Harry and His Friends Changed My Reading Life by Laura Komos
For years, I refused to read any of the Harry Potter books. Why would anyone want to read a book about a kid who rides around on a broomstick, waving his magic wand while being haunted by some evil guy named Voldemort? No. No. No. No. It didn’t matter who suggested it to me, my answer was always no. When we would have mini-lessons about good fit books in first grade, I always mentioned Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a book that wasn’t a good fit for me. While I could read it, it just didn’t interest me and I didn’t understand much of what I was reading (in the two pages I tried.) Knowing the book was out of reach for most of my first graders, I felt confident in using it as an example because I thought I wasn’t really taking a book away from them.
Fast forward to the beginning of this past school year when I had moved from the comforts of teaching the same grade level for 18 years to my new home in fourth grade. I spent the summer diving into books aimed at middle grade readers. Rump. Wig in the Window. Bigger than a Breadbox. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Prairie Evers. Destiny, Rewritten. Fake Mustache. One for the Murphys. The Sasquatch Escape. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. And still, I avoided Harry Potter. After a Nerdy Book Club breakfast and many conversations with my fourth grade readers early in the school year, I could resist no longer. For a month and a half, I lived with Harry Potter at Hogwarts. I devoured the entire series between Thanksgiving Break and the end of my Winter Break. I finally understood.
Harry and his friends changed my reading life. They taught me how important it is to remember to step out of my reading comfort zone and take chances. Most importantly, Harry changed the lives of my 4th grade readers. He crept his way into so many conversations and so many mini-lessons. His story became my go-to recommendation for many of my readers! I watched as even my most reluctant readers became immersed in his world, almost to the point of tears when I’d ask them to put away their books. I very vividly remember the day I had to ask one of my students, Courtney, to stop reading. “But, Miss Komos, Harry is just about to put on the Sorting Hat!” Smiling (mostly because it was the first time I’d ever seen her so excited about a book), I knew how important it was to let her finish that part! When I asked my students to create their lists of favorite books they read this year and books they think every fourth grader should read, Harry Potter appeared more often than almost any other title.
How often do we make these assumptions about books? Through my Nerdy Book Club friends, I’ve learned to be even more open-minded about the books people recommend to me. We also have to be careful to not pass judgment on the choices our students make. If we want our students to trust the book recommendations we give to them, we have to trust the books they recommend to us!
Our personal reading lives build a strong foundation for authentic lessons we can share with our students. My mission will continue to be to help put the right book in each reader’s hand at the right time. As I look ahead to mini-lessons for my 4th graders, I know I’ll continue to use Harry Potter as a touchstone text. However, those lessons are considerably different than the ones I used to share!
And… to Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Professor Dumbledore, I apologize for casting you aside for so long. Your story has already added so much to my life and the lives of my 4th grade readers. I am forever grateful.
Laura Komos currently reads alongside 4th graders in Huntley, Illinois. She has been sharing her love of reading with students (first grade and now 4th) for 20 years. If you can’t find her buried under her “to be read” pile, look for her on Twitter at @LauraKomos or at her blog http://ruminateandinvigorate.blogspot.com/.