Top Ten Characters I’d Like to Check In With

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

I love this prompt a lot. We all have those series that we just can’t believe ended, and epilogues are never enough of a (hopefully happy) ending. Here are some of the characters that I want to check in on and see how they’re doing in their lives once their stories ended. Admittedly, most of these are couples who I want to see have good, peaceful times together (rather than life and death and trauma). And for most of these, I want entire novels, not just a quick “check in.”

1. Viola and Todd from Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy

The ending of these books KILLED ME! There is no way to describe how much I NEED TO KNOW what happens next.

2. Everyone from Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

cover beauty queens

This book actually had a great epilogue that gave the reader a window into each of the characters’ later lives, but I want more! I need another book–another series! I love these girls so much.

3. Puck and Sean (and Corr) from Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

cover scorpio races

There is a great line which foreshadows the ending of this book, said by the American visitor to the island, that goes something like (forgive my awful memory), “Next year, you’ll have a barn of your own and Puck in your bed and I’ll buy from you instead of Malvern”–and I need this to be true. I need to see it happen. They are the cutest couple ever, but you don’t see a lot of them actually being together, especially in the aftermath of the climax of the book.

4. Anna, Lola, and Isla (and their BFs) from the Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins

(Side note: can we decide on a title for this series? I have no idea what to call it…) I fell in love with these characters and loved the glimpses of each of them you caught in the others’ books, but, of course, I want more stories of all of them reuniting and being amazing together.

5. Gemma in the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray

Gemma is one of my favorite protagonists, and the ending of A Sweet Far Thing was traumatic and hopeful at the same time, and I’d love to see where Gemma ends up.

6. Del and Livia from Going Underground by Susan Vaught

cover going underground

This couple is so perfectly sweet, I think checking in on them would just make me smile.

7. Harry, Ron, and Hermione from Harry Potter by JK Rowling

This goes without saying. More HP books would only improve the universe, and I would love to spend more time with this amazing trio.

8. The characters in Every Day by David Levithan

cover every day

The ending of this book was strange but sweet, impossibly perfect actually, and I think it would be fascinating to see how their relationship progressed past the last pages. (I know that this one is vague, but the ending is very specific and I don’t want to spoil anything…)

9. Persis and Justen from Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

cover across a star swept sea

This book is based entirely on the dramatic irony of Persis’s secret identity as the Wild Poppy. The reveal only happens at the very end of the book, and I’m dying to see the full repercussions of her secret being exposed. (Basically, I just need all the people who underestimated her to have to eat their words…)

10. Everyone in Peace, Love and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

cover peace love and baby ducks

This book is emotionally tense, with the relationships between most of the characters deteriorating before the climax. Hopefully, checking in on these characters would show some of them growing back into the closeness that they had the beginning of the story, and gaining confidence that they lacked throughout the book.

Top Ten Books From My Childhood That I’d Like to Revisit

top ten tuesday

 Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

I like this week’s topic. I started reading YA books basically in elementary school, but there are a few middle grade series that I remember loving. I still have a lot of these books because I couldn’t get rid of them (I’m sentimental)–and I want my little sisters to read them and enjoy them. I don’t know that I’d reread these books right now, but I know I’d read them with my little sisters, or when I get older (if I want a break from the YA world).

1. Pandora Gets… series by Carolyn Hennesy

cover pandora gets jealous

These books are perfect for fans of Greek mythology. The plot is a simple retelling of the Pandora legend: a preteen Pandora releases the seven sins and has to get them back with the help of her friends. They’re cute and quirky and I remember loving them (though I never finished the series because not all of the books were out yet).

2. The Roman Mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence

cover roman mysteries

These books had really interesting character and mysteries. They managed to used adult concepts, plots, and characteristics without straying from their middle grade audience.

3. The Sisters Grimm (Fairytale Detectives) series by Michael Buckley

cover sisters grimm

I LOVED these. So much fun to read–just dark enough to be interesting without giving me nightmares. I loved the concept of fairytale detectives (especially since they were descended the brothers Grimm) and a world where all the fairytales happen together.

4. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

cover bad beginning

Wow, I read these forever ago (first grade). I don’t remember much, besides that they were perfectly ridiculous and dramatic, and that I never found them to be that sad. I still remember that the writing style really affected me; it was probably some of my first exposure to stylistic writing with an interesting voice. (The seventh book was my favorite.)

5. Harry Potter by JK Rowling

cover HP 1

Duh. This goes without saying. I did “revisit” these books over summer–and I doubt I will ever stop rereading them.

6. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

cover dealing with dragons

These books are so adorable! Girl power meets princesses and dragons and perfectly middle grade romance. Literally perfect.

A shorter Top Ten Tuesday than usual (Top Six, I guess), but these are the books I really recommend. 🙂

I Got a New Bookshelf!

Okay, so I’ve needed a new bookshelf for a while. I got a lot of new books for Christmas and my birthday and I’ve wanted to move some of my big collections of books onto their own shelf.

And then it happened!

I was walking to a friend’s house and I realized that there were two bookshelves (completely built) sitting next to a dumpster near my house. My sister and I immidiately started brainstorming ways we could fit another shelf into our room and we figured out that one would TOTALLY FIT.

that’s my sister awkwardly in the background…sorry Sam

When we got back from the friend’s house, we brought one of the bookshelves into our room (with our mom laughing at our pain as we dragged it through our apartment).

It came set up so there wasn’t anything to do other than decide where to put the shelves. (I used Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas to figure out how far apart the shelves should be.)


Then we got to move new books in!


The bottom shelf is Agatha Christie novels, The Cat series by Lilian Jackson Braun, and some other mysteries. The next shelf up is books by Janet Evanovich. Then there is a blank shelf (an excuse to get more books…am I right?). Between the awesome bookends I got for Christmas is my official TBR shelf (previously just a pile of books on my floor…). On the top shelf, Harry Potter and The Series of Unfortunate Events, both of which had been in a different room, got to move back into out bedroom!

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

OH MY GOD  I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I can’t believe it’s OVER!

This entire series is amazing. Seriously, it’s not just hype. It’s crazy how good the books are.

(Spoiler alert, proceed with caution.)

In book seven, we as readers really get to see the strength of not just Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but everyone at Hogwarts and in the Order. As I mentioned in my review of the sixth book, their support structures are gone. The stakes have reached their climax–it’s their last shot to defeat Voldemort.

I’d like to focus on two reveals that played out in this book: a deeper understanding of Dumbldore’s past, and Snape’s true colors.

First, the insight Rowling provided into the nooks and crannies of Dumbledore’s childhood. As Harry learned mismatched facts about his mentor’s youth, he was forced to reevaluate his firm belief in Dumbledore’s goodness. This further pushed Harry to stand on his own and grow into his own person. Still, he remained loyal, endearing him to me with his true Gryffindor spirit. (I’ll stop talking before I sound exactly like Dumbledore.)

Second, the reveal of Snape’s undying loyalty to Dumbledore. Forget what I said in my review of book six–J.K. Rowling is even better at lying to her readers than I imagined. So I look like an idiot again–but I’m still okay with it. The characterization driving the complex dynamic between Snape, Harry, and Dumbledore is fascinating in its complexity and its realism.

Really, I can’t think of anything else to say that I haven’t said already in previous posts. The seventh book was the ultimate ending to the series, tying up loose ends, strengthening characters and their bonds, and finally defeating the evil that had followed Harry through the previous six installments.

The epilogue was perfection. There’s nothing more to say.

The Harry Potter books showcase some of the most well-done characterization I’ve ever read. Rowling’s gift for creating twisting, complex plots is breathtaking. The emotion both written into the book and that they inspire is powerful and heart-wrenching.

They’re gorgeous. I’m so glad I reread them, and I know this won’t be the last time I crack open their covers.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

I loved Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. One of my favorites of the series. Perfectly plotted, and a continuation of the great character development set up from the start.

