Tag Archive | children

Happy Birthday to the Boy Who Lived

Harry Potter is one of the most famous and beloved characters of juvenile fiction, and today, July 31st, is his, as well as his creator’s, birthday.  J. K. Rowling crafted incredible tales of bravery, cunning, and heroism, but she has stated that the books’ main theme is death.  If you’ve had the pleasure of reading all seven books, you will agree with her statement.

I’ll admit that I bought into the conservative view that we shouldn’t allow our young people to read books promoting the fascination of wizardry when the books were first released.  I was teaching sixth graders at the time and saw them with the thick books at school, but I didn’t understand the hype.  I later read in The Read-Aloud Handbook that these books inspired a whole generation of kids to read thicker books than they had ever read before, but that didn’t squelch my misgivings. 

This past March, I took my children to the library over spring break, and my ten year old son asked if he could check out the first Harry Potter book.  Not having read it myself, I wasn’t sure if he should read it, but I agreed as long as we read it together.  Little did I know that this would begin a wonderful time of reading and discussion between my son and myself as we raced through all seven books in three months. We couldn’t believe previous readers had had to wait a year between books when they were first released.  We devoured them and returned to the library often, searching for the next book in the series and borrowing the DVDs to watch after we had finished each book. 

What I quickly learned in reading that first book is the stories are full of good versus evil, choices between doing what is right or what is easy, much like other popular book and movie series.  We are avid Star Wars fans, and I believe the “force” in the movies is just as magical as the spells in the Harry Potter books.  Many in my generation grew up with Star Wars and have no qualms in believing that Luke Skywalker is a good guy and should use the force to battle the Dark Side.  However, those same people (myself included) are frightened when our children want to read about a young wizard who uses magic to fight the Dark Lord.  I have read books and articles expounding ways to talk about Christianity as it relates to both Star Wars and to Harry Potter, and I discussed some of these with my son as we read.  

That being said, the Harry Potter books are some of the most exciting books I have ever read and are definitely the most interesting and enjoyable my son and I have read together.  We laughed together, and I cried at times as we followed Harry and his classmates through their years at Hogwarts.  In this coming-of-age series, Harry discovers who he is, makes friends and enemies, maintains relationships, suffers loss and humiliation, stands up for what is right, experiences joy, sadness, triumph, defeat, and love.  It offers lessons for children of all ages and even adults. 

Having read the books and loved them, my son and I were greatly disappointed in the movie versions, so don’t judge the books by the movies.  If you haven’t read any of the books, start with the first one and read all seven because the complete resolution to the problem in the first book doesn’t occur until book seven.  We have had difficulty finding any comparable books to read together since finishing the last Harry Potter book.  A new book came out today, and we can’t wait to read it.  

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella lives in a kingdom with giants, elves, ogres, centaurs, and fairies. One unthinking fairy gives Ella the “gift” of obedience when she is born. Any order she is given must be obeyed immediately or she suffers physical distress. She feels cursed and rightly so. She is not allowed to tell anyone about her curse, but someone catches on and uses it to her advantage. Ella is strong-willed and seeks her freedom from constant obedience throughout the book. Towards the end of the book, the story has many similarities to the traditional Cinderella story, but Ella is still bound to obedience.

I read this book aloud to my eight and five year olds, and the older one thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the final two chapters. My five (almost six) year old has a shorter attention span than her big brother had when he was four, so this book might work well with other children her age and even up through middle school. I enjoyed reading this book myself and read ahead because I couldn’t wait to finish. One or two chapters a day isn’t my speed!

Ella Enchanted was the author’s first novel, and she received a Newbery Honor for her story. This work is a fresh take on a timeless classic.

Update: We checked out the movie version of this book from our local library, and it wasn’t nearly as good as the book. The movie portrayed Ella as more of a puppet who was controlled by any and every command others made with no struggle to disobey. It was very unrealistic, which is saying a lot since the book is a fantasy to begin with. There was also an evil character to oppose Ella and the prince, whereas the main antagonist in the book is Ella’s curse to always be obedient.