If my lengthy reviews of the books weren’t clue enough, I love the Harry Potter series. It’s my absolute favorite fantasy series. It’s one of the things that I reference a lot (along with The Lord of the Rings movies and The Princess Bride) in everyday conversation. Its world and characters were a large part of my high school life when I dabbled in fanfiction. Perhaps I have a bias in favor of it, but when I reread the series for this blog, it only reinforced my belief that these are some of the best children’s books out there. Here’s why:
Depth, complexity and nuance. End of story.
No, really. Compare my reviews of Harry Potter to another fantasy children’s series that I reviewed, Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series. What do I talk about in my reviews of Sage’s books? How fun they are, how the plots improve as the series go on, and the character development. What do I talk about in my reviews of Rowling’s books? Not just those three things, but also themes, ideas, thoughts that the books provoke, especially in the last two books. Simply put, Sage’s books are fun. They’re entertaining. But there’s really no depth. I don’t talk about the themes of Sage’s book because I don’t see them. In general, children’s books tend to be very one-dimensional in plot and/or character, and Harry Potter is not. Sagel’s books (and a lot of other children’s books) are fairly shallow. The plots are fairly simple; the characters predictable. They’re written to entertain, not to educate. Any messages in them are the type you see on an animated TV show: be polite. Don’t be rude. Friendship is great. Share your things. All great things, but also very simple, superficial, and frankly boring. On the other hand, Rowling’s books are challenging and thought-provoking. There’s depth. There’s complexity. There’s nuance. Read Sage’s series (which I loved, by the way. I’m not trying to condemn them), then read Rowling’s. There’s simply no comparison, because Rowling’s books are head and shoulders above Sage’s.
Frankly, this is the main reason why you should read Harry Potter (and any children’s book that has depth, etc.). The second reason is this:
Themes. Like I said above, most children’s book themes are sugary-sweet, rainbow-y heaps of goodness. “Don’t fight with your friends!” “Don’t be selfish!” “Think of others!” There’s nothing wrong with these themes, but they go hand-in-hand with what I said about depth. Shallow themes generally mean a shallow book. Deep themes generally mean a deep book. Sacrificial love, temptation, power, death, etc….these are themes that can be explored much, much more, and much deeper, than most other “fluff” out there (it’s called fluff for a reason). To reference current culture, why is Frozen better than, say, Wreck-It-Ralph? Because, disregarding everything except the message, Wreck-It-Ralph’s “Love yourself” does not hold up to Frozen’s “Love others and give yourself up for them.” Maybe a better way to put it is that Frozen’s message is higher than Wreck-It-Ralph‘s. Frozen’s message of sacrificial love, by the way, matches Harry Potter’s. While a lot of children’s books emphasize love, not very many of them emphasize sacrificial love, and sacrificial love is a much deeper love and thus generally invokes deeper thought and feeling.
So, make sure you can handle the material in Harry Potter, make sure your children are old enough to handle it, and then sit down and read it, because not a lot of children’s books reflect the same amount of depth and complexity that these books do. And these two reasons that I wrote about can also be a great starting point for discussion about the book, because, once again, not a lot of children’s books can or have garnered as much discussion as Harry Potter. This is a series ripe for the plucking. Don’t miss out.