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Banned Books Week 2013: Defending Harry Potter by Geri Diorio

It’s Banned Books Week! The most magical week in a librarian’s year! Every day, librarians celebrate the free and open access to information, but during this week, we really flaunt it. “Free and open access” includes being able to read whatever you wish, and that might mean the best-selling book series in history, a series that has been translated into more than sixty languages, a series that has a theme park, and whose author announcing that she’ll pen a movie based in the same universe as her book causes headlines worldwide. Yes, I am talking about the universally know Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. But being universally known doesn’t translate to being universally loved. The Harry Potter series is ranked number one for the most frequently challenged books of the last decade. 

Why was it challenged so often? What reasons did people give when attempting to have these books banned? Three reason were given most frequently: it promotes the occult, it has anti-family themes, and it has violence.

If your belief system tells you to avoid witchcraft and supernatural, mystical, or magical things, the Potter series certainly does seem to give you a conflict. But would it help to know that J. K. Rowling does not believe in magic? She has stated this, outright. For Rowling, magic is simply a plot device; it moves things forward in an interesting manner. And since she is very clear about good and evil in these books (good people do good with the plot device of magic and bad people do bad things with it, just as in real life, good people do good with tools and bad people do bad things them) she even has her child characters learn Defense Against the Dark Arts as part of their schooling.  But perhaps simply stating that the magic in these books is a fiction won’t help people who are concerned about this. Perhaps we can show that the spells in Harry Potter’s world don’t work in ours. Bill Peel did a elegant proof of this years ago.

The charge that the Potter series contains anti-family themes is confounding. The friendships in the book are so strong as to practically constitute familial love. The main trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione love, respect, and watch out for each other from the moment they meet on the train. The Order of the Phoenix bond together to fight for their cause, even though individuals may differ widely in their viewpoints. Even the organization of Hogwarts, with students sorted into different houses, makes students bond into familial-like units. Perhaps it is the close bonds of these friendships that upset the people who challenged the books. Let us consider the actual families in the books. Certainly the Dursleys are mean to Harry, but real families are not always loving and supportive. The Weasleys are among the most loving families ever portrayed in fiction. Molly and Arthur have created a warm and open household for their children and their friends and spouses. The Weasleys even showed the great patience that comes from strong love while waiting for Percy to return to his senses after he went to work for the corrupt Ministry of Magic. Neville’s devotion to his family is enormous and heartbreaking. Luna Lovegood and her father Xenophilius share a lovely relationship. Xenophilius raised his daughter on his own after his wife died. He showed great strength and love for his little family of two.  And James and Lily Potter look out for their boy even after their deaths; you just can’t get more loving and family friendly than that.

As for violence in Harry Potter, well, yes, in these books people are hurt and killed out of jealousy and hunger for power, but sad to say that is no different than what happens in reality. (The United States’ war with Afghanistan is currently in its twelfth year; violence is a constant in the news.) The books do get darker as they go on and as Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort draws closer, but not every book is intended for every reader, and good parenting means being involved in what books your children read. There are ages for which Harry Potter is appropriate and only you as a parent can determine what those ages are for your family. Only you have the right to determine what books your children read. Conversely, that also means that you do not have the right to determine what books other people’s children read.

Overall, the Harry Potter series actually offers a rather traditional Judeo-Christian take on morality.  Good and evil are very clear cut, even as Rowling shows how hard is can be to do the right thing. (Think of Dumbledore’s oft quoted choice between doing what is right and doing what is easy.)  Characters in Potter do not seem to be affected by traditional racism, and those who are prejudiced against non-magical people are clearly the bad guys. The heroes of the story are ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and rise to the challenge. Those same heroes are often prepared to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good. Sure, Ms. Rowling’s story is fantastical and strange at times, but at its core, it is about love, family, and doing the right thing.

~ Geri Diorio

Geri Diorio is the Teen Services Librarian and the Head of Children’s Services at the Ridgefield Library in Connecticut. She reviews books and audio and movies and apps for School Library Journal, VOYA, and Audiofile magazines and she blogs for YALSA’s The Hub. The Ninth Doctor is her Doctor, vanilla is better than chocolate, and stand-alone novels are preferable to trilogies. If you’d like to debate any of those things, you can reach her at @geridiorio.

Things I’m Not Over: 3 of Christie’s Book Feels

We LOVE Popwatch blog at Entertainment Weekly, and they have a regular ongoing feature called “I’m Still Not Over” which is, quite frankly, genius.  So inspired by this feature, we have decided to share with you some of the book moments, both good and bad, that we will never get over.  By their nature, these posts will sometimes be Spoilery, so read at your own risk.  Thank you Popwatch for the awesome inspiration.

