14 July 2011

Read this before you see the final Harry Potter movie

Amazon: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Three-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo + Digital Copy)As I'm sure you know, the final installment of the Harry Potter film series premieres tomorrow. My family is full of breathless anticipation, and I've already got Sunday matinee tickets in hand.

But as excited as we are, we're also sad to see the movie series end. It doesn't feel quite as bittersweet as finishing the final book, but we will all miss the summertime visits from Daniel, Rupert and Emma, et. al.

It's worth taking a moment to recognize how lucky we -- and especially our kids -- have been to be a part of the phenomenon that is Harry Potter. To experience the unfolding of a literary (and, to a lesser extent, film) classic that will live on through the generations...it's a big deal. A really big deal.

I grasped this on some level as the early movies came out, and required my son, who's now almost 12, to read each book before he saw the film version. It seemed a bit fussy at the time, but I'm so glad I did, especially when I happened upon this fantastic article in the Wall Street Journal last week. In it, Norman Lebrecht beautifully illustrates the wonder of the Harry Potter series...not just as a story, but as a historical touchpoint in children's reading habits. I'll let you read the article yourself (which I thought was so important I read it out loud to my kids), but the upshot is that these books brought reading back to kids (or kids back to reading?) at a time when no publisher thought it was possible.

WSJ: How Harry Saved Reading

AP Photo/Dawn Villella

What's more, the story as written in the books touched kids in a way the movies can't. Lebrecht makes connections to the timeless stories of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens and their themes of children experiencing hardship. He also points out the importance of the story giving children "license to judge the adult world -- and find it wanting," a feature greatly watered-down in the films.

Says Lebrecht, "by rekindling the urge to read, J.K. Rowling trumped the machine-tooled dream factories."

I tried to keep my daughter (who just turned 8) from seeing the films before she read the books, but the cat was out of the bag once she saw the first movie at a sleepover. While she absolutely loves the movies, gets their significance, and will begin reading the books this year, I'm sad that her images of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and Godric's Hollow come from a filmmaker rather than her own imagination.

Amazon: Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) If you're one of the few parents holding out on the movies until your kids read the books, I applaud you! You're giving your kids a gift. And you're possibly kindling a love of reading that will last the rest of their lives.

If not, all is not lost! Once you and your kids see Deathly Hallows, Part 2, capitalize on mourning of the end of the film series by reading the Harry Potter book series all over again. Read it out loud as a family, even. You and your kids will treasure being reunited with Harry and company, and you will fully appreciate your presence in literary history.

Is anyone else feeling as sentimental about Harry Potter as I am? Did you or your kids read the books before seeing the movies? 

Related: My experience at Universal Orlando, home of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Also: There's a witch named Asha in J. K. Rowling's companion book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard!

Your comments

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Can you tell I'm big on closure?

So, here's my question: at what age would you start reading the books with your kids? I am really looking forward to introducing my kids, but they're only 4. Seems a bit young for books that have a fair amount of scary/evil/death, especially death of parents. And that's just the first book! Not to mention, part of me wants to hold off until they're old enough to read the whole series. But maybe that's just my adult perspective talking. :-)

My 7 year old is reading them with her dad. The earlier ones are ok, but she's upto book 5 now and it's starting to get a bit heavy. My eldest was 10 or 11 before she read them and that seem quite appropriate.

My oldest is six and we've only read the first book so far. My current plan is to let him read one per year until he can handles some of the heavier themes that arise later.

I was just telling him the other night how I was kind of sad for him because he didn't get to read them at the same time as everyone else in the world as they came out one by one. It was so exciting to know that my friends, family and the guy next to me on the bus was reading the same book I was! On the bright side, he has the magic of reading the whole series for the first time waiting for him and that can not be understated!

My DD is 8 and very prone to nightmares, so I've just started reading the books to her. We're halfway through the second. I'm letting her watch each movie when we finish the books, but she has seen parts of some of the others when at her summer camp. When we watched the first movie together, though, I pointed out some of the things that were vastly different or omitted entirely. She seems to now agree that reading THEN watching is probably for the best, even though it means we won't likely get to see the last one in the theater. I saw how thick those upcoming books are! :)

The general rule is that kids should read books where the main character is no more than 2 or 3 years older than they are. This can be stretched if they read it with a parent.

I like that rule, I'll have to remember it.

Agree totally "read the WHOLE SERIES" before watching ANY of the movies for both me and my children (currently ages 11yr, 9yr, 7yr, and 4yr) so that the images of the story are created in their imaginations rather than passively seen on a screen.

We just read the whole series start to finish as our bedtime nightly reading, taking 1-2 chapters per night once the children were in their PJs and snuggled down in their beds (kids share a room). This took us about 3 months from start to finish, although it was during the school year so bedtime reading time was much shorter than it is during the summer months when we could have read through the series much quicker! The little ones drifted off to sleep quickly and I could explain the darker parts of the story to the older ones as we encountered them.

