Tag Archives: Harry Potter

*Harry Potter*

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” turned 20 this year, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” turned 10, and yesterday was Harry Potter’s (and, of course, J.K. Rowling’s) birthday.

I know a lot of people are tired of hearing about it (or think it’s overrated or evil or childish or whatever, and refuse to read it–their loss!), but it is a really special series, especially for my generation. We got to grow up together! I bought the first book at a Scholastic Book Fair in elementary school; my sixth grade teacher read bits of it out loud after recess every day (and we all assumed her name was pronounced Her-me-own). The next books came out alongside all the movies, so in high school I got to go to midnight showings with my friends and whichever brave parent’s turn it was to drive us around that late. The final book came out while I was in college; I attended a midnight book release, complete with costumes and trivia and Hogwarts-themed snacks, and then stayed up all night reading. I felt I finished the fight against Voldemort alongside the trio: crying at each loss, rejoicing at each triumphant sacrifice, reaching that brilliant culmination of ten years of text. I was a few years younger than Harry when it started and a few years older than him when it ended. What an honor to go through the horrible years of adolescence side by side, haha.

There are layers upon layers of lessons to gain from the series, and as I reread it almost every summer, new insights illuminate on the page. All of the heroes have flaws, but all of them are brave and loving, too. They do what’s right even when it isn’t easy, even when it means being bullied or doubted (or targeted by crazy dark wizards). Harry is stubborn but never backs down from the battle and matures enough to walk the path he knows will fix his world–which, by the way, ends up being an incredibly Christian one, making it extra depressing how many churches condemned the books. Hermione is not ashamed of being smart, and doesn’t let others stifle her voice. Ron is aware of his family’s poverty but extends food and hospitality anyway, his heart big enough to share what he has and in the process multiply it. And that’s just the main trio… I could go on and on about others, like Lupin, Luna, Sirius, Snape, James, Dumbledore, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Neville, Dobby, even Dudley and good old Hagrid (my autocorrect just had a field day with that sentence) and how they illustrated trust, rebellion, nurturing, courage, loyalty, being unique and proud, and sticking up for those in need.

And Lily… she is so much more real to me now that I hold my own messy-haired son in my arms. Hell yeah she would have leapt in front of that baby! I’m not at all surprised that she absorbed every inch of the killing curse, blanketing Harry in a love so powerful that Voldemort could never get through.

I wasn’t going to reread the series this summer, but I couldn’t resist starting the first book on its 20th anniversary despite my exhaustion. I read through four chapters just to hear Hagrid say “Harry–yer a wizard.” I finished the final book last week and wept at all the deaths even though I knew they were coming.

I can’t wait to relive the series through my little future Ravenclaw’s eyes as we read them together, with the added bonus of the new Wizarding World at Universal Studios waiting for us afterwards. What an adventure! I can’t believe it started 20 years ago, and am so grateful that it will continue to stretch on.

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Fantasy in Schools

I read fantasy because I like the imaginative worlds, magic systems, adventures, and coming-of-age stories that usually go hand-in-hand with “fantasy.” I also grew up with a Christian librarian grandma who had to get rid of any literature that parents complained about, so anything with a unicorn or a dragon came flying into my hands after its swift rejection from her school library.

When I write my own books, I’m thinking about the enjoyment factor of the story and the character growth. I don’t think about whether it will be worthy of study in schools. But someone recently brought up in a Christmas party conversation that she wished she could have read sci-fi in school at some point, so she could have learned earlier than college how much she loved the genre.

That got me thinking: what fantasy has made it into schools? And what fantasy might I be able to bring into my classes eventually? What has been deemed “worth of study” in public education?

Some unofficial research (like Googling random high school literature lists) has suggested, with a loose definition of fantasy, the following books:

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Lord of the Rings” [series] by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“Harry Potter” [series] by J.K. Rowling

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“Watership Down” by Richard Adams

and that’s about it. So while what’s there is good, it’s not enough, and it’s at a fairly low reading level to boot (besides maybe LOTR and Handmaid’s Tale). What about fantasy for juniors and seniors? What fantasy book could best serve them? What story do I have inside me to write for these kids on the cusp of adulthood? There is so much independence and responsibility in fantasy that speaks to teens.

