20 Years of Harry Potter: My Thoughts

20 years ago today, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released.

I didn’t read it straight away. A friend recommended it about a year later, just after Chamber of Secrets had been released. I say recommended but actually she just would not stop talking about it. She seemed obsessed! I read both Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets over that summer holiday.

And I was hooked.

These books were an escape. In a sense, all books are an escape, especially fantasy books.  But this was actually a story of an escape. Harry was living this rather miserable childhood of neglect and loneliness that I could relate to. I wasn’t shut in a cupboard, of course. But I felt trapped, certainly. I’d always felt the odd one out (in fact, I still do most of the time). But Harry escaped. He discovered a whole other life was available to him.

Now, obviously I never expected a giant to knock down my door and tell me I’m a wizard. But I suppose it gave me hope. Hope about a potential life after the miserable years spent at my childhood home.

From Prisoner of Azkaban onwards, I read each one pretty much as soon as it came out. I never went and queued at midnight to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible (now I wish I had!) but I always managed to get them pretty quick and then be engrossed for days, even weeks as they got a bit longer.

The later books provided more than just an escape for me. They were probably the first books I read about that darkness in humanity: intolerance and prejudice. The fear and subsequent hatred of anything unlike ourselves. They can certainly teach a few things about friendship, loyalty and love.

The last book was released about 10 years ago. I was 17. I had left home and was sleeping on a friend’s sofa. I’d left those miserable years of childhood behind but at the time, I was feeling like adulthood wasn’t really shaping up to be much better (don’t worry, it got much better!). A new Harry Potter book was just what I needed! It provided that escape again (even if it did have me weeping on a few occasions).

My copies of books 1-6 were left at home when I ran away. Even the copy of The Deathly Hallows that I bought after I left was lost somewhere during the years of moving from place to place. In bouts of depression, I often found myself wishing to read them again.

Last Christmas, my husband bought me the full set of books. I read all of them in about four months. They made me remember the good bits of my childhood. Sitting in a rare hour of peace and solitude and happily reading my favourite stories. The funny bits still make me laugh and the sad bits still make me cry. I expect they always will. I’ll certainly be reading them again at some point.

img_1319.jpg

The Harry Potter series also got me interested in fantasy as a genre. It got me interested in writing stories myself. J.K Rowling’s personal story is pretty inspiring itself, especially to me now, being 27 and still not having written a complete novel! But also because she found herself in a difficult situation and pulled herself out of it through writing.

It isn’t just me she inspired with her books either. I’ve heard countless accounts of people who’d had tough childhoods (much tougher than mine), people who’d lost parents or really lost anyone and found that these books helped them.

So from myself and everyone else who found hope and joy in the story of The Boy Who Lived, thank you Joanne Rowling. You have my eternal gratitude.

What makes a children’s book ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Today’s blog post has been inspired by my university studies. I’m studying children’s literature and at the moment focusing on what people consider to be good or bad books for children.

For my own child, I often pick or suggest to her books that I read and enjoyed when I was young, such as the works of Roald Dahl. I’d like to introduce her to Enid Blyton next and I’ll probably recommend Jacqueline Wilson as she gets a bit older. As she gets into her teenage years, I’ll encourage her to read some classics, like Austen, Bronte and some more modern works like Orwell but I wonder how much she’ll ignore me and read contemporary books instead. How much should this really bother me?

One thing that’s really surprised me in my studies is discovering that Dahl and Blyton, the very books I’d consider to be very good books to suggest to my own child, were seen as having low literary and moral standards pre-1960. Debates from the time about whether these books might be bad influences on our children remind me a great deal of the debates over the influence of violence in films and video games that have been going on for the past couple of decades (and show no signs of ending).

On first thinking about it, I couldn’t really think of a book that I would disapprove of. But now I’ve realised that’s not quite true at all. I often steer her towards books that might provide her with more of a challenge, not wanting her to get something too simple. I might tell her and myself that it’s because I think she’ll get bored of something too simple but is it really because I’m drawn to the idea that every reading experience she has should be an improving one? I have once or twice surreptitiously gotten rid of books that I’ve found to have grammar or spelling mistakes, while despairing of whichever publishing company let these through the editing process.

Am I worrying too much about what my child reads? Or is this exactly what, as a parent, I should be doing? Isn’t it my responsibility to make sure she’s getting the best experiences possible? I find it difficult at the best of times to find a balance between guiding her in the right direction (or at least what I perceive as the right direction) and letting her be independent. She’s a very strong-willed person and I’m happy with that, especially as it took me years of purposefully forcing myself to be more assertive to be even slightly sure of the choices I make. But I know that being strong-willed might lead to a tendency of not listening to other opinions, of being blinkered to your own view of the world which you are convinced is the correct one. I definitely don’t want this for my daughter. Again, it seems to be a matter of balance.

