Harry Potter and Me, 18 Years Later

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneI was introduced to Harry Potter on my twenty-third birthday. I was working as a counselor with the teen travel camp at the JCC in Wilmington, Delaware when, during the second week of camp, one of my co-counselors, whom I hardly new, handed me a hardcover copy of The Goblet of Fire.

Um. Thanks?

The book was massive. And it was the fourth book in a series I’d never heard of. Also, why was someone I barely knew giving me a birthday present?

But I was totally polite. I thanked her warmly.

And then I went to a bookstore to find the first book, because obviously if I was going to read this thing it was going to be in order.

And that was that. I didn’t love the first book, but I was thoroughly enamoured of the excitement around the books (which I finally noticed now that I was in the know).

I found J.K. Rowling’s prose to be a little rough around the edges, but man did I love Hermione. And Hagrid. And hippogryphs (were they in Book One? No matter.).

The day Greg and I got married for the first time (in our living room, four months before our bigger wedding), his grandfather took the lot of us – over a dozen extended family members – to see the first Harry Potter film. It was opening weekend. Some people slept through it. Greg and I loved it. We made an annual tradition to see the new Harry Potter movie each fall on that date, until they shifted to releasing new installations in the summertime. So then we’d go around my birthday instead.

As the series progressed, I began to appreciate it more and more. Always a fan of not pulling punches, especially in children’s literature, I loved that the books got darker and darker, more intense and scary. I liked that the tales became more nuanced and complex. And how Rowling’s prose seemed to improve with each book, keeping up with the increasing sophistication of her characters as they grew up.

The new illustrated version of The Philosopher’s Stone came out the fall before my son turned five, and I bought a copy the moment I discovered it. I kept it wrapped on a high shelf until his fifth birthday, and on that night we started reading it together.

During that reading, I discovered I’d been too harsh when I was twenty-three. Reading the book aloud to my awed child, I saw how inevitable it was that this tale became a classic. Watching my son’s face as he discovered along with Harry that wizardry is real… Well. This book is damn near perfect. (We read the second illustrated version around his sixth birthday, and will read the third after it comes out around his seventh.)

Today, on the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter book, I’ve been smiling all day. How wonderful that books bring these spectacular stories into people’s lives all over the world. That they give children and adults alike something to dream and think about, to pretend and imagine.

 

When did you first discover Harry Potter? What do you think about it, all these years later?

Awesome Novels You’ll Love Reading Aloud with Kids

Click here to get a PDF of this list + 3 more great book recommendations + my 3 favourite picture books!

A list of great novels to read aloud with kids - http://kimwerker.com/blogFor the last couple of years, I’ve been reading novels with my currently (almost) six-year-old at bedtime. We still love picture books, but the vast majority of the time we spend reading together is accompanied by novels. New, old, fantastical, everyday – we read it all.

Soon he’ll be reading on his own, but we’ll continue to read novels together at bedtime. I’m sure of it. For now, I wanted to start a list of the books we’ve most loved together. The ones that mesmerized him and me both. The ones that were so delicious to read aloud I’ve wanted to shout from my front porch that everyone should join in immediately. (And also some that seem determined to be listed despite a lack of adoration on my or my kid’s part. Because not all books become beloved, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun or important to read.)

(I’m using Amazon affiliate links here; I’ll be paid some change if you decide to make a purchase after clicking.)

Roald Dahl is perhaps the reigning master (so I declare) of writing books that are meant to be read aloud. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one that’s accessible even to the youngest children, and it affords a fabulous opportunity to discuss what it means to be poor, and kind, and selfish, and greedy.


The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint is a bit more sophisticated and subtle than some of the other novels on this list, and I think a fair amount of the story went over my son’s head. That said, he thoroughly enjoyed it. There are heavy themes of death and resurrection, and I found the book to be absolutely stunning.


No list would be complete without Harry Potter, and I highly recommend the illustrated versions. The Philosopher’s Stone was released in the fall of 2015 and The Chamber of Secrets a year later. I hope they keep to a yearly release schedule, so my kid’s maturity level can keep pace as the stories get more intense.

This is a short one, and a sweet one. The Pirate Pig was our introduction to Cornelia Funke’s writing, and though I thought it was merely okay, the kid loved it and insisted we read it again immediately. Three times over.

Though the story centres on travel through space and time – a concept wholly over the heads of most primary-grade children, let alone preschoolers – Fortunately the Milk, by Neil Gaiman is so delightful, and so amenable to reading silly voices, that even if half the story is lost to confusion it’s still super fun to read aloud.


There are several books in the Princess in Black series about a frilly princess who hides a monster-fighting alter ego. These are short books relative to most others on this list, but they’re terrific. My son loves them.


