Monthly Archives: June 2007

Remembering Harry: September 11th

The first Harry Potter movie came out in November, barely two months after 9/11, and we took the whole fourth grade to see it. Afterwards, I wrote the following letter to the New York Times (which you can also read at the newspaper’s site here):

To the Editor:

Re ”Harry’s Big Weekend” (editorial, Nov. 20):

No doubt the Harry Potter movie would have broken box office records even before the World Trade Center tragedy. J. K. Rowling’s books were already very special to children, which made the movie’s release an additional form of healing for our city’s children, who are still coping with the events of Sept. 11.

My fourth-grade students had a first day of school they will never forget; they have had field trips canceled and more than the usual evacuation drills; and they have had to contend with the same grief and fears that adults are coping with.

For these children, the Harry Potter movie is better than anything a trauma specialist could provide — not escapist entertainment, but the satisfaction of knowing that good can trump evil.

New York, Nov. 20, 2001

The writer is a teacher at the Dalton School.


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Remembering Harry: For Those Who Don’t Like the Books

Annoyed at the overwhelming media hype surrounding the publication of the fourth book I wrote the following (also meant to be a parody of the then-popular-and-controversial Dear America books):

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
The Journal of Peter Gordon
Centerville, 2000

June 17 This summer is going to be the best one ever! First I’m going to this totally cool basketball day camp with my best friend, Michael. Then on the 4th of July, after the fireworks, my family’s going to the beach for the rest of the summer. Michael’s family goes too and we spend every day together with our boogie boards.

June 26 Camp started today. The basketball is awesome!

June 27 We’ve got to do a skit for the last day of camp. Everyone else wanted to do Harry Potter except me. I suggested a million other ideas like making fun of the camp or Pokemon. But no, they all wanted to do Harry Potter and Michael told me later I was being really stupid and embarrassed him.

Jeez. I’ve read all the books of course. I can’t stand them, but since Michael and everyone else loves them I pretend I like them too. But if you want to know the truth Hogwarts sounds horrible to me. As for Quidditch, I like games that you can imagine in real life, you know, like basketball. And the last book with its dementors gave me nightmares for months.

June 28 I’m Voldemort in the skit. At least I don’t have too many speaking lines.

July 3. Today was the last day of camp. We did our skit and everyone loved it. Of course they would because the whole world except me loves Harry Potter.

July 4 I’m back home, but no one wants to do anything except sit around and reread all the stupid Harry Potter books. I’m not sure when we are ever going to make it to the beach.

July 6 Michael wants to go to the bookstore Friday at midnight to get the new Harry Potter book. He figures it is going to be an historic occasion. All I know about the new book is it is really, really long. I sure hope the dementors aren’t in it.

July 8 We went really early. Michael wore his Harry Potter costume and made me wear my Voldermort costume. It was hot and noisy, but Michael was thrilled because we were first in line. When the store opened we got the first two books and all these television cameras in our faces. I kind of freaked out which didn’t make Michael too happy. He told them we were going to have a contest to see who finished it first.

I don’t want a contest with Michael. Not with this book anyway. It weighs a ton, will take all summer and is probably full of dementors.

July 9 On the ride to the beach Michael started reading the book in the car, but I get car sick so looked out the window instead. Dad said I could listen to the book tape, but Michael said that would be cheating. I’ll start it tomorrow. Michael’s a pretty slow reader. I am faster.

My dad sort of felt sorry for me and started reading it to me last night. But he quit after the first chapter and told me to finish it on my own. “You have to read three books for school over the summer anyway. This can be one of them.” Is he kidding? 734 pages?

July 10 He’s not kidding. He made me figure out how many days there were for the rest of the summer and how many pages I needed to read each day to get it done.

July 14 I got invited for a sleepover, but couldn’t go because I didn’t do any reading for a couple of days so Dad said I had to stay home and catch up instead. At least there aren’t any dementors — yet.

July 20 I’m so tired of wizards. I want to read about basketball not quidditch.. 680 pages to go.

July 30 620 pages to go.

August 2 540 pages to go.

August 5 440 pages to go.

August 12 340 pages to go. I hate Harry Potter.

August 30 I got a bit worried about those dementors showing up so stopped reading at page 420. But no one knows. Especially not Dad.

September 11 Dad took away my basketball. He figured out that I hadn’t been reading so now I’m grounded till I’m done with it and the other two books I have to read for school. I’m gonna to die.

September 13 School starts in a couple of hours, but I’m done. At least there weren’t any dementors. I can sleep and play basketball again.

September 14 Yesterday my new teacher told us that our first unit of the year is going to be an author study of J.K. Rowling. Do you think they know Harry Potter in Mexico?


Peter ran away to Mexico where Harry Potter was indeed well-known, but only in Spanish which Peter couldn’t read. Shortly thereafter his rueful father tracked him down and then stayed with him when he refused to return to the United States. While playing for the national basketball team he met his American wife, a practitioner of Wicca, and they led a long and happy life. Shortly before his death he read the last three Harry Potter books and left them, along with this journal and his basketball, to his grandchildren.

