How Harry Potter Ruins Kids
When my niece turned 11, she had a Harry Potter themed birthday party. 11 is the age at which a child is officially old enough to attend Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, so this was a big deal for her.
In the last few years we’ve gotten to spend quality time together, I’ve encouraged her love of reading any chance I get. But any time I recommended a book to her, she asked “Is it like Harry Potter?!” The answer is always no. Nothing is like Harry Potter.
She has read each of the seven books in the series four or five times. In most cases, she’d rather re-read a Harry Potter novel than risk diving into something new she probably won’t like.
This was tough for me to understand because she loves to read, and I want to see her exposed to different material. She explains that because she began reading the series several years ago, each time she re-reads a book, she is quite a bit older, and she catches something she previously missed, or understands the story in a new way.
She tried The Babysitters Club Series at my urging: “Too boring.” When her class read Island of the Blue Dolphins, I asked what she thought of it and got little more than a shrug in response. I’ve given her my copy of Tuck Everlasting and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, sure she’d love Flavia DeLuce. Last I asked, she still hadn’t opened either one.
After a great deal of coaxing, she finally read my copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and LOVED it! (Score one for Aunty Ramona) She has now read all three of the books in that series multiple times, and even dressed up as Miss Peregrine for Halloween!
Since I was able to get it right at least once, I asked her to have a conversation with me about books, and what appeals or doesn’t to someone her age.
Her biggest complaint about the older books I enjoyed at her age is they aren’t relatable to kids today. The Babysitters Club gals must use a landline to call each other, and go out into the neighborhood to post flyers. Apparently the main character in Island of the Blue Dolphins uses a hand pump to get water from the ground. My niece doesn’t even know what some of these things are, so she doesn’t relate to the characters who have to use them.
It made a lot of sense once I thought about it. Two summers ago, we took a family vacation to California and went to the Harry Potter World in Universal Studios. My niece and nephew were both the happiest I have ever seen them. It was a cool thing to witness, as this magical world they have known for so long literally came to life in front of them. My heart was so full, seeing what these characters meant to them, knowing this all started with a book.
To read those books as a young person, to have that world as part of your childhood culture, is a gift. No books will ever come close to being that special.
While I understand that, and even envy it a bit, I hope my niece continues to harbor a love of reading and is able to find material that meets her needs, for reading skill as well as imagination and enjoyment.
She’ll be thirteen this winter, and the last I heard she was reading Stephen King’s IT. I stifled my cringe, because I’m sure it has something to do with me giving her older brother a copy of The Stand, since he also has trouble finding engaging reading material for the same reason. (I don’t think of that stuff because I don’t have siblings…)
I don’t want to discourage these kids from reading anything, because let’s be honest, something might go over their heads, but it isn’t going to be nearly as disturbing and realistic as some of the TV shows they watch, or the news.
I was somewhere around 12 when I discovered Stephen King’s novels. I’m not sure about the how, but I’m pretty confident Carrie was the first I read. Then I got my hands on anything of his I could. Granted I was also reading my mother’s Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele at this time, but somehow I was managed to read Gerald’s Game – I couldn’t have been more than 15, and holy smokes it traumatized me in a big way.
I don’t think my mother knew what I was reading at that age, and I’m not sure she’d have cared about the content I consumed. She’s always been a big reader and still is, despite her advancing macular degeneration. Books are one of the few places we can still find common ground.
If I had been “protected” from reading what I did when I was an adolescent, would I have the same reading habits I do now? If my reading material had been censored, or chosen for me, I probably would have missed out on most of the “junky” romance novels and cheesy horror novels I devoured. If that was the case, I might not appreciate l literary fiction as much as I do now.
Sure, there’s a difference between censorship and curating reading habits. Steering someone in one direction or another isn’t forbidding content, just filtering it, which can be beneficial.
My niece isn’t reading a bunch of “junk” out of desperation because she doesn’t have to. With so much stellar literature written specifically for children and adolescents nowadays, the bar is much higher for her than it was for me at her age. She probably won’t be in awe to read Interview With A Vampire, and that’s okay.
I hope as she ages, her passion for reading high quality content sticks around, and her horizons expand. Either way, I’ll be here to lend her books she she may or may not read, and to advise her on important matters such as reading the book before seeing the movie.
I’m curious to hear from readers on this. What did you read as a kid?
If you have kids, have you run into this issue?