Harry Potter

Photographic Proof That Detroit Is the Home of Ilvermorny, J.K. Rowling’s North American Wizard SchoolI’ve got big news for Harry Potter fans. Some of you may have read my earlier post (“Why Detroit Is the Perfect Home for Ilvermorny”), which collected my arguments for why I thought that the Motor City would make an ideal location for J.K. Rowling’s recently announced North American wizarding school. Well, my daughter and I were so eager to get our theory confirmed that we took a drive down to Detroit to see if we could find any evidence of Ilvermorny. And guess what? WE FOUND IT!

You could see Ilvermorny all over the Motown and we had a terrific time checking out the classrooms, the library, the Great Hall – what a school!

I posted the first batch of our Ilvermorny pictures on my Instagram account and I’ve collected some of the best ones below. I have even more to share, so keep checking back to see more snapshots from our amazing school visit. (You can read more of my Ilvermorny theories and tweets, if you follow the #ilvermorny hashtag on Twitter.)

Photographic Proof That Detroit Is the Home of Ilvermorny, J.K. Rowling’s North American Wizard School

And, fellow Detroiters, if you have additional photographic evidence that Ilvermorny is, in fact, in our beloved city, please share links to the pictures in the comments below. I know the “official” announcement of Ilvermorny’s location hasn’t been made yet, but I am really proud to see so much evidence of the noble wizarding tradition in my hometown. I think Detroit would be (and is) a great home for Ilvermorny.

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Why Detroit Is the Perfect Home for Ilvermorny, J.K. Rowling’s North American Wizarding School

It looks like Detroit architecture to me…

Last week, Pottermore, the official website for all things Harry Potter, announced the existence of FOUR previously unmentioned, international wizarding schools. We learned about the Brazilian school of Castelobruxo, Africa’s esteemed Uagadou school, and Japan’s magical academy, Mahoutokoro – all with new descriptions penned by J.K. Rowling herself. We also learned the name of the long-awaited North American Wizarding School – Ilvermorny – though Pottermore hasn’t released Rowling’s description of the school or the school’s location yet.

All we got was a name and an illustration of the school, shrouded in clouds, hovering above the Great Lakes region. And, as an impatient fanboy, that got me excited, because I’m from the Great Lakes region. Specifically, I’m from Detroit, one of the most notorious and misunderstood cities in North America, and I personally think that Detroit would make a TREMENDOUS home for Ilvermorny. I really do. I think that wizarding academy has been here all along.

J.K. Rowling might prove me wrong in a few days, but, in the meantime, I took to Twitter today to make my case for why Detroit would be the idea home for Ilvermorny, and I think I have a few decent points. If you agree, chime into the discussion and show me your reasoning. If you disagree (philistine!), tell me why Ilvermorny exists anywhere else.

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The Death Eaters are coming for you!

The Death Eaters are coming for you!

Two weeks ago, my daughter’s elementary school had their annual Fall Festival and I got talked into… I mean, I got the privilege of helping head up the haunted house. Actually, it’s called The Haunted Hallway because, basically, we have a few hours to transform two sections of school hallway into something that can creep out a K-6 audience. But WEEKS of planning happens before that short set-up time, particularly regarding the “theme” of the haunted house, which has to be both appropriate and interesting for elementary school kids. This year – and I couldn’t have been happier about this – the theme was HAUNTED HOGWARTS. That’s right. A Harry Potter Haunted House.

It made the kidlit/Potter-nerd in me completely geek out and it couldn’t have been more perfect because my daughter is currently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (She’s almost done. ______ _____ just died. She’s sad. We’re dealing with it.) Originally, we hit onto the idea because we thought that it would be really creepy to have Dementors going after the kids, but, after a few weeks of planning, we didn’t end up having Dementors at all. (The costume was tricky and we couldn’t figure out a good “Dementor Kiss” effect.)

Instead, the students entered a hallway in Hogwarts (complete with floating candles and talking pictures) where Professor McGonagall warned them that Voldemort and the Death Eaters were on the rise. Next, they went through a pitch-black Forbidden Forest, where they got whomped by parents in Whomping Willow costumes and almost got eaten by a giant spiders. They then moved onto Diagon Alley, getting harassed by goblins all the way, until they ended up in a graveyard where Voldemort and some masked Death Eaters were waiting for them. (I was a masked Death Eater who jumped out from behind a curtain, yelled “Avada Kedavra!”, and pointed my wand at them – which was really an air-compressor hose that loudly sprayed a stream of air at them, making the kids scream and run out the exit.)

