One of the most important things that a parent can teach a child is to have a love of reading. As an avid reader and writer, transmitting my love for the written word to my children was a joyful
experience as a parent. My youngest daughter is visually impaired. It was difficult to see her struggle to master the reading and writing skills that I take for granted. More difficult was the sense of isolation that her impairment created. While her classmates progressed to full-fledged books, she struggled to learn to read and write. She needed to use paper with raised lines, and had to write with sharpies to be able to see her own writing. Even with adaptive magnifiers, and using cutout windows to help her keep her place on a page, reading was a cumbersome and stressful experience for her. Eye fatigue would set in, and she would suffer from severe headaches when forced to focus her eyes for more than a few minutes at a time.
I don't know which of us cried more when my beautiful, bright daughter was told that she wouldn't be moving on to second grade along with her classmates. It was not for lack of effort or intellect on her part, but it would not be fair to her to force her to try to move on when she had yet to master the building blocks that she'd need to succeed in another grade. Being partially sighted is a heavy burden for a child, particularly one not impaired enough to need Braille, but
affected enough to be singled out as different. She needed huge coke-bottle glasses, special adaptive devices, and as a result was always behind in her schoolwork.
Not surprisingly, she developed a near aversion to books, or anything that involved reading or writing. I desperately searched for a way to open the world of books to her. In my efforts to help her, I was forced to overcome my own media-bias. I need to see something for
it to make sense to me. I'm not quite as bad as needing 2+2 written out for me, but that's not too far off the mark. At the other extreme of the scale at the auditory end, is my daughter, who had to sit in the hall to take tests so that she could whisper the questions aloud
to herself. Only when she heard herself read the question aloud did the words take on meaning for her.
In the midst of my quest to find a way to get my daughter hooked on books, a cultural phenomenon occurred that changed both of our lives. An unknown author in Great Britain published a little book about a boy wizard. Harry Potter was the perfect literary hero, an
awkward boy coming to terms with the things that made him different from his classmates.
Through the course of seven Harry Potter books, the visual learner and the auditory learner found a middle ground. Through most of the first books, I read, and she listened with a look of rapt anticipation on her face. By the third book, she was taking her own turns at reading, and by the seventh, she was off reading on her own, ready to engage in regular plot discussions.
Of course, we've attended every Harry Potter movie together as well, dissecting the performances in light of our own perceptions from the books. I have to ask myself what it is about Harry Potter that appeals to so many people? For me, I started reading the Potter books
to a daughter who is visually impaired. She was in second grade, and Harry Potter was the first chapter book that ever captured her interest. Over the past decade, I have read Harry Potter books out loud to her, and all of those hours together have forged a shared Potter bond. I think that a large part of my mourning the end of Harry Potter series is mourning the loss of that shared experience, and the loss of those hours of youthful fascination with the wizarding world
of Hogwarts as I saw it reflected in the eyes of an enchanted second grader. My daughter is now a parent herself, and the best I can hope is that she is able to find something as special and enduring as Harry Potter to share with her own daughter. She has grown up, and no
longer needs me to read out loud to her anymore. Her growth has mirrored Harry's as she has gone from a little girl, to an angst-ridden teen, and now a parent herself.
I don't know if there will ever be a series of books/movies that will rival the phenomenon of Harry Potter. I hope that there is, because the shared experience not only of what my daughter and I have shared, but just being a part of something so huge has been awe inspiring. Harry Potter mania crossed cultural, geographic, and language barriers worldwide. I watched total strangers become friends while discussing their Potter theories waiting for late night book
releases and movie premiers. We need more of that.
Teaching moments don't happen by chance, they come as a result of a parent investing the time and effort to make a difference in their child's life. Some of them work, some fall flat, and sometimes the stars and planets align and miracles happen. I could have picked a different book to read aloud, or bypassed reading to her by popping an audiobook into a CD player. In fact, we have picked other books, and audiobooks make the world of literature accessible to my visually
impaired daughter in a very valuable way.
Magical is an apt description of not only the Harry Potter book series, but also the bond that experiencing them together created for us.
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