Over the past few months (which, not coincidentally, paralleled my pregnancy), I had the pleasure of rereading the entire Harry Potter series. Every single book. Every single page. In truth, it was the first time I'd actually read at least one of the books--we listened to at least one of them on audio back in the early 2000s during a particularly hard year that required a lot of time on the road.
I'm not one to reread things in general. Of course, when teaching a text, I reread it to refresh my mind and develop a deeper understanding of it, but it's not a practice that carries over into my general attitude toward reading. I often see it as a waste of precious reading time--there are so many other things out there waiting to be read! I am, however, a big fan of watching reruns (much to my husband's dismay). I've seen every episode of both The Simpsons (up until about season 20; I'm behind on the new ones) and Futurama, and I could still watch each of them on a daily basis (and often do). It's extremely difficult for me to start a new series, and it often takes several episodes (and the rather persistent prodding of my patient husband, who has a far wider taste when it comes to shows) before I can get even remotely invested in any new show.
This experience of rereading Harry Potter led me to ponder why students so often reread books instead of trying something new. I had one student who clung (literally--I'm not being metaphorical here) to The Hunger Games to read it a fifth time as I did my best to patiently but firmly pry it out of her hands and replace it with something new, similar in genre and style, and far more exciting than rereading the same story (I think I chose Graceling by Kristin Cashore, a great book in an awesome, interconnected trilogy).
I examined my own desire to rewatch shows, and I considered why that habit is so much more appealing to me than trying something new. I don't watch much TV (in fact, we didn't have a TV until last year, though we would watch things on our laptop, and I've never had cable or any kind of live TV in my adult life). I'm not opposed to TV or watching shows; it's just not a priority to me. When I do watch shows, I seek them out as a way to unwind at the end of the day. I watch them for comfort and relaxation rather than as a way to grow, learn, or experience significant emotional responses. I'm introverted, so I feel pretty emotionally drained at the end of a work day. I have watched several shows that I find captivating, but that I wind up drifting away from because I do not ultimately enjoy the emotional strain they cause.
The above approach is not at all how I approach reading. I love trying new things, and I passionately seek out books that challenge my views or enable me to empathize with characters. I love suspense and action (This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers was a fun action zombie read that I plowed through shortly after my daughter was born), and I enjoy raw, moving books. For example, I LOVED The Fault in Our Stars (I plan to revisit that book for more concrete teaching plans, but here was my first reaction), but I couldn't bring myself to go to the movie. However, when I thought through that process, I began to realize why students so often cling to their beloved novels rather than venturing out to explore new ones. It's hard to take risks, and many times young readers see new books as a frightening risk.
But I digress... this brings me back to good old Harry Potter and his adventures. Pregnancy was the exception to what I just proclaimed about myself as a reader. The last thing I wanted to do was experience any kind of emotional strain, even one induced by reading. I read very little during that nine months (which saddened and embarrassed me--what will people think of an English teacher who doesn't read?!?--but there were lots of things I gave up, and I'm working on the acceptance and humility that the process of having children brings). When I did read, I found that I could not stomach anything that required too much stress or emotion. That meant that I was suddenly unable to read and enjoy most books.
And so I came back to my old friend, Harry Potter. And I'm so glad that I did.
He and Ron and Hermione helped me through many long, sleepless nights. I even bought the ebook version of the novels (which was complicated, but can be done at this site) so that I could read them in the darkened early morning hours.
Rereading them gave me the opportunity to rediscover the richness of the story. It was amazing to see the way some of the threads of the later books came up in the earliest novels, and the development of the characters was so much more intricate than I remembered. Because I have seen the movies, I remember those parts much better, so it was fun to see all of the events and details that the movies overlooked. I'd forgotten, for instance, how Harry and Ron first met Hermione, and how they kind of despised her for a while before becoming friends. I'd also forgotten how goofy looking Harry was, particularly in the early books. I loved the richness of some of the dialogue, and I marveled at Rowling's style and structure.
From a teaching perspective, there seem to be some easy ways to incorporate the Harry Potter series into the classroom, if one so desires:
- Analysis of syntax: The thing that I found the most striking was both her syntax and her sentence variety. If you want to show students the power of sentence variety, just choose a small selection from any of the books, and you'll be able to have a great discussion about the various kinds of sentences she uses and why the variety is effective. She also uses lots of semi-colons and colons, and she uses correct grammar and punctuation throughout (rather than taking the liberties that authors often do), so you can avoid some of the complex issues like when it's okay to use fragments and why some writers can use them while we want our students to avoid them (though that is a great discussion--it's just sometimes not what you want to focus on when teaching grammar).
- Plot development: You could choose a relatively small section of one of the novels to analyze concepts such as rising action and creation of suspense. There are clear climatic moments, and the pieces of the rising action work together beautifully to reach those climaxes.
- Characterization: Rowling does a remarkable job of creating her characters. They are SO vivid. In fact, that was one of the things I'd forgotten the most before I reread the series. She also includes quite a bit of direct characterization (which is excellent for younger readers, but also nice for the rest of us), so it's a good example of the contrast between direct and indirect characterization.
- Thematic discussion: Because the novels play into the most conventional themes of good vs. evil (which is not to say that they are boring!), students can often find themes more easily in a passage from Harry Potter than they might be able to in a more complex, subtle text. I always like to build up their confidence when it comes to concepts like developing themes so that when we look at poetry or more difficult prose passages, they have a good foundation AND the confidence to come up with thematic statements.
- Film to text comparisons: If you read my blog often, you know how I love film to text comparisons. This series would be great for that because you could choose a small scene to read and analyze, and then you could compare the text to the film version of the scene. The benefits to this kind of activity are endless, and I always feel immense satisfaction when we complete that kind of task. For more information about it, I wrote about film to text comparisons that I've done with Romeo and Juliet here.
- Life lessons: While it seems ridiculous to list this, this series does an awesome job of addressing real issues that students/ young people face, such as fear, bullying, rejection of authority figures, conflicts with teachers, bravery, and the power of choices. Dumbledore, the ever wise mentor, advises Harry: "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." Sirius (who is far from perfect, and whose flaws make him so much more human), Harry's godfather, tells him, "The ones that love us never really leave us. You can always find them in [your heart]."
There are many ways that you could incorporate a touch of Harry Potter and his friends into your classroom. That series holds up to reading it again and again, and it's a wonderful, fun series to share with our students, some of whom are now too young to know much about it. Have you ever taught it in your classroom or used excerpts to illustrate some concepts or skills? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section!
[It feels so good to be back here, hearing the clicking of the keys that coincides with the flowing words in my brain. I look forward to writing more posts soon!]
Thanks to this fun BuzzFeed article for the image below: