It was midnight when I heard a clunk at my apartment door.
I smiled, then rolled over and went back to sleep. Awaiting me in the morning was a precious cardboard box with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows waiting inside.
It was summer 2007 and I had a deadline to keep. I was finishing up graduate school so most of my days were spent at my desk, tapping away at computer keys, steeped in thought, as I finished my paper.
But just outside my door was something so much more inviting. Each day I rationed out the number of pages I had time to read. As I visited the campus library, I saw heads bowed in front of the same thick pale mint book with a mustard dust jacket.
“What page are you on?!” was quickly becoming as common a greeting as “Hello.” I savored every page that summer, drinking in their goodness down to the very last drop. I had never read such an amazing series since C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and doubt I ever will again. Harry Potter was the fiction series of my generation. This was our Narnia. As I started to tell this story to a room full of graduate students this summer, I began to cry.
My emotion surprised me, but the thing is: I believe that interaction with good quality literature actually changes a person.
There are many reasons why I love being a school librarian, but nothing is more sacred to me than putting quality literature in the hands of children. Ultimately, I am realizing, part of my job is to help students step into their own wardrobes, step onto their own Nimbus 2000s, and step aboard their own private boats.
When students come up to my desk and ask, “Where’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?” I’ll admit that I’ve had to choke back a few tears over the course of my career while walking them over to the Ls. I have such vivid memories of watching the series on the BBC as a kid at grandma’s house and then finding the book on the library shelves in third grade. When my parents inherited a wardrobe, I stepped inside it because I wanted to find Mr. Tumnus over by the lamp post. Narnia filled my heart with wonder, expanded my imagination, and helped me dream. C.S. Lewis understood the emboldening power of his words as he explained, “Since it's so likely the children will meet cruel enemies let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage…”
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is another of my all-time favorites. I have a bobble-head Max on my desk at work and a picture of Max in his boat at home. Where the Wild Things Are teaches us it’s okay to want an adventure, to journey far from home. Sometimes you just need to dance around and have your own Wild Rumpus. But, when the fun has run out, when you find yourself lonely and homesick, you can always return. It’s just a boat ride away. The world will feel less like a jungle and more like a familiar place to belong. A meal is always waiting for you and I bet if you taste it, you will find that your soup is still hot.
When kids bring up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, I feel like I am witnessing a holy moment. They are about to embark on a journey where they will likely meet their three best friends: Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They will feel the thrill of becoming a champion as they catch the snitch in a quidditch tournament. They will have tasted the sweetness of a chocolate frog from the treat cart on the Hogwarts Express and the disappointing surprises found in Bertie Botts Every Flavor Jelly Beans. Watch out for black pepper and grass! They will have glimpsed into the truth that all of us need to remember: even though these are dark times, in the end, goodness will ultimately prevail. J.K. Rowling ended her series with the statement “All is well;” Julian of Norwich said a similar thing “All shall be well, all shall be well...For there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.”
Food for thought:
I’m sure you have your own story of a book that changed your life, inspired your dreams, or helped you remember that your imagination is more expansive than you once thought.
What book do you need to revisit?
What book do you need to introduce to your kids?