On a very special day in 2002, I waited eagerly, but also somewhat sheepishly, for the mail. When the knock at the door finally came, it was a friendly man with a shoebox-size package, who cheerfully told me, “I’ve been delivering these all up and down the street.”
“Great!” I said. “Thanks.” I resisted the urge to yell “Caitlin, your book is here,” before grabbing the box and hastily closing the door. Which was just as well, since I was single, childless and alone in the house except for Sophie the Shih Tzu, a great little dog but not much of a reader. There I was, a thirty-something, embarrassed to have pre-ordered Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for same-day-as-available-in-stores delivery. Blush fading, I immediately sat down and devoted the rest of the day to reading.
Except for the delivery part, and the imaginary kid, this wasn’t unusual for me. Even before the world discovered the existence of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, some of the best fantasy around was written for the 9-11 year old age group. And I continued to read it (and sometimes buy it) long after I aged out of its target market. All of E. Nesbit’s books, of course. The Narnia books. Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Black-and-Blue Magic. Margaret J. Anderson’s In the Keep of Time. Eleanor Cameron’s The Court of the Stone Children. Andre Norton’s wonderful Lavender-Green Magic. Linnets and Valerians, by Elizabeth Goudge, who also wrote J.K. Rowling’s favorite children’s book, The White Horse.
Many of these books feature regular kids who happen into magical adventures–the new nursery carpet turns out to be a flying one, with a phoenix egg rolled up in it. Their history project turns into a time travel adventure; witches, fairies and other magical creatures overlap with the regular world of school, chores and family. I loved these books as a child. They gave me a sense that something amazing could be just around the corner. They sparked and fed the imagination, and I greatly preferred them to the “reality” themed books my contemporaries considered more grown up, like Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and the rest of the hugely popular Judy Blume oeuvre.
The good news is that kids’ fantasy, which was never entirely gone, is now back with a vengeance. By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows came out, most of my adult friends were shameless about taking the phone off the hook and staying up all night to read it. And then putting the phone back on the hook so we could call each other and say “are you done yet?” and discuss the outcome. (I try to avoid spoilers, so if there’s anyone else left on the planet who hasn’t read the ending, I will just say this: Ginny? Really?!)
These days, my eight year-old argues when I come to turn off the light because she’s deep into Rick Riordan’s wonderful trilogy, The Kane Chronicles, where modern kids save the world with the help of, and sometimes from, Egyptian gods. And sometimes I give in and let her stay up longer, because, as soon as she’s done with that second book? I get it next.
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