Why the Harry Potter Series are My Absolute Go-to Books.

by Hannah Benteler

When I first read Harry Potter, I was about seven years old. I loved the book right from the first page. My best friend and I both started reading it at the same time and then started a competition about who would finish the series first.

Because I got several new books for my birthday, reading all those other books first delayed me reading Harry Potter (I saved the best one for last), so in the end my best friend finished them before me. But I remained a true fan, even after she wasn’t so interested in them anymore.

So what exactly makes the Harry Potter books so special, that not only children, but also teens (like me) and adults love them?

When I start to read one of the Harry Potter books, I get a warm feeling like arriving home after a long, exhausting day – I really feel safe between those pages. It is like snuggling up in a warm, protective blanket.

You empathize in so many ways with Harry Potter, a boy with a thunderbolt scar on his forehead, a mark which he received as a baby from the dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, who had killed Harry’s parents and had also tried to kill him, but failed and (supposedly) died instead. Now an orphan Harry has to live with his cruel uncle, aunt and cousin.

Of course Harry knows nothing about all this in the first book (and his fight with the dark side to come); his aunt and uncle had told him that his parents died in a car accident.

All those losses and the struggles Harry has to go through, all the people he encounters along his way of learning to be a wizard – I just love the characters (yes, even the baddies, except for Voldemort “he who must not be named”) and I feel for them, through all their challenges.

There are many aspects in the books that I often wished could turn into reality – like the invisibility cloak. Everyone should have one, right?!

Having owls as pets and being able to have them deliver your letters is a great idea, too. I have always loved owls – must be my English side, having spent many happy moments during summer holidays at falconries and owl sanctuaries with my English family.

And of course going to a school as impressive as Hogwarts is probably every Potterhead’s dream (the fans of Harry Potter call themselves “Potterheads” and – yes, I obviously am one!).

Those books have always kind of comforted me; when I was angry, upset or sad, I would walk straight to my bookshelf and grab one of them. Once I started reading, I felt better instantly (and it still works…).

I admit to being a hopeless bibliophile, one who ‘eats’ books and loves them dearly – but my Harry Potters are in another league, like friends, who are always there and with whom you never part ways, no matter what.

I also like Harry Potter, because he isn’t the perfect hero. He’s clever, but not as clever as his best friend Hermione. He’s funny, but not as funny as his other best friend, Ron. He gets angry sometimes (don’t we all?) and is a little jealous of Ron for having a large, loving family. And of course he’s embarrassed by the fact that he is always getting so much attention for being the first person to have survived the killing curse, ‘Avada Kedavra’.

Harry is such a vivid character, with so many facets – sometimes he can even be quite cheeky, like in this scene with strict Professor Snape (you’ll find it in Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince):

“Yes”, said Harry.

“Yes, Sir.”

“You don’t need to call me ‘Sir’, Professor.”

What’s not to like about a sassy Harry?

What makes the books so special in my opinion is the truly magical atmosphere, which I have never found in any other books I’ve ever read – and I’ve read a lot!

I always have at least one Harry Potter book waiting for me on my bedside table….

Oh dear – I just realized that this has been one big love letter to HP

Even if you’re not a book person – you could watch the movies, as they are pretty true to the books. Normally I don’t like any movie adaptations of my favorite books, but these are really good.

And maybe they will then cast a spell on you and make you want to read the real thing….

Chapter Books for Reading Aloud – Part 1.

by Caireen Sever

A friend, who knows how much I love reading, recently asked me how many books I had got through during lockdown. My answer was plenty, but that Kindergarten being closed meant they were mainly by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl.

I have been reading chapter books with my 6 year old for a couple of years now. The books we enjoy together are full of adventure and magic. They are funny, they make you want to turn the next page to find out what crazy things are going to happen next. Being able to disappear into magical worlds from the real world of lockdown was a special pleasure. I’d like to share with you some books we have enjoyed, all of which are available to borrow from the International English Library.

Many of the books we read at first are ones I remember from my own childhood. We started with the “Faraway Tree” books by Enid Blyton (The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Folk of the Faraway Tree). These stories are more than 60 years old, but it is still exciting to climb the Faraway Tree with the children to visit Moonface, Silky and Saucepan Man and to discover what magical land is at the top this time.

As I mentioned, we also read a lot of Roald Dahl books. Our favourites include the BFG, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Witches and Matilda, but the absolute winner is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl’s books are full of funny rhymes and larger-than-life characters. They contain slapstick, some parts are dark and a little bit scary but at the same time always hilarious.