Informational Note

The Harry Potter books are the most popular books in the world today. All the media say this, so it is true. There has never been another series like it. Ever. The author, J.K. Rowling, was very, very poor , but now she is very, very rich. There may be a few places in the world where Harry isn’t enjoyed, but they are never mentioned in the media so there is no information about them.

Author’s Note

Monica Edinger, a veteran fourth grade teacher and speedy reader, read the fourth Harry Potter book within forty-eight hours of purchasing it. She has read the previous books several times and enjoys discussing them with children and adults alike. She commented, “I’ve always loved fantasy books and was thrilled to see these books take off. However, I’ve also had to help children whose taste ran to other sorts of books not feel they had to read them. The hype and length of the latest book was quite extraordinary and I wondered how such kids would cope.” Monica Edinger is also the author of several books and articles on teaching history and literature.




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Remembering Harry: First Encounter

Here’s an August 31, 1998 child_lit post of mine:

I am curious about J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I saw it prominently displayed in bookstores during my recent trip to England and dismissed it as some sort of series a la the Hardy Boys. Returning to New York I read a review of it in the NYTimes, bought a copy, and just finished reading it. While I enjoyed it I’m not sure I would agree that Harry should “assume the same near-legendary status as Roald Dahl’s Charlie, of chocolate factory fame.” (Quote on US edition’s back cover from the Guardian’s review.)

The very British public school setting was fun for me having just spent a week at Christ Church College in Oxford enjoying the traditional rituals there. Rowling’s book is full of the particulars of British boarding schools (houses, prefects, common rooms, etc.) taken to a magical level.
The reviewer in the NYTimes (I believe it was Jane Yolen) questioned if this would appeal to an American audience. Still, it is a fun read and reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones’ “Witch Week.”*

There was no response about the book to my post (although Nina did comment about America’s perceived skittishness for non-American books). In fact, the book received very little attention on that list for several months.

In my classroom the book was passed from one fantasy reader to the next (a small group of boys who graduated high school a few weeks ago!). Eager to read the next one (that book I had so stupidly ignored while in England), a parent picked it up for us while in London. At that time it still seemed a small delicacy, something the larger adult world was not particularly interested in.

*I finally figured out that the item I saw was by Barbara Ensor (not Jane Yolen — even though, for a while, I kept insisting it was her and she kept insisting it wasn’t:) in New York Magazine (not a review in the New York Times). And also, keep in mind this was August 1998 — if you asked me now about who is more legendary, Charlie or Harry, my response might be quite different. And also the book I saw on display in England was the second book, not the first one.


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The Magic Moment

According to Lev Grossman and Andrea Sachs in their Times Magazine article, “Harry Potter and the Sinister Spoilers,” the magic moment is how Arthur Levine and his colleagues at Scholastic describe the instant when a reader first opens a particular book and begins to read. After reading the piece I can only say that James Bond and MI5 were given a run for their money by Scholastic as they edited, printed, and prepared for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows , doing everything they could to keep that magic moment sacred for as many readers as possible.

I’m feeling pretty mellow about this final book release. In fact, I’m even considering going to one of those parties which I’ve never done before. (I’m a very early-to-bed person and not much of a fan of crowds.) In my next series of posts: my memories of previous releases.

Thanks to Cheryl Klein (now a Lois Lane look-a-like according to “The Saga of the Seventh Manuscript”) for the heads-up.

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Thoughts on Newbery: Shh, don’t tell Nina…

Lindsay (the 2008 Newbery Committee chair), but I’m occasionally reading a non-eligible book. I’m pretty good most of the time — reading, reading, and reading the hundreds of eligible books (2007 books for children written by “… authors who are citizens or residents of the United States). But sometimes I just can’t resist a book by a favorite author, in a beloved genre, or one that sounds just too intriguing to miss. I think of it as a bit like wine tasting; “A sip of water between wines can also help preserve your palate.” And so reading the occasional non-eligible book hopefully preserves my mind to better focus and appreciate those that are eligible.

And so what are some recently read non-eligible books that are preserving my reading palate?

  • Nina Lindsay’s poetry book, Today’s Special Dish, is full of poems that refresh me. (Here’s a review of it.)
  • Richard Reeve‘s forthcoming Starcross, a sequel to Larklight and equally entertaining.
  • Shaun Tan‘s deservedly lauded The Arrival. Wow, wow, wow!
  • Click by Linda Sue Park, David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby, Deborah Ellis, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ruth Ozeki, Margo Lanagan, and Gregory Maguire. Since only three of these authors are US citizens or residents I’m assuming the book is not eligible — if I’m wrong, please let me know and I’ll take it off this post (as I’m not blogging about eligible books, remember?). Anyway, this book is very, very cool. Linda Sue began the story and the others continued it in their own style and way. I enjoyed it very much.

And what are some forthcoming non-eligible books I plan to read?


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Thoughts on Newbery: “Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”


While my Newbery journey to date hasn’t been as fraught as poor Alex’s completely different life journey in Portnoy’s Complaint (and, I promise, not the slightest bit arousing — my being a menopausal female and the eligible books being pretty staid in terms of sex), I did feel a tremendous sense of elation this past weekend after my committee meetings. You see, I’ve been waiting for this since the summer of 2005 when I was invited by a member of the ALSC Nominating Committee to run for election to this particular Newbery Committee. And so while not quite Alex Portnoy’s life-to-date (and certainly there is no monster mama in my story), two years is still a pretty long prologue.

