A man reads with his sons, building family togetherness.
A graduation of sorts is about to happen at our house: a literary graduation, to be precise.
The youngest member of our family is reading the seventh and final book of the “Harry Potter” series, a story that has captivated each of our kids in turn, like many other families. We’ve had the Grammy Award-winning audio books on constant checkout from the library for several years, and our younger two listen to them nightly as they fall asleep. (If you’ve never heard Jim Dale read the series, it is well worth another trip through.)
Knowing that this is my last journey through the world of Hogwarts with one of my own kids, our arrival at the final book is bittersweet.
With its timeless themes of good conquering evil, of love being the greatest power even in a world full of magic and of friendship and sacrifice being the greatest callings, the story’s moral relevance and depth have inspired many great discussions with our kids.
What has been even sweeter is the observance my older kids have given to their little sister’s journey through the books. They’ve been so careful not to reveal plot secrets to her up to this point that they excitedly anticipate each revelation as she comes upon it.
The nicest surprise is what’s happened to our evening reading time as a result. Everyone is old enough to read to themselves these days, and with a high schooler, a fifth-grader and a third-grader, it is a rare book that will engage all three.
But this fall, we noticed that our eldest daughter and son were lingering after dinner as we traded pages reading aloud with their sister, not wanting to miss where she was in the story. Soon, they were requesting that we time the reading until showers and homework responsibilities allowed everyone to listen at the same time.
So a lovely tradition has now been built around all of us gathering, as much as we around all of us gathering, as much as we can, to journey through the final books and chapters of “Harry Potter” with the baby of the family.
The older kids are noticing details they’d forgotten from previous read-throughs and plot lines that are omitted from the movie. They have strong opinions about some of those omissions. In weighing the different plot lines and how to present them visually, how and why would the screenwriters deem certain parts unessential? What would our kids include and leave out? In the end, it has only cemented for all of them that the books are just better.
The very fact that this happened in an organic way has made it all the more enjoyable, since some of our traditionally contrived moments of family game and movie nights are becoming harder to schedule as the kids get older.
This only confirms my belief that somewhere in the cellular, primordial makeup of our humanity there is still a gravitational pull to gather — around a fire, around a radio, around each other — to hear and share stories spoken aloud. A pull that we never outgrow.
The memory of that shared reading is something we carry with us over a lifetime.
My high schooler was hunting through our bookshelf the other night looking for our well-worn copy of the picture book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.” Intrigued, I asked her what it was for, assuming that her class was doing some school project on children’s literature. Turns out one of her best friends didn’t grow up with this particular classic, and once my daughter and another friend starting reciting the catchy, rhythmic writing she felt compelled to bring the story to share. After several hundred readings in her toddlerhood, I’m not surprised it’s part of her literary DNA.
As we savor the last part of Harry’s journey, I’m already racking my brain and our bookshelves to come up with another read that might keep this shared literary and familial magic going, one to keep me snuggled on the couch nightly with kids on either side.
I know I am as likely to fail as to succeed in this effort, since the “Harry Potter” books qualify as a Holy Grail of literary success, establishing that special chemistry between literature and children of both sexes on a scale rarely seen.
Whether or not I can sustain the quality of this experience, I do revel in the new level of relationship that has been forged between our kids, now old enough to recommend chapter books to each other and share discussion. For this book-loving mama, that’s the greatest reason to celebrate this literary graduation.
Megan Blair-Cabasco is a Walla Walla writer and mother of three interesting children who inspire the wonder and humor that make this column possible.