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Literacy Milestone: Listening to Harry Potter

LiteracyMilestoneAI think it's fair to say that a modern milestone for book-loving parents involves the reading to one's child of the Harry Potter books. My husband and I have been determined that our daughter will hear the books (at least the first book) before seeing the movies. This has not been easy. She saw an early snippet of the first movie while waiting for us in line at a ride at Universal a couple of years ago (the parent-share or whatever it's called where one of you waits with the child while the other rides). More recently, I went to pick her up at her after-school care, and found her happily, if somewhat guiltily, watching the movie. Luckily, I arrived early enough that she didn't get past the scene with Dudley and the snake in the zoo, early in the story. This happened again with the second movie. When I arrived, Harry and Ron were eating breakfast at the Burrow. While she knows we don't want her to watch the movies without us, the required degree of self-control is a bit much for a six-year-old.

IllustratedHarryPotter1As we are not keen to change our after-school care situation, this raised the pressure quite a bit. So we decided to make our third attempt at reading the first Harry Potter book. The first try had failed because my daughter just wasn't ready to process such a complex storyline. The second try failed because she started having nightmares (though these were later attributed to the imminent start of first grade, rather than to the book). But, as they say, the third time's a charm. As I write this we are ready to start Chapter 12 of the illustrated edition, and my daughter is hooked. There is no question that we will finish the book within a few days. We are now reading at breakfast and at bedtime, and if we can carve out any other time during the day, we will. She is admittedly motivated in part to finish the book because she wants to see the movie. But there is no question that she is interested in the story for itself, too. She is caught up in the excitement. 

Two of her responses so far have particularly pleased me. Last night we were reading about Malfoy's reaction to Harry receiving this Nimbus 2000 (an exception allowed for Harry because of his unusual election to the Quidditch team as a first year). My daughter remarked: "Malfoy is going to play for the other team, isn't he?" I acknowledged that she was correct in her assumption, though this would not actually happen until Book 2. But I love that she is using her past experience with story to make predictions about where this one is going, and that she has a sense already for what will ratchet up the drama.  That's my girl!

The second incident pleased me even more. This morning we came to a picture of Hermione holding a glass jar of blue fire. My daughter looked at the picture critically and said: "Is that supposed to be Hermione? That's not how I pictured her." And I thought: "YES! We were right to try to get her to listen to the book before watching the movie." Because Hermione doesn't appear in the snippets of the movies that she's seen, my daughter had a chance to form her own mental picture. In my daughter's mind, Hermione is a bit more "girly-looking", with longer, more reddish hair, than in the illustrated edition. But of course the details are not the point. The point is that she has her own impression, not created by this illustrator or by seeing Emma Watson. This is something that I wanted for her, something that I think is important.

HarryPotterBook2IllustratedI doubt very much that we'll be able to hold the line on reading all seven books prior to seeing the associated movies. (Though perhaps, since she's not ready to watch those later movies anyway.) I think that the later movies are less important in this regard, since there are fewer new characters. Still, we can try. And in that spirit, I have already ordered the illustrated edition of Book 2

For what it's worth, I do think that the illustrated edition was worth purchasing for the first book (even though we have at least two other copies of the book). It's not just the pictures, though those have helped keep the attention of a six-year-old who isn't accustomed to finishing such a long story. It's also the large size of the book, and the built-in ribbon bookmark. These give substance to our reading experiences. They make reading this book an event. If you are teetering on the fence, I would nudge you towards purchase, at least for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Currently my husband and I are taking turns reading the book to my daughter, depending on who is home and available. This is working ok for the first book, since we both know the story very well. This will become more challenging with the later books, but we'll figure something out... 

What do you say, other parents? What has been your family's experience in introducing your children to Harry, Ron, and Hermione? Whatever the details are, I hope you've enjoyed it as much as we have. 

[Addendum: Katie's comment below reminded me of something. I actually DID read my daughter the first Harry Potter book once before. She was an infant, newly home from the hospital, and I figured that the important thing was for her to hear my voice. So I read something that I wanted to read, which was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I also read her The Secret Garden while she was in the NICU. Of course she doesn't remember any of this. I barely remember it myself, given the sleep-deprived haze.]

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