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Supernatural: CW

  

About some of the books I’ve been re-reading…. 
If you don’t want spoilers, don’t follow the link….

 Cassandra Clare’s The Clockwork Princess.
 
The triangle with Jem and Will and Tessa is just too too much!
And the way that it ends!
The ending of Mockingjay.
I was completely fine without the last chapter. I did not need to know what happened, or that there were marriages and kids and everything else.
And while we’re on Mockingjay, Finnick and Annie. Really? REALLY?!?!?
  
The Deaths in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
I could get over Hedwig, and I was still pining for Serius and Dumbledor when I hit this book, and the loss of Fred, Tonks and Lupin was just horrible. And then SNAPE. All the history about Snape and Harry’s mother and everything….

Harry Potter + The Fault in Our Stars = A fantastic Why YA? post by Leah Miller

As part of our ongoing Why YA? series, Leah Miller, author of The Summer I Became a Nerd, shares two titles that moved her and why everyone should read them.

Harry Potter is, as we all know, a beautifully written story. It will be with me for the rest of my life (not to mention my kids’ lives, if I have anything to say about it). Sometimes, I’m not sure how I ever lived without it. I know that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. Rowling wove a story for us that could never be equaled. All sorts of topics are touched upon in the series; prejudice, love, hate, loyalty, and relationships between friends, family, and enemies, among tons of others. The way her brain works is spelled out on the page in plots, sub-plots, and even ghost plots (all my Pottermore people say, “Holla’!”). I doubt I’ll ever be as in love with a story as I am with Harry Potter and his many adventures.

Rowling’s writing is, well, it’s what I aspire to write. Her turns of phrases to suit the situation,  her characters who rip your heart out and lay them on a silver platter, the twists and turns, the gasps you make after just one sentence.
Harry Potter is one of those series I acknowledge as the reason I started writing in the first place. In my opinion, anything that makes one aspire to be better, to follow one’s dreams, is valid. Also, the fact that she has interwoven so much of herself into the books is wonderful. Who would Hermione be without Rowling’s own know-it-all spirit? As a writer, I pull from my own experiences and ideas about the world. I can only hope that one day I’ll be able to do it as subtly and ingeniously as Rowling.

Harry Potter also holds a place in my heart due a special connection with someone very important to me that was made because of it. I talked my father into reading the Harry Potter series back in 2001. I always knew he loved me and believed I could do anything, but up until that point, I never really knew he trusted my opinion.

Of course, he loved it. Here was this almost sixty-year-old man asking me for the next book only two days after I gave him the first. We even watched the first movie together in the theater. After Dumbledore said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Daddy leaned over to me and whispered, “Remember that, Leah.” At the time, I brushed him off, sort of. “Yeah, Dad, watch the movie.” Unfortunately, he never got to finish the series. He died in 2002 from a stupid disease called pancreatic cancer. Which leads me to another book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I don’t know about other people, but that book affected me in a very personal way. It made me analyze how I handled the news about my father. It made me remember what is was like to watch him die when I had only just turned twenty, still practically a teenager. TFIOS forced me to think about a part of my life that I considered a black spot, something I very rarely want to think about. I would hazard a guess and say we all have spots like that. But TFIOS also made me think about life and death, in general. And thinking is a good thing no matter what genre is causing you to do it (noticing a trend here?). I learned a lot about myself while reading that book that I don’t think I could have learned from reading anything else.

The fact that Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars are forever connected in my mind might seem a little odd, but that’s the thing about YA. Sometimes it can be heart wrenching. Sometimes it can be fun and make you laugh until you cry. Sometimes it can be both. Sometimes it can be all that and then teach you something about yourself you never knew was there. That’s what Harry Potter and TFIOS were for me. And I like to think Daddy would have felt the same way despite him being an almost sixty-year-old man.
Nothing I could ever say to J.K. Rowling could ever encompass my love for her series, but to John Green I’d like to say, “Thank you, Mr. Green, for giving the world that book.” I’m not as poetic as Mr. Green, so I’ll just say that, for me, The Fault in Our Stars was “heavenly in its hurtfulness”.
P.S. I hope John Green doesn’t take offense that I was able to put my feelings into words for his book, but was unable to do so with Harry Potter, but as Hank Green says, “No matter what I read, I think, ‘This is not Harry Potter.’”

P.P.S. I know at some point in this post I was supposed to say why these books appeal to teens. To that I say, “They appeal to teens because they’re really, really good.”
 

Mother, wife, and YA author living on a windy hill in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I love fuzzy socks, comic books, cherry coke, and brand new office supplies. THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD by me coming Summer 2013 from Entangled Teen.  You can visit Leah Miller’s blog, Living the Dream, or follow her on Twitter (@LeahR_Miller).

You can also read our other Why YA? posts and learn how you can write your own here.