It was a whole lot of fun and I’m proud of what we accomplished on a very small budget in a very small amount of time. Here are some pictures of our nerdy parents having DIY fun in J.K. Rowling’s world…

This was the first Hogwarts Hallway. Isn't that backdrop painting cool?

This was the first Hogwarts Hallway. Isn’t that backdrop painting cool?

Our very own Acromantula (i.e. big-*** spider)

Our very own Acromantula (i.e. big-*** spider)

Our homemade Diagon Alley...

Our homemade Diagon Alley…

... complete with creepy Kreacher-esque goblins (yes, I know Kreacher was a house-elf, but they're still creepy)

… complete with creepy Kreacher-esque goblins (yes, I know Kreacher was a house-elf, but they’re still creepy)

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Lost in the shuffle...

It’s so easy for new kids’ books to get lost in the shuffle…

For a parent, keeping up with the current state of children’s publishing can be hard. Children’s and young adult titles are more popular than ever, so there are just an immense amount of new kids’ books hitting the shelves every week. And, for parents, finding those new titles – the new and really, really great titles that your kids will totally love – isn’t always easy or intuitive. Oftentimes, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for parents to encounter new kids’ books. Maybe you’ll see one online (if it’s prominently featured by one of the big retailers), maybe you’ll see one at the library (if your library ordered it), or maybe you’ll discover it at your local bookstore (if you still have a local bookstore). There are so many variables working against parents in the hunt for new books for their kids.

While I can’t solve the problem – because I miss just as many amazing kids’ books as the next parent – maybe I can help a little. Here are five of the coolest, most interesting, recently released children’s titles that I’ve encountered over the past few weeks. Even if these titles aren’t ideal for your kid, these books are all outstanding enough that they should definitely be on your kidlit radar.

1. Aesop’s Fables by Aesop and Ayano Imai

Two years ago, I wrote a post about “The Difficult Task of Introducing Your Kid to Folk Tales and Fairy Tales,” which was all about the responsibility I felt, as a parent, to give my child a well-rounded introduction to the myths and legends of the world. Related to that, let me just say, one of my biggest regrets is that I never bought my daughter a collection of Aesop’s Fables. It was a huge oversight on my part that possibly occurred because I never really read them myself as a kid. But, if you want a truly superior introduction to Aesop’s Fables for your home library, you can’t do better than this off-the-charts GORGEOUS picture book by Ayano Imai. The edition of Aesop’s Fables is ingeniously designed (you flip the pages landscape-style, like a calendar), Imai’s illustrations are packed with absorbing details, and it’s just one of those picture books where you want to frame every page and hang them in your kid’s room. I think the book may have been originally published in 2012, but I just saw a new 2013 edition of Imai’s Fables last week and I was blown away. (You can learn more about the book here and browse through it here.)

Aesop's Fables by Ayano Imai

A simple, elegant retelling of Aesop’s best fables…

2. Ballad by Blexbolex

Ballad by Blexbolex

There’s enough genius in here to keep your kids occupied for DAYS…

Blexbolex is a ridiculously talented French illustrator and, last June, I wrote about my love for his beyond brilliant word-book People. That title was an epic, phone-book-sized masterpiece that taught children about a huge variety of different people, including contortionists, centaurs, fakirs, tattooed men, rabbis, cat burglars, and more. (Seriously.) Each page featured wonderfully simple and iconic representations of different kinds of human beings, illustrated in a fashion that almost made them look like they were screen-printed or stamped onto each page. If it’s possible, Blexbolex‘s new picture book, Ballad, is an even more ambitious work, a truly staggering piece of visual storytelling.

Ballad follows a young boy as he walks home from school and, during his journey, the boy spins a series of increasingly complex stories based around the different environments he encounters – school, street, path, forest, and, eventually, home. The boy’s stories feature classic icons from the history of fables, ranging from witches to queens, and Ballad just perfectly captures how ingrained storytelling is in our day-to-day lives and imaginations. (Maria Popova wrote a much better and more perceptive review of Ballad – with way more images – that you can read here.) If you want your child to have really smart and beautiful picture books on their bedroom bookshelves, works like Ballad are a great place to start. [read the rest of the post…]

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Hogwarts

You may have read about this place in “Hogwarts: A History”…

Earlier this year, a few days after my daughter finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she came down with a fever and had to stay home from school. I kept her company that day and, by 10 am, we were both fairly bored. As she sat on the couch, listlessly playing with some new Harry Potter Lego mini-figures, out of nowhere, I asked her, “Hey, wanna make them their own Hogwarts?” Her eyes INSTANTLY perked up and that kicked off one of the most purely fun sick days we’d ever shared.

