I know it’s just a movie, and I know they’re just books, but as I watched Harry Potter battle Voldemort on the big screen this weekend, I was more than a little emotional. It wasn’t just the heart-breaking scenes. It was more that I felt like something big was coming to an end (and not just a multi-million dollar movie franchise). See, I grew up with Harry Potter. No really, I did. And I don’t just mean that I grew up reading the books. I could say that about the Babysitter’s Club or American Girl series. I grew up along with these characters.
A coworker of my mom loaned me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was 12 years old—just 1 year older than Harry at the series’ beginning. At first I was skeptical—I wasn’t into books about magic and wizards. But as any true book worm would do, I gave it a shot. I don’t think that book left my hand for more than 10 minutes at a time until it was finished—having been thoroughly captivated by JK Rowling’s magical world of wizards and spells, I was completely hooked. I devoured books 2 and 3 shortly after and eagerly anticipated book 4’s release the summer before I started 8th grade. At 13, It was the longest book I’d ever read at over 700 pages, and I remember beaming with pride when I announced that I had never read another book faster.
I was about 15 when the fifth Harry Potter book was released, and you better believe I got my copy at midnight, only to go home, down a few cups of coffee, and read well into the wee hours of the morning. As I read the first chapters of the fifth book, I remember thinking Harry had become kind of obnoxious. It wasn’t until much later that it hit me that he was obnoxious, not to mention moody, irrational, and emotional. He was also 15. Just like me. Do I even have to tell you that I was more than a little moody and emotional those days too?
The sixth book did not disappoint, although by then I had surpassed Harry in age. I was 18 by that time and getting ready for my first year of college, but had not outgrown what will never feel like a children’s series to me. It was torture waiting for book 7. TORTURE! I’m not ashamed to admit that I speculated with friends about what the epic conclusion would bring for Harry, Hermione, and Ron. I may have even visited a Harry Potter fan site a few times to read other readers’ speculations… (*blushes*)
I was 21 by the time the 7th and final book was released, the summer before my senior year of college. I dragged a friend with me to a book premier event where we drank “butter beer” and laughed watching younger kids play “wizard duel” with plastic magic wands. The soon-to-be-teacher in me beamed, thinking, How amazing is it that these little kids are up late waiting for a book to be released? How amazing that they’re playing wands and not fists or toy guns? I may have felt like I’d “grown up” along with the Hogwarts gang, but it made me so happy to see kids and adults of all ages waiting in line to get their copy at midnight. When else have such colossal masses of people gotten so excited about READING?
By this time, I was actually working in the summers and couldn’t devote hour upon uninterrupted hour to reading a book. But…I *may* have carried it everywhere I went for 3 days until I finished, snagging every moment of reading time I could. That included reading at red lights while driving to work, reading during the 5 minute “break” I gave kids during their sessions of tutoring, and reading while working out at the gym. The book was…perfect. Finishing it was both satisfying and heartbreaking, because I knew there were no others to come. But that was okay—there were still a few movies to look forward to.
This weekend I sat in a movie theater and cried and cried watching the final movie in this beloved series. I have grown up. I’m 24 now. I have a career, an apartment, and all of the responsibilities that come with both. I couldn’t help but think as I watched the plot unfold on the screen that Harry Potter and his friends have grown up too. I know that seems silly—they’re not real. I get that. J (I promise I’m not delusional.) But it was still something special to see the way all of the characters really have grown and changed. And something special to realize that I have too.
I am grateful to have grown up with these books, and even more grateful that kids will have the opportunity to experience this special world for years and years to come. As a kid and as an adult, JK Rowling transported me to a world where anything is possible, where friendship and loyalty, courage and honesty, goodness and love always win over evil. Her characters showed me in powerful ways how important it is to stay true to who you are. To follow your heart. To confront your fears. To make the right choice even when the wrong one is easier.
Books are not real, but they can do powerful things. They can take you on adventures. They can teach you lessons. They can become friends and safe havens and role models. I hope that some of my students find the same lessons as I did in these books. Or even that, through them, fall as deeply in love with reading as I did. This year I will make a special effort in my classroom to put Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone into the hands of every 5th grader I can. I cannot think of a better gift I can give a young reader.