The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes, is about Billy’s time in second grade. It’s a lovely family portrait that I as a parent could relate to as much as my son could as a kid. It’s a quiet book about normal life, and it’s great for sparking conversation about the everyday ups and downs of school and friends and work and family.

I loved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid growing up in New York City, and started thinking about it when I took the kid to Manhattan for a few days last spring – and to his first major art museum (the MOMA, not the Met). We told our neighbour about our trip after we returned home, and he thought the same thing. The next day he came over with a copy of this book, and the kid loved it.

The six-book Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors is truly outstanding, and I don’t know why it’s not a more prominently popular series. The protagonists become great friends, and the books are full of humour, fantasy, and great problem solving. Especially recommended for kids who aren’t ready to be scared.

This one is a true delight to read aloud, and provides a solid invitation to discuss guns. Not that we all want to discuss guns with our kids, but when I discovered the role the farmers’ shotgun plays in this story, I decided it was time to discuss the power of those weapons. Also, we laughed a lot through this story.


This one is an exception, because The Hobbit is actually a total slog to read aloud. The book could have a third of its text cut out without affecting the story at all. But it’s saved by the parts with the Gollum, which are truly inspired to read aloud. And if you’re familiar with the story you can skip parts as you read.

Ok, no this is the best Roald Dahl book the read aloud. The fantastical vocabulary of the Big Friendly Giant is the best, and this was the first novel to elicit uncontrollable giggling from the kid. I suspect that when he gets older, he may consider this one of the first books he truly loved.

How to Sell a Book

Found in a bookstore: THE way to sell a book. http://www.kimwerker.com/blog

I had a few minutes to pop into a bookstore yesterday, just for fun. I always read as many staff-recommendation cards as I can when I’m in a bookstore – do you?

This one grabbed my eye, and I did indeed flip to page 50. Which made me laugh out loud. Thus convinced that Lydia Davis and I belong together, I bought a copy of the book.

I’m so glad I stopped into that shop! I do, indeed, think that Lydia Davis and I belong together, yet I’m confident I’d not have picked up her work had it not been for this card.

The Books I Read in 2015

An annotated list of the books I read in 2015, including the novels I read with my 5-yr-old.

The year is up! And I’m happy to report that I finally got back into my reading groove in 2015 – due in no small part to my kid’s love of reading novels together. I’m going to guess that half of the 33 books I read this year were with him (not counting picture books). Let’s find out (he just turned five, FYI). Here are the books I read in 2015, in chronological order:

  1. Castle, by J. Robert Lennon
  2. Switched, by Amanda Hocking
  3. Torn, by Amanda Hocking
  4. Ascend, by Amanda Hocking (I think it was Kobo’s annual Boxing Week sale that lead me to buy this trilogy – also, I was interested in reading some self-published fiction. The books were okay. I don’t remember much about them at this point, but I read them all, which means they didn’t suck. [Check out the Kobo sale – it’s a great way to discover new authors and books, at a huge discount. Come to think of it, I also bought Castle during the sale last year.])
  5. The Inner Circle, by Brad Meltzer (meh)
  6. The Fifth Assassin, by Brad Meltzer (I tried, and I finished it, but I’m just not a fan)
  7. Wool (Omnibus), by Hugh Howey (I’d heard the hype, ignored it, then gave it a shot and freaking loved it)
  8. Shift, by Hugh Howey (very, very long, but worth the slog, because it pays off in the third book)
  9. Dust, by Hugh Howey (a great conclusion to an outstanding trilogy)
  10. Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl
  11. The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley (if you’re a romance skeptic like I am, I highly recommend it; the writing is outstanding and the characters are fabulous)
  12. The Sasquatch Escape, by Suzanne Selfors (if you get my weekly newsletter, you’ll perhaps recall that I raved about this series – if you have a middle-grade reader in your family, or if you enjoy reading novels aloud with your kids, I can’t recommend this whole six-book Imaginary Veterinary series highly enough)
  13. The Lonely Lake Monster, by Suzanne Selfors
  14. The Rain Dragon Rescue, by Suzanne Selfors
  15. The Order of the Unicorn, by Suzanne Selfors
  16. The Highway, by C.J. Box (I picked this up at Yellowstone National Park during our road trip, when the author was doing a signing in the totally epic Old Faithful Inn; super souvenir; mediocre book)
  17. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (superduper fun; ham-fisted)
  18. The Griffin’s Riddle, by Suzanne Selfors
  19. Smells Like Dog, by Suzanne Selfors (this series is more sophisticated than the Imaginary Veterinary series, and though we made it through this book, the kid didn’t get as much from it, and we stopped halfway through the sequel; we’ll pick it all back up when he’s older)
  20. The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (not nearly as good as the first in this crime series, written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym; in fact, this book was kind of tedious, and I nailed the whodunit barely a quarter of the way into the book, which was a big disappointment)
  21. The Martian, by Andy Weir (one of my reading highlights of the year; total page-turner and well written to boot; the characters are outstanding; the movie – if for no other reason than its gutting of an outstanding female character, and frankly there’s more reason than that – hardly does the book justice)
  22. Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo (outstanding start to a through-and-through fabulous YA fantasy trilogy)
  23. Frozen: The Junior Novelization, by Walt Disney Company (yup, we read this, and it totally didn’t suck, so)
  24. Siege and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo
  25. The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, by Shannon Hale
  26. Ruin and Rising, by Leigh Bardugo
  27. Dinosaurs Before Dark, by Mary Pope Osborne (I thought the kid would really love the Magic Treehouse books, but he doesn’t; curious)
  28. The Fairy Swarm, by Suzanne Selfors
  29. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint (probably for kids older than mine, but he seemed to enjoy it; it’s a great book that’s different in tone and pacing than anything we’d read together before or since)
  30. Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (unlike The Silkworm, this book was a delight to read; loads of character development, and gruesome crimes and criminals)
  31. Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary (a classic, for good reason)
  32. The Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale (we read this one before its sequel [see #24], but I can’t remember when, and anyway we recently reread it so here it is toward the end of the list)
  33. My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Hm. Seems I didn’t start tracking the novels the kid and I read until the middle of the year. I imagine my total is closer to forty books, then. As planned, the kid and I started reading the new, gorgeously illustrated Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on his birthday this past weekend. He’s loving it, and so am I. I’m also back to reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I put down ages ago because it’s so gorgeous I couldn’t bear to finish it, and I’m also reading Lair of Dreams, by Libba Bray, the second in a trilogy that’s not finished yet.