(Warning: MAJOR plot spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.)

J.K. Rowling is a master at deceiving her readers. Even with the second chapter of the book spelling out Snape’s betrayal of the Order, I was convinced that he was a triple agent, still loyal to Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s complete trust of Severus was infectious. Also, Harry’s past, wrong beliefs that teachers and students he hated were evil kept me from really believing his most recent accusations. Even when Snape killed Dumbledore, I tried to find a loophole, a way the Killing Curse could have been faked.

I was an idiot.

But I was an idiot at the expense of incredible writing, so I’m okay with it.

What I love about this series, but especially the sixth book, is how fallible the characters are. Of course, all stories contain such characters, but Rowling spared none of hers this fate. While many authors would have felt compelled to make the professors at Hogwarts infallible adult figures who were obeyed on principle, Rowling understood the plot depth she could harness if they were in fact the opposite. Harry is loyal to the school and its (not evil) teachers, but he is more loyal to his personal beliefs and his gut instincts. This keeps him safe as his peers and his mentors fall.

It is refreshing to have an adult author write so plainly about adults’ misunderstanding and underestimating of youth. I’m a teenager; I know what it’s like to realize an adult has no respect for me, only the cookie cutter stereotype of “teenagers” that society has chosen. To see great wizards humbled by lesser youths is uplifting, and I hope many adults recognize their own flaws in the failings of the adults in the Harry Potter universe.

I love the insight we gain into Voldemort in this book. He used to be a simple, imposing Evil–terrifying by his legacy alone. He was a monster, and rightfully so, but in this book, we see the man…and we understand him. What was once a random rampage of evil is unearthed. Even his heartless nature is explained with the splintering his soul endured to create six Horocruxes. Young Voldemort is almost more frightening than the one alive in the present story. We watch him coolly, intentionally become evil. We have to accept that he chose this path, deliberately. His need for power, lack of friends, desire to cause pain–they are all rooted in his past, and when we learn of their causes, we feel sickly close to the Dark Lord. This is terrifying. Rowling did an incredible job with these plot reveals, using them to test the bond between Dumbledore and Harry, set of the end of the series, and get her readers closer to her villain than we ever wanted.

Harry and Ginny’s relationship in this book added a needed burst of happiness. They’re perfect for each other. Even with Harry’s (stupid) need to be a hero and “break things off” with her, I know they can’t stay apart. Even if I didn’t remember the ending, I would believe this. (Screw the realistic romance I mentioned in my review of book four–they are soul mates and I LOVE it.)

J.K. Rowling’s gift for characterization is breathtaking. She captures personas we’ve all met and brings them to life effortlessly on the page. We understand every action they take, including their failures, because of the characters she has created. Slughorn’s pride, Snape’s hatred of Harry, Voldemort’s power-hunger–in understanding them, we are drawn into the story. As the series lengthens and teaches more and more about every character involved, my emotional commitment to the series grows, leaving me sobbing during Dumbledore’s funeral.

I think Dumbledore’s death was, though painful, necessary. Harry has slowly lost every one of his support structures: Sirius Black, Dumbledore, his faith in Hogwarts’ impenetrability. Looking in the seventh book, with a clear goal of destroying the Horocruxes and Voldemort himself, Harry must finally face the world without an adult’s watchful eye keeping him safe. By losing Dumbledore, he lost his safety net. Had he not, the seventh book would not be as powerful. The stakes have to be as high as possible–Harry has to be alone. Sure, he has his friends, but even that is tested, and they are his same age and (basically) skill level. They are youth against the vast evilness of the world, what the series has been building up to.

Of course I cried when Dumbledore died. But after all of the botched, unnecessary character deaths I’ve read, I appreciate a character dying for a reason, not just a body count.

It’s clear J.K. Rowling knew what she was doing when she wrote this series. She can write, and I love that.

