Starting with Volume 4 of the Harry Potter series (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”), my son and I followed the same pattern as each new Harry Potter book was published; he was ages 5, 8, 10, and 12, respectively:
- I would buy the book on a weekend he was at his mother’s. I would plop down and read it, essentially in one sitting.
- He would come back home the next day, and we would begin reading the books together, aloud, at bed time, one chapter a night until finished. That meant 37, 38, 30, and 37 nights of reading – including the epilogue of the last book – or 142 nights of reading together on just this series, up until he was almost a teenager. (We had also read the other three books aloud, just not immediately upon publication.)
- Since I was reading these out loud, I felt obliged to do voices. I had a voice for every character, and my son was quick to point out if I used the wrong voice or confused the characters.
When you read to a child, you experience literature like a child does; openly, intently, and full of wonder. Storytelling is every good thing about being a parent: it’s closeness, it’s imagination, it’s safely exploring the dark and scary things that children’s minds will find anyway. It’s bravery, and daring, and fancy, and humor, and friendship; it’s also contrasts of those things with cowardice, and fear, and drudgery, and cruelty, and malice. It’s the enjoyment of artwork, the answering of questions, and the asking of even more questions.
(It’s worth noting that I was editing out things I thought were too scary when he was five years old, but by the last two books, he was getting pretty much the complete stories. This is also a way in which reading is like other aspects of parenting: you have decide what you think is appropriate for your child at what age, and act accordingly.)
It was said at the time that the Harry Potter series in some ways reinvented the practice of parents reading chapter books to their children; certainly for us, before that, there were mostly picture books and very short chapter books. We had always read at bedtime, but what these books did for us was to send us back generations, in a way; to a time before computers, before television, even before radio; when storytelling was the only entertainment there was, and parents did a large amount of their teaching that way.
By the time the last volume was published (10 years ago), I had thought my son would want to maybe just read the book himself, being twelve years old and all, but he still wanted me to read the book to him — just the way we always had. So we did.
My child has since grown up and left home, and it became easy to think of parenting as an “either/or” type of activity: that we’re either “good” parents or “bad” ones. Because my child grew to be unhappy, I questioned every decision I had ever made as a parent. But life can be like that. Dark days can come, from without or within.
If we learned anything from our reading of those books together, it’s that it is “our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” We choose to love, we choose to stay loyal, we choose to keep hope. We choose to do the best we can, to keep fighting the good fight.
And to keep reading great books. For I have grandchildren now…