My reviews are nothing if not eclectic, right?
After all, everyone in the entire Western world has read the Harry Potter books by now, haven’t they? So why am I choosing to review the second book in the series out of the blue?
Mainly because my son, Oscar, who was eight last week, recently got given the freedom of the bookshelves at school, after being on the reading scheme books for far too long in his opinion. He celebrated picking whatever he wanted to read by choosing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
I was really interested to read it with him and see how he got on with it, and what he thought, and what the difference was between me reading as an adult for my own pleasure, and guiding and listening to him reading it to me.
It was an instructive experience.
This review then, is not so much about the book, but about the experience of sharing the book with a child.
I will include a brief review of the book at the end, just in case you need one.
I have listened to other children reading Harry Potter books to me in school over the last few years. J. K. Rowling remains enduringly popular and also a writer that many children aspire to read for themselves. They have grown up with Harry Potter, and the success of the films and the endless merchandise and Harry Potter world makes children feel a connection with the books. The fact children want to read these books is half the battle, and they are an important addition to every school library in my opinion.
My son knows the story of The Chamber of Secrets pretty much by heart. He has seen the film countless times (although the editing job means that the book would still be a surprise to someone who has only ever seen the film), he has heard the unabridged audio version read by Stephen Fry more times than he’s seen the film. He could answer questions on Mastermind on the book, frankly.
The positives were that he got on brilliantly with the story. His repeat listenings meant that he was able to figure out how to pronounce words he hadn’t come across before with greater ease. He wasn’t frightened of the words, and he had a pretty good idea, from remembering the inflections and tonality that Fry put into the words what they meant. He could also use his knowledge of the film to picture how things might be and figure other things out from there.
I was afraid he would be daunted by the book. It looks thin, but it comes in at 250 pages of dense type, and this was his first proper experience of reading a novel as opposed to a more child friendly book.
He wasn’t daunted at all.
He did however, get quite bored by the book part way in. We talked about it. He realised that because he knew the story so well, there was no element of surprise, or delight in the book for him. He knew what was coming on every page, and familiarity was beginning to breed contempt.
You often find, when children get bogged down with a book they’re bored with they tend to slow the pace of their reading. This means that the book stays with them even longer, and they get more and more bored, and more and more put off. I didn’t want this to happen with Oscar.
We talked about what we could do. We could either take the book back and try for another one, or we could read ten pages a night, every night and finish the book. As he was half way through the book by this point, and was coping well with the technical aspects of reading, and his comprehension was fine, this was a viable option for him. Had he been struggling I’d have taken matters out of his hands and asked for a different book.
As it turned out, we discussed how good he would feel if he just spent a few more days getting to the end of the book, knowing he had finished his first, proper ‘grown up book’ all by himself. He was re-motivated by this, and powered through to the end.
He was incredibly proud of himself when he had finished, and we made sure to give him suitable praise, both for the feat of reading the book entirely himself, and for sticking with something that wasn’t exactly delighting him.
We talked about how he could make better book choices when he took the finished book back and brought home his next book. It was a brilliant lesson for him in picking books, and learning about what he liked and didn’t like. He came home for half term with a Tom Gates book, a series he hadn’t read before, and which he felt would be a) more achievable for him, and b) more enjoyable for him.
Over half term he has read the second Tom Gates book, which he brought home, and the first one which he took on holiday with him from home. Since coming home he has read the fourth book to himself over the weekend, and is reading me the third book for school. He is delighted with the books and the progress he is making, and his self confidence is growing by the day.
Mini Review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
In this, the second of the Harry Potter series, Harry enters his second year at Hogwarts thwarted by Dobby the house elf, who is trying to save him from himself, and the wrath of the Dursleys. He and Ron start the year badly by landing in the Whomping Willow in a flying Ford Anglia car, and things go from bad to worse as students at Hogwarts become petrified by a monster nobody can trace, and Harry is blamed for it.
As well as this he is accused of being the heir of Slytherin, learns he can speak Parsel tongue and has to deal with the new, and hopeless, Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart.
This second book, as with the first, is very much a standalone adventure. The plot opens and closes neatly with the beginning and end of the book, framed by the arrival at and departures from Hogwarts. The adventures, though slightly scary, have their light hearted moments, and I was surprised, on reading it with Oscar, how little time is taken up with the actual denouement of the book rather than the small adventures that make up the school year.
All this will change in the next volume, The Prisoner of Azkaban, where the series takes full flight, the plot arcs over into the next four books, and the darkness of the story becomes more pronounced, to the great improvement of the books in general.
In hindsight, the plotting here is laying the groundwork for what is to come, and there are beautiful echoes and ripples through the rest of the books, some of which start here. The characters are still growing into their skins and there is still a sense of exuberance here, which makes the books fun to read and suitable for boys and girls aged seven up, as long as they are confident readers.