Life After Harry Potter by Dawn Michelle Brown
It was well after bedtime when my eight-year old son’s voice echoed through the house. “Mom, Mom! Come here!” Expecting a tale of some noise making sleep impossible or a report on the nighttime fears that creep into a child’s thoughts as they are about to drift off to sleep, I was taken aback when I arrived at his bedside to hear, in an excited whisper, “Mom! I finished the entire Harry Potter series. The ENTIRE series. I’m so excited!”
With the very next breath a grave realization swept over my sweet boy. Sitting bolt upright in bed, eyes wide, he exclaimed “Oh, no! This is terrible! I’ve finished the entire Harry Potter series. What am I going to do?”
For three months he had immersed himself in all things Hogwarts: coming to love Harry and Hermione, becoming a member of the Weasley family, despising the likes of Draco Malfoy and his entourage and becoming distrustful of Severus Snape. He reveled in the adventures that only happen as one works their way through the pages of a book. Most importantly, he became a reader, not in the sense that he could decode and comprehend the printed marks that grace each page, but in the sense that, for the first time, he became one with the book. The characters became real to him, appearing in his imaginary play. He turned his bedroom into a model of Hogwarts. His artwork depicted favorite scenes. From the moment he woke up each day until his head hit the pillow at night, every spare moment found him buried in a book or interacting with the text in some other way.
Having witnessed this growing love affair with literature, you can imagine my sadness when, the day after finishing this series, a rather lengthy period of mourning set in for my budding bibliophile. He browsed the numerous bookshelves in our home with disinterest. The library aisles were scoured for hours as he searched for something, anything, that would capture his heart and mind like Harry Potter. We spent weeks trying on other books for size: The Hobbit (too slow in the beginning with print that was smaller than he liked), the Shiloh series (he found the dialect off putting), even a return to the juvenile humor of Captain Underpants (surely this would appeal to an eight-year old boy, right? It didn’t).
In this mourning period I was reminded of those characters I had loved along the way: my childhood days with Laura Ingalls and her journey on the prairie, the seemingly bold adventures of Trixie Belden and Honey Wheeler, being transported back in time to join Clara Barton on a battlefield of long ago. I was reminded of books that resonated with me as an adult, lingering in my mind yet today: the inability to eat fast food, particularly McDonald’s, for some time after reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation; the care I employed when naming my children because of the words of Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in Freakonomics; the terrifying possibility that the unimaginable events in Jose Saramago’s Blindness could actually happen; recalling the stranger who emerged from the shadows across the street on which I was stranded in a disabled vehicle, sending the wanted criminal at my passenger door fleeing, and knowing this must be one of the five people I’ll meet in heaven as written about by Mitch Albom. I came to see that this is what reading is about: touching people at their core, reaching their hearts and minds, connecting with their lives and transporting them to times and places that can otherwise only be imagined. What a privilege it was to witness my own child as he found that most precious of rewards.
So, what do we do with these experiences and memories? If you are a teacher, I challenge you to be brave and go outside the box or prepackaged curriculum and use real literature in your lessons. We know that volume of reading is the single most important indicator related to reading achievement. Create a place and space in your classroom for your readers to, as Harvey Daniels says, “marinate in books.” I know you are under a great pressure regarding mandatory testing but I promise you, reading real books, engaging your readers in authentic dialogue with peers and more experienced readers will yield fantastic results. Be a reader yourself, too. Note those strategies you utilize when a text gets challenging and share these experiences with your students. Let them inside your reading life and hope to be invited into theirs.
Parents, as summer approaches with promises of days spent at the pool or ball field, be sure to carve out time for reading. Create a place and space for children to fall in love with books. Visit the library. Form book clubs for your kids and their friends where they can discuss favorite tales and what amazed, surprised and frightened them. Take time to read to them, even if they are fluent, independent readers themselves and let them see you reading.
While there was a time when I found myself cursing J.K. Rowling for writing something so compelling that, upon completion, my eager, avid reader was no more, deep down I knew she had given him a wonderful gift. In time I came to trust that there would be another Harry Potter for him and that has happened. He’s braved the elements with Gary Paulsen’s Brian. He’s honed his survival skills with an assortment of field and survival guides. He’s joined rebel forces in the latest Star Wars series. While none of these quite compare to that first true literary love, they have revived my mourning reader and for that I’m grateful. Now, to reclaim my bathrobe from the child who is curled up in a ball, trying to sleep and stay warm on the vent of my bedroom floor. Thanks, Jeff Kinney.
Dawn Brown is an educator, consultant and leader residing in Columbia, MO. She believes that every child deserves to find books and authors they love. In her work as a literacy consultant, Dawn works to transform schools by equipping teachers with the tools needed to meet the literacy needs of every child that enters his/her classroom, centering on a reflective review of each child’s strengths, needs and interests to help them blossom into eager avid readers. When not consulting or reading, Dawn enjoys spending time with her family, running and volunteering in her community.