- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2007

I’m sure many families these days are immersed in the final volume in J.K. Rowling’s best-selling series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Our family bought two copies, and I read one in a single day, then waited breathlessly for other family members to finish so we could talk about it.

Without getting into the controversy about whether reading about magic and wizardry is tantamount to condoning witchcraft, I would advise parents to maximize the learning potential of their children’s interest in a particular book.

Even without parental prompting, many Potter fans prepared for the release of the new book by rereading the former ones. Also, when the latest movie is released, fans often reread the book, before or after, to refresh their memories of the characters and plot. You can suggest this to your children, usually with very little protest on their parts.

Reading an entire series like this is a great way to sharpen reading skills and increase vocabulary. Words reveal their meanings through context clues, and even imaginary words can increase a child’s ability to figure out meanings and to remember their proper usages in a sentence. (Even young readers can define “muggle” and “quidditch,” describe the normal garb of the house elf, and can identify who is usually referred to as “you know who.”)

For fun, you can challenge your children to a quiz, in which each side (parents vs. children, for instance) makes up a list of questions about the book to stump the other side. Or, have the players make a list of the magical incantations and what they do, giving points for remembered phrases and for correct definitions.

Get them into a discussion of the characters. Why might they dislike one person in the beginning of the book, but like him by the end? What was the real power that created the victory or defeat in each situation?

See if your children can determine parallels between the books: What period of time they cover, what themes remain the same, what are the strengths and weaknesses of each character. Don’t forget general questions, too. Do they think this was a better book than the previous one? Which is their favorite? What made one more satisfying than another?

Interaction can expand the value of the readers’ experiences in multiple ways. They learn to exchange viewpoints and to come up with reasons for their own. They go beyond passive reading to active usage of the material. Most important, a family is able to share something, something that is written down and passed from person to person. Going to a movie and watching it may be fun, but it doesn’t stretch the mind or create conversation in quite the same ways.

There are many other great family-friendly series you may enjoy: the Narnia series, the Little House on the Prairie books, Anne of Green Gables, and the series beginning with “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. All can be enjoyed and read over and over by an entire family.

My daughters and I now discuss the Dune series, all the Jane Austen books, and most recently, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series — which I learned about from my sisters.

Sharing literature is more than a good way to teach your children language arts, it initiates them into the circle of learned humans, people who can communicate through, and about, the written word. It helps them to become what used to be called “a man of letters,” a person who can navigate freely through the world because he or she has mastery of written language. And that, my friends, is powerful magic, indeed.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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