I don’t have any real answers for this post. I just wanted space to mull over the questions. If anybody has any thoughts, they are quite welcome to share! I hope I can work this out to reach students with good fantasy literature, whether that role ends up being me as a teacher or as a writer.

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YA lit & the quest for belonging

Many of the popular YA books right now seem to draw readers in who want to belong somewhere. I didn’t fully realize it until I finally got around to reading “Divergent” this morning. People keep telling me it’s great and I’d love it, but there are so many books in my to-be-read stack that I wasn’t motivated to try it until I found it it’s being made into a movie. That means my students are that much more likely to read (or at least see it), so I should know about it, too.

I’m already over 200 pages in.

It’s good. :)

But, the thing that made me think about the “belonging” aspect has to do with the groups of people in the book. Characters are part of one of five factions where they are expected to exhibit the main trait of the group: Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (courage), Erudite (wisdom), Candor (honesty), or Amity (kindness). The two that have been described the most in the book so far are Abnegation and Dauntless; the Abnegation faction lives a very simple life, with grey clothes and plain meals, while the Dauntless live in a crazy pit place full of jagged rocks and tattooed people.

It immediately made me think of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, where students are sorted into one of four different Houses. More people are familiar with them than with the factions, but I’ll list and describe them anyway: Gryffindor (courage), Ravenclaw (wisdom), Hufflepuff (kindness), and Slytherin (…powerful? My first reaction was to type “douchebags” but I guess I should try harder). Each House has a very different feel in where they live and how they decorate, with Hufflepuff down in a badger-like cozy den and Ravenclaw up in a tall airy tower, all in the colors that tie to their House.

I think one of the huge draws for Harry Potter was fans who sorted themselves into the House they most desired. As far as marketing goes, that was a godsend, because money poured in thanks to merchandise like scarves and wall banners representing one’s house (Ravenclaw forever!).

Obviously the Divergent-world factions parallel the Harry Potter houses fairly closely. Then there’s the Percy Jackson series, where demigods (children with one Greek god/goddess parent and one human parent) are sent to Camp Half-Blood and placed in the cabin of their Greek parent. The same themes are reflected again–Athena as the goddess of wisdom, Aphrodite as the goddess of love, Mars as the god of war, etc.–and the cabins have a very different atmosphere depending on what the attached god rules over.

Those are three enormous YA franchises, and like I said, I think the idea of belonging is big here. The teenage years are where we seek our identity, try to figure out who we are and what are goals are, and solidify what we value. So if you can be proud of relating to Gryffindor/Dauntless/Zeus, then it’s a tangible way to show people (and yourself) how brave you feel and how much you value strength and courage. It’s easy to choose who to root for, who you don’t respect, and identify who feels the same way as you. That provides a strong sense of belonging which can be important during the tumultuous teenage years as children seek independence and begin to pull away from their parents–they’re losing one way place they belong, and need another. How are they going to define it for themselves? Wrapping their values and the traits they take pride in up in a “go team!” mentality like the factions/houses/etc. do is an easy way to start working through a not-so-black-and-white issue.

This is why reading is so important. This is why we need libraries to stay in our cities and fiction to stay in our schools. Even if kids aren’t conscious of what’s happening as they read and connect with characters, it’s happening just the same, and it helps them grow.

Which worlds do you relate to, dear readers?

Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw

Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw

The Ravenclaw label makes a lot of sense, considering how much I value reading, intelligence, wisdom, common sense, and thinking. I “belong” there. :) I’d likely be in Athena’s house too, and to follow the theme I’d be Erudite. However, I don’t like the power-hungry description they get in the books, so I’m not sold on that yet. I don’t want to lead, I just want to read. I still have over half the book left to read, and then need to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy (if the third book is even out yet), so maybe I’ll have a better idea later!

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