Sunday, August 7, 2016

Surprised By the New Harry Potter

When I recently sat down to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I felt a range of emotions: happiness at being back in Harry's world again; worry that both the script format and the story itself might be disappointing; and fascination with the idea that the "boy who lived" was now a middle-aged wizard.

What I didn't expect, however, was the gut-wrenching emotions I felt watching Harry and his younger son Albus try to deal with their already-complicated relationship as Albus becomes a teenager and really feels the weight of being the son of the world's most famous wizard. That's not a spoiler -- pretty much everything that has been written about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has referred to the fraught Harry-Albus relationship as a major part of the story.

Yet while I knew about it, I wasn't prepared for the way the emotional force of their parent-teen divide would hit me. Perhaps it's because I've recently experienced the ups and downs of parenting adolescents myself (and come out the other side with two wonderful young adults). Or perhaps it is the way the story brings out the nuances and complexities of the awkward/strained Harry-Albus relationship. Harry may be the world's most famous wizard, but that doesn't meant he's having an easy time dealing with a teen who really doesn't want much to do with him. And, of course, Harry didn't have any real parent role models in his own growing-up years, which just makes it harder. In her recent review, New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani further explores the Harry-Albus dynamic as a key emotional element Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

This was definitely the biggest surprise in the book for me, but there were others, most of which I won't discuss as I believe it's best to come to any Harry Potter story as fresh as possible. I will say, however, that I found the story irresistible, the script itself well-written, and I especially loved the way that bits and pieces from the Harry Potter books were woven into the play. There is one further surprise I can discuss, however, which is how easily I became accustomed to the script format. Like many others, I had originally found it somewhat irritating that what had been billed as the "new Harry Potter book," was actually the "special rehearsal edition script" of the play that opened recently in London. It seemed a bit like cheating! And I wondered -- a little -- about how accessible young readers would find the format, although as I told a New York Times interviewer: "Any true Harry Potter fan will leap over any obstacle to keep up with his story." (Unfortunately I wasn't quoted in the Times story -- a hazard of which I'm well aware as a former newspaper reporter, but it was fun to marshall my thoughts about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in preparation for the interview).

Actually the interviewer was most interested in whether the fact that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was published as a script would lead more kids to read plays. As I told the reviewer, I have my doubts about that, but I do harbor a hope that the script format will lead more kids towards what is known as "Reader's Theater."

Librarian Elizabeth Poe's book is a great resource for doing Reader's Theater.

To do Reader's Theater, you take a story -- say The Three Pigs -- and re-write it as a script. Then make copies of the script, one for each character, and then choose a child for each character. Hand them a script, have them take a bow, and the show starts! Reader's Theater not only is fun, but research also has shown that it a wonderful way for kids to gain fluency in reading aloud. We've done Reader's Theater in my library, and everyone has a blast. So, if the script format of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child helps inspire more libraries and schools to do Reader's Theater, that's a great thing!


  1. I am not sure I wanted to go further into the teen-ridden angst of this series...but I am a grownup, afterall.

  2. I know what you mean, Tina! But it really is interesting to me to contemplate Harry as a grown-up dealing (not very well) with a challenging teen. I thought seeing Harry as an adult would spoil things for me, but it hasnt....