While scrolling through my Twit­ter feed re­cently I stum­bled across an in­ter­est­ing fact. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion some of the most banned books in Amer­i­can schools, li­braries and churches are the Harry Pot­ter se­ries. In fact in the early 2000s there were at least six book burn­ings of Harry Pot­ter works and sev­eral law­suits against in­sti­tu­tions that al­lowed it. The source of this anti-Pot­ter vit­riol is pri­mar­ily from ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian groups who jus­tify their ac­tions be­cause the Bi­ble for­bids witchcraft and so books that glo­rify magic might en­cour­age chil­dren to study the oc­cult.

I am blessed to be a par­ent and step-par­ent to a to­tal of ten won­der­ful chil­dren, all un­der the age of 14. Par­ent­ing chil­dren in a gen­er­a­tion de­fined by tech­nol­ogy is not easy. But we do our best to limit our re­liance on elec­tronic me­dia for en­ter­tain­ment, es­pe­cially as many of the mes­sages chil­dren hear through TV, movies and on­line of­ten con­flict with our Jewish val­ues. In ad­di­tion, the ad­dic­tive na­ture of such tech­nol­ogy and its neg­a­tive im­pact on be­hav­iour and so­cial devel­op­ment are well doc­u­mented in both chil­dren and adults.

We there­fore rely on books, games, out­door ac­tiv­i­ties and good old talk­ing to one an­other to keep us oc­cu­pied. It re­quires much more ef­fort, but we find it is also more re­ward­ing.

We are a long way from per­fect, but we try to get the bal­ance right and all of our older kids are de­light­ful lit­tle book­worms.

But it wasn’t al­ways this way. One of my older boys has Autis­tic Spec­trum Dis­or­der (ASD) and while he is very bright and high func­tion­ing for a child with autism, he sim­ply didn’t en­joy read­ing. As is of­ten the case with chil­dren with ASD, the al­lure of TV, movies and video games was all the more in­tense. We en­cour­aged him to start with comics, but noth­ing re­ally ex­cited him and while his sib­lings were reg­u­larly im­mersed in a book, he lacked the mo­ti­va­tion to read any­thing. Un­til he met Harry Pot­ter. Sud­denly his world changed. He fell in love with the sto­ries, the char­ac­ters, the plot (and, yes, the mer­chan­dise as well). But most im­por­tantly, he fell in love with read­ing. JK Rowl­ing’s en­chant­ing world was the gate­way to build­ing his con­fi­dence and dis­cov­er­ing the plea­sure of books. He quickly grad­u­ated to other se­ries in­clud­ing Cres­sida Cow­ell’s How to Train Your Dragon (he now tries to con­verse with me in Dragonese) and Ali Sparkes’ Shapeshifter se­ries.

Many par­ents want to fash­ion their chil­dren in their own image, but chil­dren ex­press the need for au­ton­omy from a very early age. Our parental in­stinct is to pro­hibit any­thing that could neg­a­tively in­flu­ence our chil­dren or un­der­mine the am­bi­tions we have for them. Yet help­ing chil­dren to make in­formed choices and speak­ing with them hon­estly about the mes­sages they see and hear is an im­por­tant part of par­ent­ing. While it is un­wise to be overly per­mis­sive, be­ing overly re­stric­tive can be just as dam­ag­ing. The higher one builds the walls, the more the child wants to see what lies on the other side. For­bid­den fruits are al­ways the most se­duc­tive.

If par­ents can strike the right bal­ance, they will win the trust of their chil­dren and so be able to guide them through the re­al­i­ties of the world out­side of our pro­tec­tive fam­ily bub­ble. As they ma­ture, each child will then have a hope of self-reg­u­lat­ing and man­ag­ing these chal­lenges when they in­evitably face them later in adult­hood.

It’s true that the To­rah for­bids magic, sor­cery and con­tact­ing the dead (see Deuteron­omy 18:10), but I’m not sure that try­ing to “stu­pefy” your older brother with a wooden spoon for a wand, or pre­tend­ing your du­vet is an in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak quite reaches the mark.

More than that, the rea­son for Harry’s spe­cial pow­ers is the crux of his story. As the leg­end goes, when Harry was a baby, the evil Lord Volde­mort tried to mur­der him us­ing the most pow­er­ful Dark Magic.

Harry’s mother sac­ri­ficed her­self to pro­tect Harry, an act of self­less love so mirac­u­lous that Harry was known to be the only per­son to have sur­vived such a spell, even though it left him an or­phan.

Un­der­stood cor­rectly, the foun­da­tion on which Harry’s story rests is pro­found, in­spir­ing and per­sua­sive. But most of all, to ev­ery child, it is deeply re­as­sur­ing for it en­light­ens our chil­dren to the idea that no mat­ter what, a par­ent’s eternal love for their child is more pow­er­ful and more po­tent than all the magic in the world.

Rabbi Dr Moshe Freed­man is rabbi of New West End syn­a­gogue. The lat­est Pot­ter film, Fan­tas­tic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindel­wald is re­leased next week


Harry Pot­ter: spark­ing a love of read­ing

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