I have a sort of embarrassing admission to make. I write MG. I read a whole lot of MG. But up until this past year, I had not read a single book in one of the most famous — if not the most famous — MG series out there today.
Yeah, I know. I hang my head in shame. Bad, bad middle-grade writer. In my defense, it’s not like I didn’t intend to read the books. Someday. Life just kept getting in the way. Kids. International moves. Working on my own projects. Plus, I have to admit, my own tastes have always leaned more toward contemporary and realistic fiction. And spy novels. Go figure.
That all changed last Christmas when I bought the entire Harry Potter series for my 9-year-old son. I figured he’d read first and I’d swipe the books when he was done (my usual method of beefing up my MG reading). Instead, something truly magical happened. We started reading together — something we hadn’t done much of since our long-ago Peter Rabbit and Magic Treehouse days. And from the moment we boarded the Hogwarts Express with Harry, Ron and Hermione, my son and I were completely and utterly hooked. We read every night at bedtime until our voices croaked. We blew through the Sorcerer’s Stone. Soon, we were deep into the series. My son would even put down his Nintendo DS in the middle of the day (!) to plop down next to me on the sofa, book in hand, because we just couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. We talked HP nonstop. Was Snape really evil? Would Malfoy get a conscience? Would Harry live to the end of the series?
All the while, my writerly brain marveled at JK Rowling’s ability to create such a spellbinding story, adverbs and all. I waffled between being inspired and intimidated by the sheer scope of what she’d done. An intricate tale. Magic. Humor. Adventure. Wonderful characters. Still… there was something else. Some undefinable quality that made the story of The Boy Who Lived special. I wondered what it was. I wondered how she did it.
Winter turned to spring, spring to summer and son and I neared the completion of the series — just in time for the premiere of the final movie. Neither of us had ever seen a Harry Potter film in the theater, so I decided we’d do it right. I ordered tickets for the midnight show and pre-movie party. We scrambled to finish the last book, but unfortunately fell short by a dozen chapters. No matter. When the Big Night rolled around, it was hard to say who was more excited — me, my son (or my brother, another Harry Potter fanatic). We got all duded out… red-headed son in Gryffindor robes as Ron, me in Luna Lovegood spectrespecs and bearded brother as Sirius Black. The atmosphere at the party was electric. Magical, really. We gulped down butterbeer. Played HP trivia. Marveled at the enormous line that snaked all the way around the theater.
An hour before the movie started we were allowed to take our seats. We watched in awe as the theater filled, people in costume carrying popcorn and pillows (having spent the last 15-plus hours waiting outside for the theater to open). None of that really surprised me. What did, however, was the fact the vast majority of movie-goers were young women in their early twenties. I guess I expected to see more kids like my son. Middle schoolers and the like. (Of course, maybe I was one of the few crazy mommas out with her kid at midnight.) I struck up a conversation with the twenty-something woman sitting next to me. We talked books. She admired the “Ron” to my left. She bemoaned the fact she’d have to be at work way too early in the morning. But she wouldn’t miss this — not for the world.
I couldn’t help myself. I asked, “Why?”
“Because,” she said simply. “Harry Potter is my childhood. I was Harry’s age when the first book came out. I grew up with Harry Potter. This,” she said with a wistful look in her eye and a smile, “is like the end of my childhood.”
And that’s when it hit me. Like a bolt of lightning, if you will. That indescribable something. A good book is a collective experience. It’s why we read. It’s why we write. Not to become the next JK Rowling (although I’m sure none of us would complain…). We write because every word we put on paper is a connection. To the reader. To ourselves. To something bigger than ourselves. Harry Potter spoke to this generation like Judy Blume spoke to mine.
I looked over at my “Ron,” who sat anxiously awaiting the movie’s start (and struggling to keep his eyes open). Still a kid, but not really my little boy anymore. With my own wistful look, I lamented the fact his childhood would be gone in a blink of an eye (at which point I’m pretty sure I received the why-are-you-making-that-weird-face-Mom? look). Then the lights dimmed, the show started. There were cheers, gasps, tears, applause.
I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun at a movie in my life.
Son and I finally finished reading the last few chapters of Deathly Hallows a few weeks back. We took our time, knowing there wouldn’t be a book eight. I did my best not to bawl out loud when Harry walked into the forest. Or when Snape showed his true colors. And I held myself together when son and I read the last page and closed the book.
So, now… well, now I ask you, Mixed-Up community. What next after Harry Potter? Son and I are looking for ideas. Please share your recommendations in the comments below! Or maybe just tell me what inspires you to read. And write.
And if you’re creating the next Harry Potter… I can’t wait to see it!
Jan Gangsei is currently suffering from a bit of Harry Potter withdrawal, in case you didn’t guess. Chances are you’ll find her (and Ron) sipping butterbeer on her next vacation to Hogsmeade Village in Orlando…