Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the Harry Potter series, came out a few months after Child #1 was born. In my sleep-deprived stupor, I didn’t notice for awhile; but it quickly became difficult to be a citizen of the world and not know about Harry Potter. Suffice to say, the first four books were in the house by the time that baby boy went to school, which is when and where he found out about Harry and friends. The requests to read the books became more frequent and insistent over the next couple of years.
We stalled. We tried to use the books as a bribe to get him reading independently (never do this — it doesn’t work and it’s terrible parenting). He was anxious to get caught up in time for the #5 release — the midnight releases/parties/mobs were well underway by then — and it started to feel like we were making an issue of something that didn’t need to be an issue. We weren’t troubled by wizards and magic. We were thrilled with the themes of friendship and the exploration of the subtleties of goodness and evil in the books. So what was our problem? Only that the books seemed a little old for our sweet and gentle little boy — they get progressively darker as they go, after all. We were anxious about introducing him to “more mature books” too soon. (First child, remember.) But culture clamored and he was getting left out because he didn’t know about Harry and Ron and Hermione, couldn’t attempt the spells on the playground, and didn’t catch the Dumbledore references.
So Dad started reading the series with him. This set-up had its own magic. The whole process slowed down. Dad (unlike Mom) usually doesn’t keep reading even as he is losing his voice. He has to be reminded to pick up where he left off three nights/weeks ago. And he was working nights and evenings during some of those years, which was prime reading time at our house. So they proceeded slowly. And together, which was good. By the time the final book came out, Child #1 was old enough to attend the midnight party and stay up all night finishing the 759 pages himself before he handed it over to his Dad. (It took Dad much longer.)
And by then, due to the hype at home and everywhere, Child #2 was interested in Harry Potter. She was an earlier reader and could have picked up the books on her own, but she assumed that Harry Potter was the book series you read with Dad! She is almost twelve now and she and her Dad are finishing #7 this summer. They’ve averaged about a book a year. I don’t believe she has read ahead, which I think is kind of amazing.
A good friend just asked me if kids can grow up without reading Harry Potter. (She was inclined to skip the series, not being a fan herself.) I said they could, of course. Many families make that decision for all sorts of reasons. I imagine it would be a little like growing up without seeing Star Wars in the 1970’s, which I did. It’s doable. Not always fun. But you eventually absorb enough of the story to get along….
As for me and mine, we’re awfully glad to have been a part of the Harry Potter hoopla. The kids will remember that they read these books with Dad, and that Mom, in fact, never really read past #3. (Shocking, yes!) We’ve enjoyed the audiobooks (Jim Dale is amazing!) and the movies, as well. But those heady days when nearly every kid and many of their adults were reading the same book at the same time…well, that was the best part, I think. Will we see that level of excitement and energy around a book series again? I don’t know. But I’m glad to have been a part of it this go around.