We loved these books, but in searching for more I wanted some written more recently. I did some research, I asked other parents and these are newer books on the shelves of the International English Library I would also recommend:

  1. LOST! The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog (by Jeremy Strong): Streaker is a very fast but uncontrollable dog, who you can also read about in other books in the series. In this book he gets lost. While finding his way home, he joins up with a cat and an escaped baboon and together they wreak havoc. The story is told from the dog’s perspective, there were plenty of uncontrollable laughing fits from both of us while reading it.

  2. Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure (by Alex T. Smith): Published in 2017, there are currently 3 books in the series. In this first story, Mr Penguin is hired to help find lost treasure in a museum. This quickly turns into a slapstick adventure involving secret passages, hidden caves, falling down waterfalls and nearly being eaten by crocodiles.

  3. Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball (by Laura Ellen Anderson): Also published in 2017 and the first in a series, we loved that the good characters are vampires and ghouls and the baddies are unicorns and fairies.

The benefits of reading aloud to younger children are well documented, including developing their vocabulary, increasing their attention span and helping them learn about the world and their own feelings. For those of us bringing up multilingual children, reading aloud is a vital way to develop your kids’ minority language(s).

I will keep searching the shelves of the Library for new adventures and will write a follow-up blog later in the year with more finds. We are also going to hold a new monthly event at the Library called Chapter Book Adventures from the Autumn, highlighting books for the 6-9 year olds. So maybe I’ll see you there!

For Whom do the Pages Turn?

Are the most popular children’s books secretly written for adults?

by Melanie Schuth

I choose to believe that I am far from alone, when I admit that my all time favourite children’s books, both contemporary and classic, embrace elements that are absurd, ridiculous, and unexpected. They are not sanctimonious, and if they do happen to have a clear underpinning moral, it’s craftily hidden in the fun. Almost like an afterthought. And they usually contain dialogue that lends itself to silly voices (silly voices are key), and happy endings are not necessarily mandatory. Resolution is important, but happiness certainly isn’t a necessity in their ending.

My favourite children’s books also tend to thumb their collective noses at any hint of moral authority, and thumb them even more to any hint of blind adherence to rules, especially not adherence for mere rule’s sake. In fact, these books celebrate flouting the rules, or if not overtly flouting them, no one ever gets punished for breaking them.

The likes of Roald Dahl and Dr. Suess (who, incidentally, wasn’t any kind of Doctor at all until later in his writing career when he was awarded an honorary doctorate that later legitimized his chosen pen name) delighted in treating their audience as peers, gleefully getting involved in the silliness, ignoring conventional expectations of moral authority, and feeling quietly confident that the adults who might be narrating the stories to any young impressionable minds would certainly be enjoying the book just as much as (if not more so), than the “intended” recipient.

While Julia Donaldson is undeniably a global “Rockstar” in the genre, with her pleasing syntax and clever rhymes. My favourite children’s books authors reject the inherent sweetness and comforting happy endings, that are a feature of her books. Instead, they gutsily embrace the unconventional and the unexpected. I do not think this is incidental, I suspect it is a deliberate choice. The likes of Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus), Jen Klassen (I want my Hat Back), and Oliver Jeffers (The Day the Crayons Quit) are never sanctimonious or haughty. Their stories are craftily absurd and utterly engaging, and in them doing the wrong thing does not necessarily mean comeuppance. Often, as in real life, it just leads to more absurdity. (Perhaps, that in itself is the underlying moral.)

When we read any of these types of books in the ‘Tales for Tots’ sessions at the library, the adults are usually as engaged and amused as the children. They borrow these kinds of books quite often too. Bestseller lists internationally indicate that adults across the world are buying them in enormous numbers. Clearly, they are VERY popular.

I think the most talented children’s book writers know, quite assuredly, it’s not the children who will be buying children’s books. It is the adults who care for them. It will be their parents, their grandparents, their aunts, uncles, godparents and kindergarten teachers. Left to their own devices – everyone knows that given free choice – the vast majority of contemporary children would rather be stealing their parents’ mobile/ computer to play games, watch videos on YouTube or TikTok. Or drink. (I may or may not be speaking from experience.) 😉

Like any creative pursuit, I tend to believe that the most brilliant of children’s books, the laugh-out-loud, engaging, beloved, happy-to-read-bedtime-after-bedtime-time-again-and-again stories are written first and foremost for the joy of their own writers. And then for the adult narrators. The children are almost incidental. Of course, children adore these books, but I am more than happy to wager that when it comes to the ritual of a bedtime story, the pages in these books are not primarily turned for them!