I’m halfway through the seventh book now. I can’t believe this series is going to end. It’s kinda killing me.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

I really loved Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

(Warning: there will be plot spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t read this book and want to, please refrain from finishing this)

The premise of this book was perfect. As the series shifts from MG to YA, Harry learns of the Order, a group of adults who will fight against Voldemort, but isn’t allowed to join. The juxtaposition of being powerful and smart but still considered a “child” is powerful, bringing out emotions not just in the protagonists, but in the reader. Harry’s frustration is palpable, relatable to anyone who has tried to walk through an open door only to have it slammed in their face. Especially as a teenager, facing situations in which some adults treat me with respect and others still see me as a child, Harry’s struggle with the Order is familiar, captured beautifully by J.K. Rowling.

What struck me most about this book in the series was how realistic it is. While the other books did have realistic social elements sewn into the mystical plot, this book portrays a vividly realistic account of the pressure and awkwardness of high school. The pressure of OWL years and the ensuing amount of homework is true in any school (even without complex wizarding exams). The way Harry and Ron procrastinate their massive amounts of homework is even more realistic, a trap even the best students can fall into.

The romance between Harry and Cho is awkward and tentative, and comes off extremely high-school-y. This isn’t a story written for the romance, but as with any group of teenagers crammed together for a year, flings and couples do appear. J.K. Rowling managed to add romance to her series without losing the focus of the novel, something other authors have dramatically failed to do. I respect her also for making the coupling–because there are others–tense and awkward, instead of the born-for-each-other, instant romance of most books that involve this sort of thing. This is real romance, playing out in the background of stressful schoolwork and larger issues, the kind that actually happens, instead of some perfect, soul mate romance seen in other series. (Don’t get me wrong, I love reading that kind of romance. But in this series, it was refreshing to see that the realism of the series wasn’t sacrificed for a few bonus points with an older audience.) Harry Potter is still about magic and triumph and sacrifice–but the addition of romance added to the realistic-ness of the series.

And then there is Dolores Umbridge. She is a fantastic evil character, something I appreciate. She is every horrible teacher you have ever had–but moreover, she feels like a bad substitute teacher. All of the jaw-clenchingly horrible things she does come off as the actions of a power-hungry sub, while the rest of the students suffer because they know what the class is supposed to feel like. This highlights the loyalty Harry’s peers feel to past teachers, and actually learning the subject.

Umbridge is the ultimate red-tape character. She is an evil none of the students know how to fight–a corrupt government. Every move Harry would make to undermine her is countered with a bureaucratic sweep of her pen. In this way, Umbridge is not only keeping Harry from enjoying his time at Hogwarts, she is also (unintentionally) aiding Voldemort in his rise to power by containing the people trying to stop him. She is frustrating. She is the perfect antagonist–and I LOVE her.

The creation of the D.A.–Dumbledore’s Army–adds a level of solidarity to the Hogwarts peers. Whereas before it was just Harry, Ron, and Hermoine who united against the approaching evil, now there is a group. This is the first step toward the unity Dumbledore–and the Sorting Hat–begged for. And for Harry, who has experienced very little loyalty or faith in his years at the school, this is a turning point, proving to him that he is strong enough to be a leader. Ironically, this show of strength was spurred into existence by Umbridge, so that her lasting legacy in the school is one of unity, not brokenness.

I loved Fred and George’s exit from the school. It was hilarious and perfect and I don’f feel like I need to talk about it much, because it was basically awesome.

The climax of the fifth book was really intense. I haven’t read this book since I was really young so I had no idea what was going to happen–and I was terrified. Serius’s death was almost too sudden for me; it wasn’t until the whole ordeal was over and Harry was trying to cope with it that the loss really struck me. However, the rest of the Order survived, and the book ended on a hopeful note for the group.

The fifth Harry Potter was emotionally moving in its realism and uplifting in its triumph over evil.

50th Post, Time for a Rant

I’ve tried to keep my posts somewhat emotionally-controlled in the past. But this is my 50TH POST! So screw it, I’m ranting.

