga wove its way through our family and friends.  My younger daughter, Katie, also loved the series, and so did our closest friends and their kids.  We went to every midnight book release party together (yes - in costume - we are THOSE people), a Harry Potter train ride through our quaint little town, every midnight movie release, and devoured every new installment in the series, buying multiple copies of each one when it was released so we didn't have to wait for another family member to finish it so we could read it.  I'll never forget the feeling of those midnight book release parties at various bookstores, anticipating the opening of those piles of boxes marked "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL...," trying to vie for a good place in line in order to get our hands on the freshly published, never-before-opened books.  We had never before experienced that before, and we probably never will again.

Getting ready to go to the midnight book release of
 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 2005

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Midnight Movie Premier
Libby's Senior Year 2011 (Libby is ALWAYS Dumbledore)

Jim Trelease, the read-aloud expert, has written many times about the effect Harry Potter has had on our culture and reading.  He has argued that the Harry Potter series raised vocabulary and comprehension skills among children.  In this article, "Two Lessons from Harry Potter," he researched the word count in several classics and found this:

  • Goosebumps: 8 words per sentence; 22,450 words in book.
  • Heidi: 19.6 words per sentence; 93,600 words in book.
  • The Hobbit: 18 words per sentence; 97,470 words in book.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: 15 words per sentence; 126,000 words in book.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 13.5 words per sentence; 214,536 words in book.

  • Reading the Harry Potter series is no simple feat!  If your child isn't ready to tackle this kind of reading, the next best thing is to listen to the incredible Jim Dale read them on audio.  It is a theatrical experience.  He created over 200 voices throughout the series...a staggering number! 

    I remember where I was when I finished the final intallment of the Harry Potter series in 2009 (on our basement couch), and as I relunctantly read the very last words, I was stunned into silence and tears.  I couldn't believe it was over.  Fortunately, though, he'll live in our family fabric forever.  As seems fitting (and somewhat magical), the series began in Libby's life when she was a first grader, and it ended with the last movie her senior year.  Harry's and Libby's lives just seemed to intertwine that way.  You can imagine how I felt leaving the last movie, in the wee hours of the morning.  It was the end of an era. Thank you, Harry Potter.  We miss you, our relunctant hero.

     "’It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.’” (Dumbledore) p. 718


    1. Holly, I love this! And, cried reading it! It is true, it is such a part of our family as well. Seeing Molly, above as the tiny purple-clad wizard, and knowing we are now in the midst of book 6 together...makes me smile. I have such great memories of reading aloud to all the kids, and I think Shannon and David have especially loved re-experiencing the read-aloud as Molly listens for the first time!

    2. Karan, I have to admit I teared up writing it!