I’m very interested to get opinions from other parents (and indeed anyone who chooses books for children in any capacity) on this. Do you choose books for your children or just let them pick whatever they like? Do you attempt to steer them in certain directions regarding what they read? Are there any books (aimed at children) that you would not let your children read or at least would strongly disapprove of?

Reading with Pip: Five Favourites

Pip, like most five year olds, loves books. She’s got a big wooden box in her bedroom packed with them, plus we take regular trips to the library and before long, she should be getting books coming home from school (at the moment she just gets weekly homework). I thought I’d share just five of her favourites with you.

  1. Calm down Boris! by Sam Lloyd

This book takes pop up to a whole new level. The lovely fluffy Boris hand puppet poking through the book really brings the story to life and allows the reader to really interact with it. Pip really loves this. She can pretend to feed, brush, hug and kiss Boris, plus shout out the repetitive phrase of the book – ‘Calm down Boris!’

Calm down Boris

2. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

This is the first full novel that I’ve read to Pip. I absolutely loved Roald Dahl as a child and was very keen to introduce his work to Pip. When I borrowed this book from our local library, I didn’t actually expect us to get through the whole thing, especially not as quickly as we did. Pip isn’t really the kind of child to sit patiently for extended periods of time but she was really engrossed by this story and always begged for ‘just one more page, please!’

James & giant peach

3. An Amazing Snowman by Barbara Jean Hicks

This book is about Olaf, the snowman from Frozen. From watching the film, Pip became very fond of this loveable character and I knew she’d love the book so it was one of her birthday presents. It doesn’t exactly have a narrative, it simply tell you all about Olaf. There are lots of two and three letter words so Pip can join in with reading this one herself. I think my favourite part of this book are the illustrations, they really are beautiful.

An Amazing snowman

4. The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker

This is a very funny story about a bear with a cold whose perhaps making a bit more of his illness than is really necessary! Pip giggles through this one every time we read it, though that could be in part because I do make an attempt at putting on voices for this one!

sniffles for bear

5. Snow Bears by Martin Waddell

A really sweet little story about three cheeky little bears playing in the snow. This one will be particularly nice to read when winter comes. Again, it contains some really gorgeous pictures.

Snow bears

What are your child’s favourite books?

Reading with Pip: 5 Favourite Books

I’ve always loved books. I remember reading A Little Princess when I was a little girl over and over. I’d love to read it to Pip when she’s a bit older as it’s a lovely story.

For now, she has plenty of her own favourites! I thought I’d share a few with you. So I asked her to pick her favourite five books. I’ve included Pip’s answer when I asked why she liked each one.

Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman & Ben Cort

Aliens love underpants

This is lovely silly story. I think the authors really hit upon something – children love aliens and find underwear hilarious. Pip giggles through this whole book.  It’s rhyme structure makes it pleasant to read aloud too, always a bonus for the parent!

Pip: ‘I like the way the aliens jump up and down in pants! They’re so funny!’

Hippo Has A Hat by Julia Donaldson & Nick Sharrat

Hippo has a hat collage

Another silly one that makes Pip howl with laughter. I’ve found it useful for teaching her about rhyming words by having her try to guess what the next line might end with.

Pip: ‘My favourite bit was the zebra stuck in it’s dress!’

Dinosaur Roar! by Paul & Henrietta Stickland

Dinosaur roar collage

If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that Pip loves dinosaurs. We got this book years ago in one of our packs from Bookstart. If you haven’t already, I really recommend asking your health visitor or local library about Bookstart packs. They have some lovely books in them and usually a nice poster with some nursery rhymes on (they do vary from time to time and depending on location – in Wales we got a bilingual Welsh & English book). Anyway, back to the book. Other than being all about dinosaurs, which is great for Pip, this books is good for learning about rhymes and also opposites – fast & slow, above & below, short & long etc. I think Pip will still be enjoying this one for a while yet!

Pip: ‘I like roaring like a dinosaur!’ (As I’m sure you can imagine, I was then treated to five minutes of dinosaur impressions, complete with plenty of stomping about!)

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

Dear Zoo collage

Again, this is one we’ve had for years and it’s still a firm favourite. I like it for the simple, repetitive words that have been very useful for starting to teach Pip to read. She likes it for the flaps that she gets to lift on every page. I think she also likes that she can remember all of the words to this one now and can say them along with me.

Pip: ‘I like all of the different animals under all of the flaps’

George’s First Day At Playgroup

George at playgroup

This came as part of a set of Peppa Pig books that Pip received for her fourth birthday. I like the series for all being on events or themes that children will probably encounter and might have trouble with, like a first day at playgroup or nursery. Although Pip had already been at nursery for a while by the time we first read this, it was useful for explaining to her that she needs to help the children who had just started at the beginning of term. Of course, her favourite bit is when George paints a dinosaur picture.

Pip: ‘George painted a dinosaur!’

I’ll share more of Pip’s favourite books with you next week!