But it’s about books, so don’t worry.

I have two younger half-sisters, one of whom just finished third grade (is a 4th grader now). Since I’ve been rereading the Harry Potters, I’ve been talking to the rest of my friends about when they read the series and how the books affected them as readers, and I decided my older little sister would really benefit from reading them.

The Arguments in Favor of this Movement (largely based off of conversations I’ve had with my fellow 14/15-year-old friends):

1. Fourth grade is the time when the HP books become really popular. Lots of kids will be reading them, and having gotten a head start in summer will be a conversation starter and a useful device in friend making. (Or she could just read them once the school year starts if anyone has a problem with being ahead of the curve, it’s the same idea.) This is an example of peer pressure benefiting the whole instead of turning it into druggie teens.

2. Since the series starts out young and not that dark or scary, little kids (if you call 4th graders “little”) can read the first books. Due to the long length of the books, most kids read the books over a long period of time, so that by the time they’ve gotten to the later, darker books, they are older and more mature and can handle it.

3. If you read Harry Potter after you have “grown out of” playing, you’ve missed out on a plethora of game opportunities. Most of my friends, including myself, played some version of wizarding duels as kids. My sister and I even worked it into larger, already existing games after we read them, just borrowing the spells. J.K. Rowling’s books give the reader the incredible ability to “learn” magic, because you are in the classroom as they learn the wording and motions required for each spell. It’s a game waiting to happen, and fourth graders are at the perfect age to take advantage of this. Again with the friendship building opportunities.

4. Harry Potter is a gateway book. In fourth grade, one of my friends was still reading those really tiny, cheesy books that you see in Scholastic book orders, that are really only age appropriate until at most second grade. Her brother forced her to read the Harry Potters, and she credits them as the books which got her interested in reading. Now, she is just as avid a reader as I am (which is pretty freakin’ avid). Most of my other friends, who read HP earlier, still credit it as one of the books that got them interested in reading.

There, look, I presented my arguments in a clear, logical fashion without getting too sarcastic or rude.

Now for the thing I’m actually ranting about.

This weekend, at dinner, I brought up that I thought it would be a good idea if my 4th grade sister read Harry Potter. We could read them together, I said, and I read them when I was way younger than you, so you’ll be able to handle it. They’re awesome books. I think she’d enjoy them.

On top of these reasons is the most important one for me: like one of my friends, my little sister is still reading books that I find are waaaayyyy below her maturity. She isn’t challenging herself, and her parents aren’t either. Since a large portion of my personality is based on what books I’ve read, I really wanted this sister to be interested in reading, so I could share some of my favorites from when I was her age, and we could bond over them. Also, I know she would benefit in school and in her future if she picked up a love of reading now. So far, any effort toward this has failed. So I’m hoping Harry Potter can have the same effect on her as it did my friend, inspiring her to go looking for bigger, more complex books, and really get into reading.

I’m not going to get into the fact that neither of her parents even touched my suggestion, clearly thinking their daughter too young to read the books (let alone the fact that I read them in SECOND GRADE). That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms that I’m not opening here.

It was what my little sister said.

In the last weeks of the school year, all the third graders got to meet the fourth grade teachers. They talked about what to expect next year, because it is the first year of “upper grades.”

My sister shared this statement from a FOURTH GRADE teacher:

(paraphrased, of course, but I trust my sister to have gotten the gist of it, mainly because it didn’t strike her as pathetic and horrible, so she had no reason to exaggerate or reword it)

“I see some kids reading Harry Potter in my classroom and I think, ‘You should not be reading that. You aren’t ready.'”

I knew from previous conversations that the teacher speaking was the one my sister actually wanted to get next year. I’ve been in the position where adults (or just older people) harp on an adult that I feel loyalty to. It sucks A LOT. (A note to adults out there, please don’t put children through this.)

So I kept my burst of outrage to a minimum in her presence, but I couldn’t keep it in forever. Ergo, this rant.

