Every day there is more and more to learn about the Potterverse (did I get that right?). For years there were the fan sites, fan fiction, and the movies which all stretched and expanded the original books in inventive ways.
I read book seven the day after seeing movie five. And I did notice when the descriptions of characters deviated from what I had just seen on the screen. Recently Rick Riordan wrote, “One thing I had trouble with (which has nothing to do with the book): for the first time as I read a Harry Potter book, I could not get the images of the movie actors out of my head. I kept seeing Daniel, Emma and Rupert – which I didn’t really want. Before, I’d always formed my own images of what the characters looked like, but the movies are just too hard to ignore.”
Now, most fascinating to me, we’ve got Rowling herself answering questions here and there about what happened to her beloved characters after the end. And she says she can’t wait for the theme park due to open soon in Florida.
So the story about the Boy Who Lived has gone out into the world in a way unlike any I can think of before. I mean, when has an author done what Rowling has done the last week or so? I’m not faulting her at all; I think it is great fun to hear what she, their creator, knows happened to all of them (although her speaking of them in the present tense is a tad odd). But it seems just so unusual.
What with two more movies to go and the theme park not to mention Rowling’s encyclopedia, the evolution of Harry Potter into a unique narrative continues. Blimey!, as Ron would say.
I just came across a wonderful series called “Crossing Cultural Borders” at Shen’s Blog by writer and poet Emily Jiang. For six weeks (July 16th – August 24th) Emily is investigating, exploring, considering, and thinking hard about this topic in a range of ways. Totally excellent! (Unfortunately, I don’t recall where I saw mention of this or I’d give credit where credit is due.)
Here’s Emily’s schedule (with links to completed posts):
Week 1 (starting 7/16) –Stranger in a Strange Land: Americans Traveling to Other Cultures
Week 2 (starting 7/23) – Re-landscaping the Hero’s Journey: The Connection Between Fantasy Stories and Multicultural Literature
Week 3 (starting 7/30) – Becoming American: Immigration Stories
Week 4 (starting 8/6) – The Hyphenated American Experience: Voices of Americans Who Look Like “The Other”
Week 5 (starting 8/13) – Writing What You Don’t Know: Creating Characters and Stories Outside of One’s Ethnicity and Culture
Week 6 (starting 8/20) – The Future
I’m not much for memes (too personal usually), but I’ll bite on this one from Mentor Texts & More:
1. I am a good teacher because… I help kids become passionate learners.
2. If I weren’t a teacher, I would be… an illustrator or a writer.
3. My teaching style is… project-based.
4. My classroom is… full of books, pillows, books, art materials, books, a rocking chair, books, ladybugs, and more books.
5. My lesson plans… change constantly. I plan ahead and then change them over and over in response to the kids’ learning.
6. One of my teaching goals is… to recalibrate the curriculum. I like what we do, but we’ve been doing some of it a while and I don’t want to feel we are stuck in any one place. I have seen teachers become very inflexible about curriculum as they get older and I don’t want to be that sort of teacher.
7. The toughest part of teaching is… communicating effectively with everyone.
8. The thing I love most about teaching is… seeing children excited and engaged in a project.
9. A common misconception about teaching is…that we are done by 3 and have summers free. (We use the time we are not teaching to learn and think through what we do.)
10. The most important thing I’ve learned since I started teaching… is patience.
So, what makes a great suspenseful children’s book? One that is Newbery caliber? Here are a few elements I’m thinking about:
- Characters that have been developed so completely that I care about them. So much so that they become real to me. Sometimes so real that I become progressively more and more worried about their safety and will look at the end to be sure they are okay. (This is something frowned upon by some, I know. I can only promise authors of eligible books that I don’t always do this. It depends on how anxious I get.) A good example of such a book is the latest Harry Potter book. Boy did I care about those characters! And not because of all the hype or the fans or the movies. I cared about them because Rowling wrote to make me care about them and hope desperately that they had a future.
- A plot that I can’t figure out. One of the most amazing writers of suspense I can think of is Megan Whalen Turner, author of the Newbery Honor book, The Thief. She twists and turns her plots so much that rare is the person who isn’t surprised by the ending. Her latest, The King of Attolia, was one of my favorite books of 2006. Not only did I care about her characters, but I read to find out what was going on, what would happen. I had no idea how it would play out at all. (And for some reason I did not feel a need to look early at the endings of any of her books. See, I don’t always do it!)
- Minimal violence. The Newbery is a children’s book award. The award can go to a book that is appropriate for a fourteen-year-old (with more violence), but not a ten-year-old (with next to no violence). I admit, I’m squeamish. I don’t care for violence at all. That said, if it is necessary for the story, then I deal with it. There’s some, I seem to recall, in Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion, a book I thought well deserved its Newbery Honor.
- Elegance. Megan Whalen Turner’s books are simply elegant. The writing, the plotting, the setting, the characters, just everything. Ideally, a suspenseful Newbery book will have all of this!
So that is it for now. Any recommendations for 2007 suspenseful books for me to consider? Or other aspects of suspense I’m missing? (Probably plenty!)
“My biggest problem with Harry Potter is that I went to an English public school and hated it,” he says. (By “public school,” the English mean what Americans mean by private school.) “I would have rather lived under the stairs.” From Lev Grossman’s Geek God.
Much as I love the Harry Potter books I do think that Rowling’s efforts to multiculturize them are clunky. While watching the Order of the Phoenix movie the other day, Roxanne and I muttered to each other “Who is that?” as a handsome black man, dressed in African garb and called Kingsley, spoke up at the Order of the Phoenix meeting. When he reappeared in the final book I realized we’d obviously just forgotten about him, probably because he didn’t do enough of significance for us to remember him. This all came to mind when reading Uzodinma Iweala’s insightful piece in today’s Washington Post, “Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa.” It seems to me that Rowling is as well-meaning in what she did with Kingsley as those Iweala writes about. Please read it.
And then there is the Native American reference on Page 216 of Book VII. “The mother, Kendra, had jet-black hair pulled into a high bun. Her face had a carved quality about it. Harry thought of photos of Native Americans he’d seen as he studied her dark eyes, high cheekbones, and straight nose, formally composed above a high-necked silk gown.” Since there was no further mention of her or anything Native American what was the point? Debbie Reese asked about this on child_lit and wrote about it on her blog, “Native Imagery in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Please read it too.
Finally, Debbie points to a provocative 2005 article by Keith Woods, “Harry Potter And the Imbalance of Race.” Please go read it and then come back and tell me if he’s on target or not.
Harry flies from book to book,
racing time and destiny.
Final answers coming soon,
but never soon enough for me.
Brigette from Fairfield, USA
More winning poems from the AbeBooks poem contest are here.