Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.
–Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Like most muggles, I raced to see Deathly Hallows Part 2. But for me, Harry Potter is really all about the books. I read the first two to humor my niece, but Prisoner of Azkaban hooked me. I joined the crowds for the midnight release of the next four books, and, wow, was it inspiring to see so many kids so jazzed about reading. I admit I had a Larry David moment at the final book party, when I seriously considered taking advantage of the fact that I was a foot taller than most of those elbowing me. But reason prevailed, and I let the kids push past. It was their moment.
In my day, there was a dearth of books for tweens and early teens. Once you’d outgrown Beverly Cleary, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys, there wasn’t much left. I read and reread Little Women and The Lord of the Rings. And though my sister had lent me Pride and Prejudice, when I was 13 I just couldn’t get into it. My parents had always encouraged reading, but we hit a few bumps during those years. I got about 30 pages into Jaws by Peter Benchley, before it was confiscated for violent and non-PG content. When my brother brought The Godfather on a car trip, Dad was skeptical. A scowl spread across his face as he flipped through the pages—again not appropriate for a 12-year-old. Without a word, he rolled down the passenger window (Mom was driving) and tossed the book out. Literally (and literary) defenestration. A belated thank you to the local Rotary Club, who had adopted that stretch of highway for cleanup.
After that, Dad got us reading biographies, but now, Harry Potter has spawned a boom in Young Adult literature. Before, when I gave a tween a book (instead of some digital distraction), said child often eyed me with suspicion. Since Harry Potter, my stock has gone up. Now it’s hard to find a book these kids haven’t read. The best gift, however, is the one JK Rowling gave to generations of children … the joy of reading.