I headed to DC fairly anxious because at the two previous ALA meetings, the greater attention to award committee members’ potential conflicts of interest had caused some well-meaning folks to give me some worrisome “Danger, Will Robinson” warnings resulting in my leaving each time feeling pretty unhappy. (Fortunately, the revised policy has now set my mind at ease — I mean, here I am, blogging, after all!)

The committee met for the first time at Midwinter this past January —- an open meeting (anyone could sit in) so I can say that it was mostly procedural. Then we all went home and began reading (and reading and reading and reading…), and preparing for this past weekend’s meetings.

They were fantastic. And since I am now under a veil of secrecy (I gotta say that I feel like a Mason) — what Roger said (“I’d tell you all about the Caldecott meetings, but then I’d have to kill you.”). I will say that the meetings were wonderful, that the whole committee was wonderful and that I can’t wait till next January. We will make some of you happy, some of you curious, and some of you miserable, but I am confident that the fifteen of us will put heart and soul into our decision.

Take that, Dr. Spielvogel!


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Can’t Hurt

“All 11-year-olds in England are to be given a free book from a list of 12, to encourage them to continue reading for pleasure at an age when many give up.”

And here is that list of 12 (all from this Guardian article):

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman
A Dog Called Grk by Joshua Doder
Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
Dream On by Bali Rai
Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Evil Inventions – Horrible Science by Nick Arnold, illustrated by Tony De Saulles
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
The Ring of Words by An Anthology of Poetry for Children selected by Roger McGough, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
Unbelievable! by Paul Jennings

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Kindly reply in english if you speak and understand to the same email address.

You know those spam emails supposedly from some Nigerian or other African? As I occasionally mention in these pages my background is German so I speak and read it okay and write it badly. Guess someone noticed on the web and so here’s my first German African spam.  (And if you really want to know what it says —- frankly it is just like the English versions — here’s a translation of sorts.)

Lieber Freund,

Ich vermute das diese E-Mail eine Überraschung für Sie
sein wird, aber es ist wahr.

Ich bin bei einer routinen Überprüfung in meiner Bank
(Standard Bank von Süd Afrika) wo ich arbeite, auf einem Konto
gestoßen, was nicht in anspruch genommen worden ist, wo derzeit $12,500,000
(zwölfmillionenfünfhundert US Dollar) gutgeschrieben sind.

Dieses Konto gehörte Herrn Manfred Becker, der ein Kunde in unsere Bank
war, der leider verstorben ist. Herr Becker war ein gebürtiger Deutscher.

Damit es mir möglich ist dieses Geld $12,500,000 inanspruch zunehmen,
benötige ich die zusammenarbeit eines Ausländischen Partners wie Sie,
den ich als Verwandter und Erbe des verstorbenen Herrn
Becker vorstellen kann,damit wir das Geld inanspruch nehmen können.

Für diese Unterstützung erhalten Sie 30% der
Erbschaftsumme und die restlichen 70% teile ich mir
mit meinen zwei Arbeitskollegen, die mich bei dieser
Transaktion ebenfalls unterstützen.

Wenn Sie interessiert sind, können Sie mir bitte eine E-Mail schicken,
damit ich Ihnen mehr Details zukommen lassen kann.

Schicken Sie bitte Ihre Antwort auf diese E-Mail
Kindly reply in english if you speak and understand to the same email address.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen

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Sigh, blissfully.

My absolutely favorite film when a disaffected and alienated teen is finally out on DVD. This is Lindsay Anderson‘s If…., the partly realistic and partly surreal story of a group of young (and incredibly beautiful) boys rebelling in a 1960s British boarding school. Anderson was inspired by Jean Vigo’s 1933 film Zero de Conduite, also a surreal view of a boarding school rebellion.


The year If…. came out I went to see it over and over and over. I bought (and still have) the screenplay. I bought (and still have in a closet) the Missa Luba — the African mass the main character Mick plays over and over compulsively.

… and I also fell madly in love with the actor who played Mick, one Malcolm Mcdowell.


Sigh again.

I’m dashing out shortly to see if my local video store has it so I can take it along to watch on the train to DC and to wave it at everyone I see so they will know to get it too. Oh, and if there is anyone interested in joining my Malcolm Mcdowell If…. Fan Club, let me know (as I will then email you a membership card). So far it is just me (president) and Brenda Bowen (member number two).


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History, Nonfiction, and More

Nonfiction Matters is Marc Aronson’s brand new blog at SLJ.  As of this writing there are three posts, two (on history in schools) which provoked me to respond in the comments.  Marc is straightforward about his passion for history, a passion I share for reasons similar to his.  Years ago when Marc was on child_lit we’d have a great time arguing about various things. (He tended to argue from the book editor/writer/creator POV while I argued more from the teacher/young reader POV.)  I learned a lot from Marc during this discussions and so I look forward to having an opportunity to discuss things again on his blog.

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