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Reading, Harry Potter and Imaginary Friends
Hannah and I were cousins but we had been like sisters ever since she was born. She was seven years younger than me and I watched her grow up from a chubby baby to become a constantly spinning toddler. When she was three she had a friend called George. “He is this tall,” she explained as she made a space between her stubby fingers. When we were in the boat at the family cabin, or on a car trip, she would tell me about what George was doing. “He’s eating,” she would say or, “he’s water skiing.” Sometimes George would sleep on her shoulder. It was funny though, as she started kindergarten, George started appearing less and less in Hannah’s conversation. “Where is George,” I asked once. Hannah shrugged as if it were the most natural question ever. “He went away, but he sometimes comes back to visit.”
After Christmas we took Hannah to Tofino for a week of storm watching and hiking. Hannah was six and I was thirteen, and it was already obvious that we would grow up to become different people. Hannah's attention span was no more present then her imaginary friend George. She listened to no one, "she's a free spirit, just like her mother," my mom would say. As slush filled the beach outside the condominium and rain rattled the roof we were left with nothing better to do then to read and to play board games, none of which suited a hyperactive six year old. “This is boring,” Hannah grumbled as she fogged up the window with her breath and stared out at the churning ocean. And it was boring, until I discovered I left a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in my suitcase.
“Sit,” I told Hannah, and she crawled onto my lap. “I’m going to read you a new book about wizards and stuff.”
Hannah shrugged. “Can we do something else please?”
“Give it half an hour,” I sighed and Hannah squirmed on my lap. I cleared my throat and began the first chapter. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley who lived at number four Privet drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal thank you very much.” It was hardly a captivating introduction and as I read, Hannah walked around, looked into the fire, and asked for hot chocolate. I continued reading until the first chapter was over. "What do you think about uncle Vernon? What will happen to the baby that was left on the doorstep?" She shrugged off my barrage of question and said that she didn't know.
At thirteen years of age I had read every Harry Potter book five times. There is a trigger for every obsession and for me Harry Potter and reading started when my uncle gave me the first three books of the series seven Christmases ago. Every kid needs a hero to replace their imaginary friends when they leave. That’s who Harry Potter was for me and I wanted him to play the same role for Hannah. But Hannah found The Philosopher's Stone boring, and she would do anything to avoid the half hour increments of reading. "Maybe I'm not supposed to like it," she whined.
My voice was cracking and darkness fell over the stormy December ocean. I was immersed in the world of Harry Potter, but I sensed that because Hannah was so still, holding her breath at every word, that something had changed. In the pages Hagrid had burst into a hut on the island, and told Harry the words I still remember from when my father read the book to me. “Harry, yer a wizard.” I closed the book there, but Hannah shook me, "can you read me some more Maddy?"
When Hannah went home, she was a force that couldn't be stopped. She made her parents finish reading her the first novel, and borrowed the second and third Harry Potter books from us over her next visit. Her mother thought that the death in violence in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire be too much for a six year old. At the same time, Hannah struggled to read on her own, but she was falling behind her grade level. She was in French immersion, so her English suffered even more. She grew impatient and she never read a book by herself that she liked as much as Harry Potter. Her parents finally caved and let her read the fourth, fifth, and sixth books to her. "She'll have to read the seventh one on her own," my aunt declared.
Hannah has dyslexia. My aunt and uncle didn’t find out until a few months ago. Like a person who loves dogs but has an allergy to fur, she can't make sense of words but she loves stories that they hold. Hannah's brother started kindergarten this year, and he returned after his first day able to read at the grade two level. He could read chapter books in his head by Christmas. He would show off to his sister by reading out signs as we passed though the city. When we praised him a shadow would fall over Hannah's face which was unreadable and more complex then jealousy.
We wrote a 2000 word chapter book this summer, me and Hannah. I typed and Hannah dictated, and together we wrote four chapters, one chapter each day. It was about her imaginary friend, George and his adventures. I realized then, that imaginary friends and characters from books one are and the same. Every time George disappeared, so did Hannah’s untold story. Am I a hero for introducing Hannah to Harry, Ron and Hermione, and returning George to her? I don’t know, but I do know that characters will be greater heroes then living person can ever be. I made a difference in Hannah’s life, but there are thousands of children who cannot read either because they have dyslexia, or no one taught them how to read and love books. A hero would teach them to see the beauty in the imaginary.
As for Hannah, one day she will be able to read the seventh Harry Potter book for herself.