Hung up on Harry

One of the most perfect perks of parenting is reading with my kids. Bedtime in our house takes way longer than it should, since I’m just as curious to see what happens in the next chapter as my kids are. We’re about to start on the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which were my favorite books on the planet when I was a kid. Considering the teensy rural Montana town I grew up in, Laura was pretty much a contemporary of mine. I have a hunch my seven-year old daughter will love them as much as me. BUT I’m dreading the inevitable questions like, “Mom, did you travel by horse and buggy when you were a kid?” I get those questions all the time. I’ve been asked if I was alive during the Revolutionary War. Or when Lincoln was president. And if coins existed when I was in school. Maybe I’m not so ready for the Little House books after all.

I’m getting off the point, here. As much fun as all those books are, the highlight of my reading-as-a-parent life has been sharing the world of Harry Potter with my wild children. I devoured those books when they first came out, back before Sam and Sophie were ever in the picture. I was in awe of J.K. Rowling’s world-building ability and the way her characters practically leaped off the page. And the over-arching message that love wins. I dreamed of the day when I could share them with kids of my own. That day seemed as far away as Hogwarts, but it came faster than a golden snitch.

We started the first of the seven books about three years ago. Sophie was a bit young, so we read them primarily to Sam. But Sophie’s never been one to miss out on anything, so she experienced the magical wizarding world, too. We read them at bedtime. We read them on road trips. We tried to imitate Hagrid’s loud, Scottish brogue, Voldemort’s high whisper, Professor Umbridge’s sinister giggle, dreamy Luna’s spacey voice. Our rule was that we had to finish the book before we watched the movie. And we watched those movies on lazy Saturday mornings in our pajamas, piled together on the couch. (It had to be mornings, so the images of dementors could burn off well before bedtime.)

Now, I’m snuffling in my butterbeer. After seven books, 4100 pages, and eight movies, we’ve reached those dreaded words . . . THE END. When we were almost finished with The Deathly Hallows – the last book in the series, I made a silent vow not to slip into hysterics when I read the closing lines. Well, that wasn’t my problem. SPOILER WARNING – Skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the last book. My problem came a few chapters prior to the end, when Harry accepts his fate and marches to what he believes is his final battle with Voldemort. Beloved spirits of those he had lost appear to him – including his parents. My attempts at reading the part where Harry and his mother are finally reunited crashed like a faulty Nimbus 2000. My voice resembled that of a choking kitten, and my throat felt like I’d swallowed a box of Weasley’s Wildfire Whizbangs. Darrick took over reading while tears ran down my face. Yes, I’m a ridiculous soft touch. But I love that books have the power to evoke our deepest emotions.

In an interview with Oprah, Rowling talked about how a young woman in her twenties came up to her on the street and said, “You are my childhood.” Rowling was blown away. I completely understand what that young woman meant. Sam and Sophie will play for hours, building entire Hogwarts villages and scenes and characters out of Legos. Great battles are waged in our living room, curses and magic spells zinging off the walls. When my kids are grown, there is no doubt that Harry will have his very own Room of Requirement in their heart’s memory of childhood.

Ultimate Battle for Hogwarts

A few years ago, Sam dressed up like Harry Potter for Halloween. He had the cute little glasses, the rumpled hair, the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Just as he was getting ready to catch the bus, I reminded him not to forget his wand. He rolled his eyes and with such an earnest voice said, “Mom. You can’t bring weapons to school.” Ah, good point.

Harry and Ron Jack o’ lanterns. That’s a spider on Ron’s cheek.

We’ve been full on Harry Potter for years now. I’m eternally grateful to Rowling for the joy she’s brought to the world and for the spark she lit in Sam’s and Sophie’s imagination. Seriously, I would willingly and with a glad heart clean Rowling’s oven for the rest of my life if she was my neighbor. But since she’s a bazillionaire, she’s probably got a self-cleaning oven that actually works.

Just the other day, Sophie, who is in second grade and just learning to read chapter books on her own, brought me the well-worn first book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” It’s in rough shape. The spine is broken, the cover is ripped, and the first several pages have fallen out. When she asked if we could fix it, my heart skipped a beat. I told her we could, or if not, we would get another copy.

Sophie wants to try to read the books on her own, starting from the very beginning.

It looks like our adventures with Harry may not be over just yet.

What were your favorite childhood books? Any new loves you’ve discovered reading with your kids?

The Names

Billy Collins was appointed poet laureate of the United States between 2001-2003. He wrote The Names to honor the thousands of victims who died on 9/11, and their survivors.

The Names – Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Writing Tips from Famous Authors

I’m in the midst of a revision, and this post from BuzzFeed came at the perfect time. Too juicy not to share!

30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors

Writing is easy: All you have to do is start writing, finish writing, and make sure it’s good. But here’s some vastly more useful wisdom and advice from people who seriously know what the hell they’re talking about.

Jack ShepherdBuzzFeed Staff

1. Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

2. Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
Image by DERMOT CLEARY / AP

3. Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

4. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Image by Michael Lionstar / AP

5. George Orwell

George Orwell

6. E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow
Image by MARY ALTAFFER / AP

7. Henry Miller

Henry Miller

Library Of Congress

8. Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
Image by Carlos Osorio / AP

9. John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

10. Stephen King

Stephen King
Image by Mark Lennihan / AP

11. Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Ralph Waldo Emmerson

12. Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

13. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
Image by Jemal Countess / Getty Images

14. James Patterson

James Patterson
Image by Deborah Feingold / Reuters

15. Stephen King

Stephen King
Image by MIKE SEGAR / Reuters

16. Mark Twain

Mark Twain

17. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Image by Frank Polich / Getty Images

18. Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

19. John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

20. Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard

21. Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury
Image by STEVE CASTILLO / AP

22. Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow
Image by ELISE AMENDOLA / AP

23. Erica Jong

Erica Jong

24. Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
Image by MARTY REICHENTHAL / AP

25. T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

26. Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

27. Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Image by Library of Congress / Getty Images

28. F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Library Of Congress

29. Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

30. G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed