Although they may be sisters, Ella and Annie have wildly different personalities. There are countless ways I could illustrate this (one of them being this post), but for now, I’m going with reading.
Ella is a good reader; she always has been. Words, spelling, and phonics come naturally to her, and she’s always been precocious (speaking in sentences by 15 months, writing her name at age 2) and a bit “bookish.” Naturally, we assumed that, because she could read well, she would enjoy it, too.
And here is, yet again, when parenthood slaps you across the face and reminds you of the whole when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me thing.
Reading for pleasure has just never been Ella’s bag. She can do it, of course, but she doesn’t particularly like to. While it’s not quite pulling teeth to get her to read, she’s never been one to just curl up with a book and get lost in another world. Individual books and some series have caught her attention, but it’s always been short-lived.
Annie, on the other hand, adores reading. She has had her nose in a book since she could hold one; long before she could even identify letters, she would sit for – truly – an hour and page through book after book, all by herself. So, we’ve long known that Annie liked books, but it wasn’t clear until recently that she, too, was a good reader.
See, Annie’s a brick. There’s really no other way to put it. That kid is solid, and man, does she (quite literally) pack a punch. She is also one of the funniest human beings any of us has even encountered; everyone – and I don’t say that flippantly or with exaggeration – enjoys being around Annie, because her zany and hilarious personality draws you in.
Being the stellar parents that we are, we just didn’t put it together that Annie was a proficient reader. Somehow, between Ella already being identified as A Reader, and Annie’s brute force and magnetic, larger-than-life self, we kind of missed her growing from a kid who liked looking at books into the kid who could actually read and understand everything she was looking at.
(Yep, we’re those parents who attended the kindergarten parent-teacher conference and, despite reading with Annie every night practically since she’s been in utero, were still like, “What? She’s met all of the reading benchmarks and is an independent reader? Well, isn’t that neat!” GOLD PARENTING STARS, PEOPLE. Gold stars.)
Two nights ago, I was making dinner while Ella was at swim practice. Annie had eagerly agreed to help me prepare the meal, but then, after presumably becoming bored when the pork needed to just sit unceremoniously in the marinade for half an hour, she suddenly disappeared. A few minutes later, she reappeared carrying a large stack of books, which she plopped on the counter. She then sat there for the next forty-five minutes and read every single word of every single book she’d brought with her… THIRTEEN books in all. I wasn’t necessarily surprised, but I was awed. Well played, kiddo.
I was surprised, on the other hand, when, ten days ago, Ella asked to begin the Harry Potter series. Nick and I were hesitant… not because we’re against Harry Potter; in fact, quite the opposite.
I’ll just come out and say it: Nick and I are Harry Potter nerds. We have both read all seven books at least three times apiece, and we own at least two copies of each book, because there’s no way in hell we could actually share. If there’s ever a dull moment (which there never is, but I’m just saying), all it takes is a, “So… what do you think Dumbledore really saw in the Mirror of Erised?” or an, “Okay, if you couldn’t be in Gryffindor, which house would you choose?” and we’re off and running. I am absolutely not ashamed to admit that I think J.K. Rowling is one of the greatest authors ever (no, not children’s authors, just authors — you know, like Grisham and Kingsolver and Melville and Shakespeare; yes, I just compared Rowling to Shakespeare — aww, snap!), and certainly one of the most clever and thought-provoking story-tellers of all time.
Yeah. We looooooove us some Harry Potter in this here house.
So anyway, our concern was that the books are too awesome, too detailed, just too big to be read in the third grade. For one thing, we didn’t know if Ella was even capable of reading them on her own. Additionally, the stories are so very complex, we weren’t sure she’d actually get what was happening. And, perhaps most importantly (given how magnificently written the books are), we wanted Ella to wait until she could actually understand why it’s so cool that Sirius was given that name, or why it’s funny that Professor Sprout teaches Herbology.
Once she asked to read The Sorcerer’s Stone, however, the cracks in our foundation grew and eventually we crumbled. After all, who were we prevent anyone from the wonder that is Harry Potter??
Turns out, Ella was able to read – and understand – the book just fine. She laughed at Ron’s jokes, tsk-ed at Hermione’s know-it-all behaviors, and groaned – out loud – each time Snape wrecked Harry’s plans. In fact, when she came home yesterday, instead of getting a snack or even saying hello, she raced straight to the comfy chair in the living room to continue where she’d left off (we read the book together at night, but she’s also checked a copy out of her school library so she can read at school, too).
Nick and I were both with her last night to read the final chapter (a good compromise, since we’ve basically been fighting over whose turn it is; neither of us had read The Sorcerer’s Stone since finishing The Deathly Hallows, and omg, the foreshadowing going on is just unreal — how did J.K. Rowling do it???). Up until this point, Ella had found the magic stuff – and especially the Dark Arts stuff – a bit creepy, but not particularly scary. As we reached the great unveiling, however (do you like how I did that? No spoilers, but oh so clever…), the look on her face began to change from one of curiosity and outrage to one of concern and horror.
We tried our best to smooth things over, with Nick reading in his this is super fun! voice and both of us explaining over and over that Harry makes it to book two, but we just couldn’t quite comfort her. She was scared; actually, she was terrified.
And, really, who could blame her. These books, are, you know, not really children’s books after all. There’s a lot of scary stuff; the Dark Arts aren’t just dark, they’re well and truly evil. People get hurt, favorite characters die. It’s not a chipper little series. But that’s part of why we love it so much – for its complexity, for its depth of character, for its unbelievably imaginative storyline. For its characters, each of whom was given such richness and fullness. And, of course, for the message that, in the end, love wins.
Although we could not promise Ella that nothing bad would ever happen to Harry or his friends (at least, not without telling a bald-faced lie), we tried to remind her of this: love wins. We tried to remind her of her own words from earlier that day: “Mommy, part of why I like this book so much is because the words are so great, I actually feel like it’s happening. Reading this book feels like Christmas.”
Reading this book feels like Christmas.
Couldn’t have said it better, sweet girl.
In the end, it was too much for Ella. She was awake for an hour past her bedtime, spending much of that time crying and begging to know the answers to questions that didn’t have happy or tidy endings (each time I would demure, she would become even more upset, because my refusal to answer convinced her that something terrible had befallen her now-favorite characters). As of this morning, she said she’s not ready for the second book, and for as much as I love it, I’m inclined to agree with her.
Some day, I know she’ll return; once you’ve met Harry and the gang, there’s really no going back. In the meantime, there’s always Fancy Nancy and Mo Willems… unless Annie has hogged them all, of course.