I ran around the house, collecting every appropriately-sized cardboard box that might make a good Great Hall, dormitory, or potions classroom. I then gathered up all the cardboard cylinders I could – paper towel rolls, wrapping paper tubes, a breadcrumbs container, etc. – to make castle towers, tunnels, and, in, at least one case, a Chamber of Secrets. We raided ever dollhouse and Playmobil set my daughter owned for furnishings and, after she insisted on making her own Forbidden Forest, we used an old piece of posterboard to act as our foundation, allowing us to sketch out the perimeter of the grounds and attach a series of plastic trees (mostly old birthday cake toppers) using globs of Play-Doh.

Here are some pictures cataloging our Homemade Hogwarts. (If you click on any of these, it will take you to a bigger version of the picture AND an online album with even more pictures of “the grounds.”)

Homemade Hogwarts

Our homemade, maker, whatever-we-had-handy version of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

We’re not a particularly “crafty” family. We don’t paint murals on our walls or hand-make our own Valentine’s Day cards or anything. But, for whatever reason, my feverish daughter and I embraced this homemade Hogwarts project with both hands, working on it for hours. We geeked out over every detail and even learned to love all of its wonderfully well-intentioned mistakes and imperfections. This isn’t a Pottery Barn Hogwarts. This is a cobbled-together, warts and all, magic-marker-and-scotch-tape Hogwarts, born of discarded Amazon boxes and the love of a six-year-old.

Homemade Hogwarts

A Nimbus 2000-view of our cardboard Hogwarts

We adored building it so much that it remained in the center of our dining room floor for MONTHS (until we eventually carefully transplanted it down to the basement playroom). [read the rest of the post…]

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Do I really need to suggest this book to parents? It’s kind of a gimme, right?

Earlier this year, my six-year-old daughter finally read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And she loved it, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Her mom and I are big fans of the series ourselves and there’s a reason why so many millions and millions of readers have embraced J.K. Rowling‘s most famous creation. Despite what some lit snobs will tell you, they’re excellent books.

So, to get this out of the way, if you’re building a home library for your kid, go get all seven Harry Potter books. They’re easy to find – heck, the law of averages suggests that you probably already own them. If you personally don’t love the Potter series, there’s a very decent chance your child will, so it’s kind of a no-brainer purchase. (And, even if you’re not up for buying them yourself, there’s a 99.5% chance that every library in a thousand mile radius of your house will have multiple copies of all seven books.)

As such, this isn’t going to be my normal “OHMYGOD, have you heard of this book? You HAVE to read it” review. It is safe to assume that you’ve heard of the Harry Potter books and much, much better writers than I have sung their praises before, so there’s not much point in me adding in my two cents six years after Deathly Hallows was published.

But, as a parent who knew as soon as he found out that he was having a kid that he wanted that kid to one day read the Harry Potter books, I’d like to talk about the three parts of Sorcerer’s Stone, the first chapter in the series, that I was legitimately nervous for my daughter to read.

I was anxious for several reasons. For starters, my daughter had been dancing around the Harry Potter series for almost a year. The books were solidly on her radar before, but she was afraid that they were “scary“, so she didn’t want to read them and I wasn’t going to push the matter. I was fine with waiting until she felt she was ready. However, her attitude towards Harry Potter started to change during her first grade year, largely because so many of her classmates had read and loved the series. My kid suddenly wanted to buy Harry Potter Legos and would come home every week, telling me she’d learned new spoilers about what happened in the books (some were right, others were totally, hilariously wrong).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The covers for the new editions of the Harry Potter books are pretty great…

Finally, one day, my daughter came home from school carrying a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that she’d checked out from the school library. “I think I want to read this,” she told us. After we reminded her that we OWNED all seven books and she didn’t actually need to take them out from the library – kids are gloriously weird sometimes – my wife tenuously started reading her Sorcerer’s Stone at bedtime, with me nervously asking, every night, how it was going.

I’d already had the experience of trying to read my kid a book beloved by her parents only to have it blow up in our faces – i.e. my abortive attempt to introduce her to The Phantom Tollbooth – so the LAST thing I wanted to do was find out too late that we’d forced Harry Potter onto her too soon, tragically coloring her opinion of the series for the rest of her life. Also, I was nervous because my daughter is a very introspective, thoughtful kid and I was afraid that she might be really, really sensitive to some of the darker moments in the book.

If you’re a parent who’s concerned about reading Harry Potter to your child – just in an effort to compare notes – here are the three elements of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I was really afraid would land wrong with my daughter: [read the rest of the post…]

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