“I see some kids reading Harry Potter in my classroom and I think, ‘You should not be reading that. You aren’t ready.'”

This is BS.

See my above reasons. If you’re at a 4th grade level, HP is perfect for you. If you aren’t reading at a 4th grade reading level, there is a good chance HP is the book that will get you there.

It is despicable for a fourth grade teacher to hold this opinion. I get it if you are a second grade teacher, it might freak you out to see a kid cracking open book six. But this is fourth grade, when everyone will be reading it anyway. Don’t act like only the “good students” should be reading a book they clearly enjoy.

My little sister added a clarifying comment:

 “No, I think it’s just for the bad kids. You know, the ones whose reading levels aren’t there yet.”

Ahh…reading levels. The bane of my elementary school existence.

Let me explain.

My school used the Advanced Reader program. I know her school uses a different program, but they all operate in similar ways.

It all starts with a vocabulary assessment. My school took this in the computer lab. Basically, there was a sentence with a blank in it and four word choices. You picked the word that made sense. If you got the question right, it gave you a harder question. It also saved a profile for you, so that when you took the test the next month, it started you at the difficulty that was appropriate for you.

Based on these test results, the computer spit out a reading level, a range of grade levels that you should be reading at (e.g. 4.3-6.5, middle of fourth grade through middle of sixth grade). Then you went on and looked up whatever book you were reading. AR (Advanced Reader) was a program that reviewed the vocabulary used in books and gave them a grade level based on the author’s diction. The books you read were supposed to fall into the range given to you by the computer.

By fourth grade, I was testing at a high school reading level. By sixth grade, my range was something like 7.2-12.4, which made it almost impossible to read books at my level. But we’ll get back to that.

I don’t know what my sister’s reading level it, but I’ve gathered from conversations that it is on grade level, probably a little above it.

Here’s the thing: I hate reading levels. Everything about them.

Because here’s the attitude teachers take:

You should read books that are within you reading level.

Which often translates to:

Don’t read that book, it’s above you reading level.

I’ve literally had a teacher say to me, “You should know 99% of the words in a book you are reading.”

But how are you supposed to improve you reading level if you only read books inside of it? How are you supposed to learn new words if you aren’t reading new words? Reading levels create a culture of stagnation. Instead of driving kids to read whatever books interest them, no matter what age level they are written for, kids today are told that the only books they should read are the ones that are “appropriate for them.” Instead of challenging children to read books that will be difficult, teachers like the one quoted above are holding their students’ hands and pulling them away from the edge of what I can only assume they consider some form of moral damnation.

This pisses me off.

Reading is one of the most important things in my life. I credit it with most of my successes: I’m really smart. I have a really good vocabulary. I can figure out a word based on context clues alone. I can read an article with words I don’t know but still understand it, because I’ve always read things that were too hard for me.

I would not be myself if I had read the books the computer told me to read.

Kids should read books that sound interesting. If we try to tie them down and force feed them books that are deemed “right for them,” we kill a generation of would-be readers.

In second grade (I think), my teacher had bins of books, each categorized by the reading level they had been awarded. Reading at already a higher reading level than most of the books provided, I was forced to gag my way through How to Eat Fried Worms, easily the grossest book of my life–and I read half of Mary Roach’s Stiff, which is about cadavers.

In addition, I found AR’s ranking of books to be at best arbitrary and at worst nonsensical. Because it only analyzes books with a computer, it misses the other elements of a book that can increase or decrease the actually grade level a book can be read at, including plot content and the author’s use of “big” words.

For instance, in the Series of Unfortunate events, Lemony Snicket makes a point of using long, complex words, but then DEFINES THEM in a way that a small child would understand. That’s just part of his writing style. I could easily read them in first grade, because he made it readable to that age. But AR awards them sixth grade reading levels. This is an example of drastic overstating the actual reading level of a series, not accounting for an author’s use of words.