Wanna Jumpstart Your Creative Practice?

Starting a daily art or craft project is a great way to prioritize your creativity, especially if you can make it fun and keep it from stressing you out. Get 14 days of daily prompts, tips, tasks and projects. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Mmm. Watercolour Squares.

For #MakeMakingFun, I’ve been trying to explore the vast array of craft books I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s always so exciting to buy craft books or borrow them from the library. And then I let them sit. Alone. Unopened. It’s like the opposite of having fun with them.

It’s ridiculous and I’m determined to stop doing it.

So last week, I cracked the spine of a book I bought ages ago called Water Paper Paint, by Heather Smith Jones.

And I did the first and second projects in it. I thought I loved circles, but didn’t love making them in the first project. But the second project? The second project was making squares. Watercolour squares all connected in a colourful grid all cozy and wonderful. I think I’ll be painting lots more squares in the near future. Mmm. Squares.

watercolor squares, from Water Paper Paint

 

Want to join in on the adventure of having more fun making stuff? Get a #MakeMakingFun prompt every Friday in my newsletter!

 

Knitter Anna Hrachovec Is a Genius

book cover of Adventures in Mochimochiland, by Anna Hrachovec

The older I get, the more I value my relationship with my high-school best friend. As might have been predicted back in our days of shoving notes through each other’s locker vents, I ended up moving as far away from our hometown as I could, and she ended up moving across the street from her childhood home. When we were teenagers, our differences kept our friendship interesting, if not occasionally fraught with adolescent angst. As we get older, it’s our similarities that make me smile that much brighter.

But still, when M texted me last month with a photo of her new Birkenstocks, which are the same kind as mine but in a brighter colour, I marvelled at how we never had the same taste in fashion before this decade. I’m more comfortable about what I wear now, I suppose, and she’s more adventurous.

So imagine my delight when, a couple of years ago, after I posted a photo from the knitting book Huge & Huggable Mochimochi, M begged me to knit her then-two-year-old daughter a capybara. My high-school friend would have thought a big knitted rodent was weird. My adult friend loved it as much as I do. And so obviously I knitted it, and I loved knitting it, and I think I’ll end up knitting another at some point.

knitted capybara

From the brain of the same woman who designs knitting patterns for ginormous rodents and tiny gnomes and unicorns comes Adventures in Mochimochiland. Which is a storybook. About teeny-tiny knitted creatures and donuts and things. With patterns at the end so you can make those teeny tiny things. It has nothing to do with my best friend. Nor does it have anything to do with giant knitted rodents. I just felt like telling that story.

Adventures in Mochimochiland is unlike any knitting book I’ve ever seen, by a woman who has made other brilliant knitting books that are like none I’ve ever seen, and my love for it is complete and unqualified.

That is all.

PS I’m starting to use some affiliate links here and there on the blog. It’s an experiment.