Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Harry Potter Read-Alouds (and Edit-Alouds)

Ellie and Beth asked, after this post (in which I mentioned editing dark portions of the fourth Harry Potter book for Ramona) about how editing an HP read-aloud works.

To fully answer the question, I'd have to apparate back to the era when I first read the books to Anne-with-an-e and Betsy. But rather than do that (because my memory's a little feeble), I'll focus on how we're handling it right now with Ramona.

To answer a couple of their specific questions:

1. Yes, Ramona knows I'm editing. And she's glad of it. She knows she's more sensitive than some kids are, and she really doesn't want to hear anything too scary. So there's nothing covert about the operation. We're on the same page, so to speak.

2. If I remembered all the books as well as my teens do (or reread them as often), I might indeed decide beforehand what to cut. But the truth is, I don't always remember the scariest parts, so I wing it. But, my older girls are a huge help. They love the books enough to hang out and listen in as often as they can while I'm reading to Ramona, and that way, they're able to give me a heads-up as we dive into a hair-raising chapter. So this time around, the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire read-aloud was a combination of pre-planning (thanks, girls) and winging it (which I failed to do perfectly.)

The failures usually arise when I'm getting too much into character, or am so absorbed in the story myself that I forget to edit. I have to remind myself not to read on auto-pilot. Auto-pilot can be an easy default position for me, even if I'm reading in accents and character voices. If I do start to slip, Anne and Betsy are great at reminding me to slow down and be wary of what's coming. And, Ramona herself will tell me if something's starting to get a little too scary. (Some scenes at the Quidditch World Cup, for example, needed to be toned down, and I didn't catch that right away.)

The main things we skip are descriptions of violence, and any situations that seem too disturbing (I've learned a lot about what might be disturbing from raising other sensitive girls, though, as mentioned above, I don't have a 100% success rate.)

None of this makes it as difficult as you might think to keep up with plot points. When I skip over something, I simply summarize it, so Ramona can stay abreast of the unfolding story without hearing every detail. For example ...

... and if you're one of the three people in the world who hasn't read the books yet ...

... and you don't want spoilers ...

... please don't read on ...

... and I will allow plenty of scroll space ...

.... before I continue ...

...with this post ...



For example, in Goblet of Fire, there are about three consecutive chapters that can be summed up with, "Voldemort did a spell and he has a body again, and he also had Cedric killed." Yes, there are details in those chapters that are important and will play out later, but by the time Ramona's old enough to read the next books in the series, she'll be old enough to know what happened in those chapters, too (and to do her own re-read.)  At this point, she can often handle the facts, she just doesn't want them played out dramatically before her eyes (or ears, with my bad British accent, as the case may be.)

What about you? How do you handle read-alouds with sensitive kids?


Charlotte (WaltzingM) said...

We do much the same thing you do. All of my kids have been more on the sensitive side preferring us to skip over descriptions of violence and evil. Now, if it's my husband doing the read aloud, he will sometimes throw in some made up funny stuff to lighten the mood if he thinks a scene is getting too intense. The kids love it and he's good at making up something funny on the spot like that.

Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

I don't know your children and you do, so naturally your choices reflect their needs. With my own children, I found that they dealt better with scary situations and how other children worked through them, than to eliminate all the even potentially scary parts. The world is full of frightening situations, and learning how to deal with them via a book is much better than facing something scary and not having any idea how to deal, not having learned how from book people.

Theresa Gonzalez said...

My JBug isn't so sensitive to scary stuff, but I did find myself having to do some super-quick on-the-fly editing when I was reading Dancing Shoes to her a few days ago. There was mention of a woman taking in her dead relative's daughters, but that she didn't have to take one of them because she was adopted. They would just put her in a home somewhere. Yikes! As an adopted child, JBug is naturally sensitive about the topic and I know that would have hurt.

Cristina said...

My husband and I love Harry Potter :)

We're really looking forward to sharing the series with our boys, but what age would you say is appropriate to let kids read/listen to the first book?

Karen Edmisten said...

Charlotte, the humor is a good point. I forgot to mention that, but we do that, too. During the last read-aloud, my two older girls were reminiscing about the jokes they used to make to lighten the mood through certain sections of the book. Now Ramona's in on those jokes, too. :)

Mamacita, yes, I think there are still plenty of opportunities for the kinds of things you mentioned, even with the editing. Ramona likes suspense, and delicious-scary, just not "I can't get that image out of my mind" scary.

Theresa, yikes! Thank goodness you caught it on the fly. That's the kind of thing that can just trip by if you're reading on auto-pilot. Huzzah for Mom! :)

Cristina, that is SO individual! Ramona was, I think, about 8 when I read the first book to her, but I did some editing. Other moms here have mentioned waiting until 10 or 11 or later. You know your kids best.

One advantage to waiting a bit is that you might not have to wait as long to get to later books. I've put the brakes on for awhile and won't tackle the 5th book for another year or so.

ellie said...

Karen, thanks for writing about this!

We love all things HP, and I always enjoy hearing about how other families handle the more mature themes with younger kids.

My general rule of thumb (with all my kids, now almost-11 thru 24) is that I err on the side of making them age into books, rather than me editing. ('Cause I'm lazy :-D Editing seems like more work to me!)

So, my turning-11yo has read the first two books (and seen the first two films) and he will get to dive into the third book when he has his birthday in a few months. Probably, we will do a family read aloud with it.

Then he'll wait until his 12th birthday for the fourth book. At that point, I'll make the call on whether or not he can play ahead with book 5 and (Maybe) books 6-7. My daughter read book 4 when she turned 12 and then it felt appropriate to me to have her carry on with 5-7. We did do it together, though, and stopped regualry for lots of good talks.

Her younger brother is far more sensitive that his older siblings (or me), and more prone to anxiety, too. So a slower pace for him is definitely better ....

ellie said...

(In a few weeks, I mean. He'll be 11, good gracious, in a few weeks)

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