“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”
That’s the opening of the phenomenal Harry Potter book series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone, first published in the United States in 1998. You may not remember this, but at the time there was a prevailing attitude that Kids Don’t Read, let alone books that range from 223 to 776 pages. As if kids who grew up in the ’90s were suddenly broken; as if the invention of the Gameboy completely usurped the urge to get lost in a world of fantasy.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
When my oldest daughter was 11, I was trying to get her interested in reading Harry Potter, because I knew she would enjoy it. She was resistant, so I said hey, how about if I just read you the first chapter?
I ended up reading her the entire series. Over the course of months, we read before bedtime, on car trips, in doctor’s office waiting rooms. One of the great joys of parenthood is reading books to kids, and it was so nice not to have to let that go just because the kid could read to herself. The “Harry Potter” series is really fun to read out loud, too! So many spells, curses, and names that beg to be repeated: Minerva McGonagall. Rubeus Hagrid. Hermione Granger. Who knew 21st century Americans would be familiar with the name “Hermione”? (You know it’s her-MY-oh-knee, right?)
A few years later our family took a cross country road trip, and we brought along the first three Harry Potters to help pass the time. Little did we know that we would have to stop at a Barnes & Noble in Salt Lake City and buy book four, The Goblet of Fire, because we had finished the first three.
We then had to take a break for a couple of years; Harry Potter has some nefarious monsters, and some of the members of my family weren’t quite ready to process them.
Then about six months ago, I decided it was time to re-introduce the books to my youngest, now also 11 years old. We started with Goblet of Fire (although we had read half in 2016, we did start over from the beginning), and read through the series over the next six months. Just as her oldest sister had done, the youngest fell in love with the books. In fact, while I was reading the 7th and final book, The Deathly Hallows, to her, she had gone back and started reading the first books to herself. She enjoys finishing the novels, watching the movie, and then complaining about all the plot points and characters the movies leave out.
It doesn’t have to be Harry Potter, but I recommend reading something aloud to your older children. It’s a great way to connect through the power of story and character at an age when kids begin to naturally pull away. I have also read with my daughters the All of a Kind family series, about a Jewish family in New York City in the early 20th century, and the Betsy and Tacey series, about two young girls–also in the early part of the 20th century–growing up in Minnesota.
And because I can’t get my kids interested, I’m going to have to borrow someone else’s kid to whom to read Anne of Green Gables. Any takers?