On the other end of the spectrum, Alice in Zombieland is given a 4.5 reading level. I read this book last year, and loved it. However, it is a dark, intense book–no matter what the title implies, it is not a lighthearted book. There are strong elements of death, danger, and sadness that I would not have been comfortable reading in fourth grade. The interest level given by AR (because it also tells you what ages of children would want to read this series) is MG+, Young Adult when translated out of stupid AR speak. The plot of this book is at a high school level. And yet, according to AR’s logic, a fourth grader would be fine reading it, and it would be pitiful for a high schooler to touch it. I can only imagine what the teacher whose words started this rant would say when confronted with this conundrum.

But back to Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’s level is 5.5, with an interest level of MG (4-8 grade). Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’s is 7.2, with an interest level of MG+ (young adult). The series clearly matures as it progresses, so this isn’t an insane jump. I’m not sure the vocabulary is really that hard, but whatever the computer says. The point is, the interest level of the first book includes fourth grade. There is no reason a fourth grader shouldn’t read at least book one (and then see argument #2 above).

Reading is the best way to improve vocabulary. Seriously. And it’s fun.

We are living in a culture where high schoolers are carrying around SAT vocab prep books as freshmen (one of my friends does this). But if we had just encouraged children to read at a young age, and challenge themselves to read books that are maybe a little too hard, maybe a little too mature, we’d have this problem fixed before we ever needed to wallow away a summer at SAT bootcamp. Read whatever you want. Read books below you and above you. Read for the sake of reading and be surprised at how much more you understand about not just our language, but the world.

For parents out there, please trust your kids to pick out books, but also encourage them to challenge themselves. I feel like a lot of parents in elementary school are afraid of their kids maturing too quickly, and dissuade them from reading books that are “older,” especially if they have a teacher’s voice preaching reading levels at them in the background.

All I know is that if my mom had done that, I definitely wouldn’t have tested at a 12th grade reading level at any point in my life. And if I’d actually cared at all about AR reading levels when I was in elementary school, I wouldn’t have a blog dedicated to my love of books today.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I liked Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. I’m not sure I liked it as much as the others, but it’s good.

(Spoiler alert: from this point on, there will be direct references to specific parts of the book’s plot, so if you haven’t read it yet and plan to, stop reading now.)

The premise of the book is interesting. By incorporating the Tri Wizard Tournament into the plot, J.K. Rowling continued worldbuilding, adding to the complexity of the wizarding world. Since the first book, most plot reveals had gone toward a greater understanding Harry’s and Voldemort’s past. This, while important, left the actual world of wizards fairly small: Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Platform 9 3/4, the Borough, and the implied existence of the Ministry of Magic. However, with the Quidditch World Cup and the Tournament, Rowling vastly expanded our knowledge and understanding of wizards’ life outside of Hogwarts. I think this added perspective that the series needed, especially as the characters age and grow less dependent on their school.

The structure of the plot is reminiscent of the quest model seen often in middle grade novels. Much like in a hidden object computer game, one accomplished task brings the protagonist to the next task, to the next one. All of the books in the series so far have had similar plot structures, born from the construct of the series: the obligatory time with the Dursleys, the return to school, the buildup, and then the climax at the end of the term. This is forgivable, of course, because each plot itself is different, and as a series set at a boarding school, this is an inevitable design. However, book four takes this model one step farther, adding in a series of three tasks. This divides the book into periods of action and then lulls as the plot builds up to the next burst of drama. While the book is still an enjoyable read, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes off more disjointed than the previous three, and coupled with its length (734 pages in my copy), makes it a slower read. I can understand why many people I’ve talked to got stuck in the middle, bored, in the sandtrap that was the lulls in the otherwise dramatic plot.

J.K. Rowling could have done a better job characterizing the rest of the school champions taking part in the tournament. I got the basic impression of each one, but nothing more complex, which is strange coming from Rowling, who usually puts a lot of effort into her characters. The other champions–Fleur, Krum, and Cedric–were pivotal characters, and I would have liked for them to have more than their obvious characteristics.