Because the images in the movie are so much more intense, we'll use the guidelines at Common Sense Media about what age to let them watch the movies.


My first experience with Harry Potter was the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. The way the time shift sequencing was laid out was brilliant. It inspired me to go back and then read each book in sequence including book 3 to get the full story. Obviously the books are better but as far as book to movie translation goes, the movie series was well done. Especially the latter ones. I think the point I'm trying to make is that whatever inspires you or your kids to read on their own is an ok route to take.

Well, don't discount the audio books--they're amazing. Sometimes you hear that a child's "listening level" is 2 years ahead of their reading level, though that's quite an oversimplification. I can share from my experience working children's book retail until my daughter was born 4 years ago that kids regularly will read a year or 2 ahead for Harry Potter. The parent comes in and says, "My child can read Harry Potter!" and you have to ask what they read before that, because often they aren't up for just any 400 page fantasy, just Harry.

I'll never forget the impact they made on my nephew. With a July birthday, his parents started him a year late in school to give him a bit of a boost. But he was such a poor reader he was just about to be held back a second year.

that summer, he discovered harry potter (I think he was going into the third grade, so about nine). He struggled his way through the first book, and then in less than two months had read three more. He turned into a book lover, and every single school subject improved.

My oldest (who is 16) basically read the books first (except the 1st one). My 12 year old had to read the books before he saw the movies. My 6 year old... that was a little harder with older siblings, but he is on book 2. But, he wont see the last two movies for a while. Those are a bit much for a 6 year old.

I wrote a post (for closure) after we saw the midnight show: http://thatslifev2.blogspot.com/2011/07/midnight-madness.html

Great point. My cousin "read" Harry Potter by listening to them (she has a long two-way commute, but little free time to read), and loved every minute of it.

Same here -- that's very helpful.

Absolutely, I agree with you. I'm not a purist about these things; in fact, tried to read "Lord of the Rings" for years and couldn't manage it (and I am a fantasy lover, and "The Hobbit" was my fave book as a kid). Once I saw the movies, I tried reading the books again and it was the most satisfying reading experience I've ever had. I actually teared up at the end at having to say goodbye to the characters.

So whatever hooks you or your kid is good. I'm just thankful that my son and I were able to experience the unfolding of Harry Potter -- in time and in our minds -- as it happened.

Another commenter mentioned audio books...a great option as well.

I had a similar story about LOTR and the Hobit was my favorite from JRR as well. That is, until I read the Silmarilion. That one gave me that same sense of sadness at the closing. Currently I'm diving into Song of Ice and Fire series. I'm actually kicking myself for not reading the book prior to the HBO season 1 (was reading something else at the time)but its another instance where good video content triggered reading. This ones not really for young kids though

My kids, aged 5-9, have seen most of the movies (not the the last two), but only one of the two oldest is just now starting to read the books. The other has reading difficulties and won't be at that level for a while yet, and the younger two are just, well, too young!
BUT I have realized that even with my one kiddo who's reading HP, he really needs me to alternate reading aloud with him. I think we'll start reading the books as a family, because I'm sure they would all appreciate hearing the stories.
Funny you mentioned holding off on the movie until reading the book - something I insist upon doing for myself! With my kids, I get them interested in reading by introducing them to the books after they've seen (and loved) a movie! As much as I'm all for the imagination aspect of it, I find that my children don't always have a frame of reference for some of the imagery described in books, and therefore have a hard time understanding and/or picturing what's going on. For that matter, sometimes I do, too. But when they've seen a beautiful rendition of a story via film, they can't wait to read the novel and scope out all of those savory details that didn't make it into the movie!

I've seen most but not all of the movies...I'm a little behind since I'm not quite as wrapped up in the phenomenon. My four year old had been playing the Lego Harry Potter game (after playing the Lego Star Wars, Batman, and Indiana Jones versions) and loved it so I decided to get the first Harry Potter book on audio book - read by Jim Dale. He does the voices really well and it's been very engaging for us to listen to during car rides around town. I've never read the books so I have to resist the temptation to listen to the story when I'm alone in the car.

I pause the CD once in a while to ask a few questions to make sure he's retaining the details. Even though it would be nice if he could come up with his own visuals it's neat that he can recall from the game details about characters turning into cats and he loves guessing who is being described. He'll say "I bet that's Hagrid." and then "I was right! I just knew it was Hagrid." So I think it works either way. The point is the get kids excited about literature so they'll have a love of reading.

When he's a bit older he can read the actual book with me. I'm planning on only introducing him to the first two or three books until he's about eight or nine to ensure he isn't in over his head with the scarier content. He's a mature four year old but I don't want to take any chances with nightmares. The theme of losing parents is scary for a kid but when you realize that a villain (who doesn't exist in the real world) did it that takes some of the reality out of it for a kid. I explained to my son that the reason Harry was saved was because his parents loved him so much that they gave their own lives to save him and the power of that love protected him from the evil of Voldemort. It's important for parents of younger children to take the time to explain the scarier issues in an age appropriate way so they can cope with it better.

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