Sitting in Barnes and Noble the other day, I watched as a fairly "sophisticated" mother sat down in the reading area, with a couple of kids in tow. She opened her "Tao of Zen" (or whatever it was) and sent her oldest (about 9) to help his sister (about 6) select a book to read... "quietly." Actually, that was quite a relief from what usually sits next to me: a passel of incessantly yakking teens, an inconsiderate "businessman" with his portable office speakerphone, or a mother's group who haven't taught their kids the difference between a bookstore and Chuck-E-Cheese's.
When they returned, I learned that "quietly" meant "don't bother me while I read." They didn't seem to make a fuss, so it appeared that they had gone through this before. The girl, in a pretty pants suit which coordinated with her mothers skirt, and red shoes, matching her mothers stiletto heels, "properly" arranged herself to read in the kiddie sized rocker. She had a pull out book, which seemed appropriate for her age, and seemed delighted with the visual story appearing at every page turn.
The boy, bless his heart, had selected a more daunting task... he lugged the orange, three pound, 759 (+) page, book 7 of Harry Potter to his adult sized chair, hoisted it to the seat and climbed in after it.
Looking a lot less "sheveled" than his sister, he opened the cover and began to look for a place to start. Rapidly, his position shifted to balancing the book on his lap and leaning forward to see the page - about the only position possible for him and the hefty book.
I watched as his hand followed across the page, and his lips lightly echoed what he saw. I was able to make out "sev-er-ous" and "vol-dee-more." By this time, I had completely forgotten about the web design books I was trying to decide upon, and felt compelled to watch the drama unfold.
As he turned his first page, his sister had begun her second pass through her book, and decided that something was so interesting her mother would like to see it... she didn't. But that didn't seem to diminish the little ones spirits, for she quickly resumed her journey through the forest's creatures.
Little "Harry" (as I'll call him) was having a different sort of experience. I could tell that he really was trying hard to read and understand the story, and he really wanted to see what everyone was talking about; but, it wasn't "comprehension" that was shown on his face. "What is this word," he very quietly asked his mother.
"Humiliation," she said a bit stiffly. And when he didn't seem to show understanding, she said "it means being made to feel ashamed," and he seemed to understand. "Please let me read," she told him, "I'll explain things to you in the car," so he went back to his book.
Having read the book myself, I knew some of the words he was struggling with in the first chapter: peacock, phoenix, subjugate, imploring, ferocity, wail, slithered, Kedavra... and dinner. His face seemed to tell me that it hadn't become a "fun read" for him yet.
After several minutes of valiant effort, enough for his sister to be on her third excursion through her venture (like only first graders can do), "Harry" seemed to give in to his frustration and closed his book.
I felt both happy and sad to see him give up. I guess I was glad that he wouldn't yet be exposed to the Deathly Hallows' thematic material, which is far too advanced for his age; but, also sad that he hadn't picked up "Sorcerers Stone," an entirely different experience for a nine-year-old,and, of course, that his mom didn't join in his journey.
Sorcerer's Stone seemed to be tailor made to get young ones to read... voraciously! Deathly Hallows seems to take those captured readers, who are now all grown up, and keep them reading - a very noble effort.
A letter from a parent tells it perfectly:
"My life has also gone through a ton of changes in that time, and Harry Potter was a wonderful small part of that. I didn't just read the books for myself, but nearly every night for seven years I have also read them to my kids. The latter is an experience that I would never have given up. It was a wonderful time to share with my kids. But like the book, life goes on and my kids are doing the things that I once did. My oldest doesn't want me to read the last book... he wants to read it himself and is very welcome to do so." Angsoden
I hope that the hoopla over Rowling's latest book doesn't prevent a new generation of readers from beginning a most worthwhile quest the way it should be done - beginning with book one around 9 or 10 then one book a year for 7 years.
[See the parent's guide material for Deathly Hallows at: Dr. Scarpin's SCARPnotes]