I’ve talked a lot about the things I didn’t like about this book, but I want to be clear on the fact that I did like this book.

Harry’s confrontation with Voldemort at the end of the novel was my favorite Harry/Voldemort clash so far. It played with the connection the two share, juxtaposing it with the enmity between them. This promises even more dramatic confrontations in the future. In addition, the climax was darker than any other seen so far, revealing that the series is ready to leave the middle grade genre behind and enter the more twisted YA one in the remaining three books.

If the first book was an exposition for the next two, I believe the fourth book was another exposition, setting up the greater conflicts that will occur in the rest of the series. There is a noticeable shift in the plot’s focus, from the small world of Hogwarts to the larger world of magic entirely. The ending of the novel, as Dumbledore gathers his closest friends to work against the stubborn Ministry, hurtles the reader into the next book. It is clear from those last pages that things are officially larger than Harry, and that the future holds more danger and darkness than he could have imagined.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far. Plot, characters, reveals, voice–everything was done amazingly well.

(Warning: Since I’m reviewing each Harry Potter individually, there will be spoilers about a book’s plot in its review. So if you haven’t read this one, and you want to, stop reading now.)

The good/evil mystery surrounding Sirius Black was fascinating. I’ve read the series before, so I knew that he ended up being a good guy, but in the beginning of the novel, I was doubting my memory. J.K. Rowling toyed with her readers by making trusted adult characters (namely Dumbledore and other teachers) believe the original story about Sirius and Peter Pettigrew. Unlike in the previous two books, where Dumbledore seemed to be omnisciently working in the background to help Harry and his friends succeed, he actually becomes a hindrance in his need to keep Harry “safe” from Sirius. This forced Harry, Ron and Hermione to mature, counting on themselves instead of adults. As with the last two books, the story’s voice kept the same feeling but aged with the protagonists. The characters continued to grow and learn, and the reader sees unknown sides of the characters: Harry’s skill at magic with his Patronus, Ron’s loyalty to Scabbers, and Hermione’s need for facts when she storms out of her Divination class. The side plot of Hagrid and Buckbeak helped develop characters and demonstrate that the Ministry of Magic isn’t necessarily the good guys.

The one thing that stood out to me about this book was J.K. Rowling’s command of the little details. While most authors are content to reveal their secrets when they want, maybe citing a few, notable scenes as buildup, Rowling’s novels are littered with small scenes and offhanded remarks that end up tying together into massive plot lines. This skill is the mark of a dedicated author, showing that she actually deserves all the hype about her books (while some popular authors today seem to value dramatic plot and even more dramatic romance over literary merit). Especially rereading the series, but without a full memory of the plots’ exact points, these details drag me into the story as I piece together her dropped hints with my own vague memory of the story.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

First, a quick recap: Unlike most series I read, where I review every book together, I’m writing a review for each individual Harry Potter. I think they are widely-read enough for this to work. Warning: there might be plot spoilers. So if you haven’t read Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, maybe don’t read on.

I liked this book more than the first one. The voice was more mature and the plot was more dynamic. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are still young, but they’ve aged since the last book, and the events of this book help them mature further. J.K. Rowling did an amazing job of aging her characters, making their transformations subtle but believable, gracefully lifting her series out of the middle grade niche and foreshadowing that the series will be YA before its end.

The plot of the second book was by far more interesting than the first one. Much of the first book’s plot was sacrificed to exposition, (thought Rowling did do a great job setting up her world and her characters), but the second book had the time for a more drawn out, twisted plot arc. The secrets behind Tom Riddle and the Heir of Slytherin were skilfully hinted at and J.K. Rowling revealed them at the right moments, driving the plot forward without losing the mystery too early on. I loved how Ginny’s character developed, and how the dynamic between Harry, Ron, and Hermione shifted when the boys flew to Hogwarts instead of taking the train. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a well-developed novel with a complex plot and dynamic characters.

Time to go read the third…