Mama Madison: Magic tricks for reading

J.K. Rowling is the portal to chapter-length fiction

I was a bit surprised when my oldest son announced he was going to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows--Part 2, on opening night, no less. It was a female friend's 14th birthday, and trust me, if you ever want to get a 14 year-old boy to do anything, just have a 14 year-old girl ask him.

Never before had my son expressed even an iota of interest in seeing The Deathly Hallows"Part 1, or the Prisoner of Azkaban or any of the other films in the immensely popular series. He had never read a single one of the books. It seemed the wizard world just didn't do it for him.

I'd always kind of hoped he'd eventually jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon. It seemed to be the pop-cultural thing to do. Like Judy Blume books and Sherwood Schwartz (RIP) sitcoms have been for me, they could provide a shared experience and immediate connection to all other kids born in same generation. Hogwarts could be something for him to talk about with his new college roommate on that first awkward day.

But he always preferred non-fiction to tales of magic and Muggles. Why read about Albus Dumbledore when you could read about Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant--bearded men who actually lived? Why study up on the rules of Quidditch when a Golden Snitch was so much more elusive than a real-life baseball.

But at least he read. A lot. Son number two? Not so much.

I've been struggling this summer to get him to crack a book at all. Sometimes he'll humor me by reading inappropriate song lyrics on-line. Occasionally I can get him to get to tackle the back of cereal boxes. He is starting to know quite a bit about the benefits of oat bran, and that's not all bad.

But an actual book, you know, with pages, seemed out of the question. I was kind of afraid he might forget how.

"Mom, you can't forget how to read," he'd remind me. "It's just like riding a bike, but not as fun."

I had my work cut out for me.

I set timers set to 30 minutes, but he never seemed to get beyond page one. We encouraged him to enter the Madison Public Library reading challenge that, upon completion of 10 books, entered you in a drawing to shadow Paul Soglin for the day. It was a no-go: I think the Mayor is still on my son's naughty list for threatening to pull the plug on "Ride the Drive." We even dinked around with our own reward system, promising a trip to Babcock Hall for completing a non-fiction work. And a malt at Michael's for fiction. There is very little he won't do for a frozen dairy treat.

Except, as it turns out, read.

I felt like we'd tried every trick in the book.

But we'd never tried the book about magic.

My husband and I had somehow assumed that since Son #1 hadn't really sparked to Harry Potter, that Son #2 wouldn't either--as if taste in reading material was somehow hereditary and we had both passed on a recessive Rowling gene.

But when his brother was out seeing the Potter movie, we read the first chapter of book one of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone out loud to him. And he was hooked. The 309-page book is now almost finished and we have the second installment waiting for immediate inhalation upon its completion.

I don't care if it is black magic or some other illegal substance that J.K. Rowling sprinkles on those books. "The Boy Who Lived" has turned my son into "The Boy Who Read." I'll happily sell my soul to "he-who-must-not-be-named" if we can just keep this up through the school year.

We still have a while before he's made it through the whole Potter series. But I need suggestions for the follow-up. What titles have you relied on for keeping your kids reading this summer?

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