PREST: Harry Potter series great for teaching kids how to read, torture

I’m a little conflicted about what to do with all the wizard duels in my house.

On the one hand, my kids are entering a fabulous phase in life where they are now voraciously consuming books and stories that are actually entertaining for adults too. Sure, I got a kick out of reading Green Eggs and Ham when my boys were younger – any story that puts a goat on a boat is OK by me – but if left to my own devices, I would never spend a lazy afternoon by myself on a beach towel reading the works of Dr. Seuss. I would, however, spend that time reading the Harry Potter series. When those books started coming out, I was a teenager. And I got hooked on that fantastical world of muggles and magic and scaring the puritans with the return of witchcraft.

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Now more than two decades later, the books are as entertaining as ever, and I get to relive them while sharing them with my boys. My older son is becoming one of those sneaky readers, the kids who hide flashlights in their bedrooms so they can wake up in the middle of the night and rip off a few chapters while hiding under the blankets. The kids who get their book confiscated by their mothers and stashed in one of the “unreachable” cupboards. The kids who by 4 a.m. are somehow awake and happily reading the book they collected from the unreachable cupboard.

Those kids cause quite the conundrum for parents. On the one hand, the disrespect and disobedience is palpable – no request is too earnest or important to be completely ignored by the reading child.

“Supper time, come and eat!”

“Just one more page.”

“The house is on fire, get out now!”

“Just finishing the chapter.”

“A bear ate your leg!!!!”

“I’m on the last page.”

On the other hand, it’s hard to get mad at a kid for reading. That’s what you want, right? It’s better than if they’re out in the back alleys, selling crack, getting in brawls or denying climate change.

My younger son can read too but he prefers that I read to him, and it’s a joy now that I get to experience it all along with him as Hermione, Harry and Ron introduce him to potions and quidditch and teenage angst.

The obvious conclusion to all this, however, is that my boys have turned the fantastical world of Harry Potter into another way to fight with each other. Toy guns are not allowed at my house, and the sheriff of the family – we all know who that is – frowns upon even the slightest hint of a “finger gun,” even when used with a silencer to muffle the “pew pew pew.”

But now new weapons have arrived, with any pencil, stick, or Magic Marker becoming a weapon deadlier than any water pistol.

“Eat slugs!” the younger one will yell, brandishing his glue stick wand.

“Sectumsempra! Crucio! Avada Kedavra!” the older one will reply, as always taking something that is mostly harmless and going so far over the top that he has to be rescued by NASA.

If you don’t know the books and can’t understand the code in those magic spells, that’s basically my older son torturing his little brother and then murdering him. Just with words, of course, as well as a wand that is actually a marker that for some reason smells like key lime pie.

The little guy will fight back, but the older one is the Mozart of inventing BS rules in the middle of games, and so if he’s losing a duel he’ll charge his brother with underage wizardry and send him to Azkaban.  

I contend that this bit of make believe fun is better than staring at the TV all day, but my wife does make a sensible point when she argues that our children should not be yelling the equivalent of “I murder you!” at each other.

Anyway, I’m mostly delighted with this phase of parenting. Next up is The Hobbit. I tried to start that one a while ago but the boys lost interest when we got to the fourth chapter dedicated to setting a table for breakfast.

I can’t wait to try again, as I’m sure my boys are ready for it. Maybe I’ll skip ahead to the part where the trolls are having a heated debate about how they should eat the little people. That’s something my boys can relate to perfectly.

Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News and writes a biweekly humour/lifestyle column. Reach him via email at

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