Recently, my 11-year old son and I completed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I know we’re a bit behind the times, as the book was published eight years ago, but that didn’t affect our enjoyment.
My son and I have gone through many book series together, from Dr. Seuss to Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! to My Weird School to Hank Zipzer and more. However, whenever I asked if he was interested in reading Harry Potter, he declined. But Harry Potter has become an iconic series, so I decided to push it and ask him one more time. I was curious myself to see what all the hype was about.
But it was unnecessary to push this time. He said yes right away, so we began our Harry Potter journey back in October.
Harry Potter was different from the books we read in the past. Besides the fact that the material was more grown up, the series was a saga with a complex plot and many twists and turns. This complexity brought about deliberations between me and my son. We discussed love, good and evil, and judgment. We talked about the nuances of the main characters, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore and Snape.
Harry worked a lot of magic in my house these past nine months. The books were a way to ensure bedtime occurred without a fight, for one thing. I’d lie on the edge of my son’s bed and start to read. He would go silent, as if I had cast a spell. No more YouTube or Kindle or Minecraft. Harry Potter got my son to bed and calmed him down as he listened intently and asked questions before drifting off to sleep.
The books were also a way to make sure my son behaved. One more insult or shove or argument with his little brother would mean no reading together that night. The series was more powerful than any wand; it was the most successful tool to calm the simmering sibling rivalry between my sons.
Finally, the books provided a potion that was as effective as any ADHD medication. Before my son’s medicine kicks in, he has a boatload of energy, and his behavior can be challenging. However, an offer to read Harry Potter always interested him, and he was able to focus his attention on the story.
As we drew close to the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I stalled. While I was as curious as anyone to know how Harry would vanquish Voldemort (I didn’t look ahead, but had a feeling he would), I didn’t want the series to end. Sure, it’s hard to let go of characters you’ve grown attached to, but it was more than that; I was afraid that the end of the series would mean the end of my son and I reading together.
Jim Trelease, an educator and author, advocates reading to children, even those who can read themselves. Trelease cites two reasons for doing so: First, a child’s listening level is higher than his reading level, and the levels don’t match each other until fifth grade. Second, he notes that reading together helps parents and children have discussions that they might not otherwise have, just as my son and I did while reading about Harry.
As a former high school English teacher, I can certainly appreciate the first reason, but it’s the second reason that grabs me more. Reading together has always brought my son and me together. It is a time of the day I look forward to, and not simply because of the catnap I often get while putting him to bed (leading by example is what I do best).
That time was precious to me because that was when we would talk about his school day, baseball and navigating the new world of girls. Plenty of times, we didn’t talk about anything. We just shared the story together.
I didn’t want to lose that time. He already spends hours in his room alone, content to watch YouTube videos, listen to music and play Minecraft. I know tweens and teens go through that phase in life when spending time with their parents is just below cleaning the bathroom on the list of things they want to do. But my son isn’t there yet, and I don’t want him to go there. I like spending time with him.
The world of wizardry kept my son and me engaged with each other for nearly a year. While it may not be as impressive as defeating Voldemort, it will always be my favorite thing about Harry Potter.