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Harry Potter and the Travel Ban

“Oh, really? You don’t act like an only child!” Growing up and entering adulthood, I have heard this phrase many a time. I take comfort knowing that I am not suffering from the dreaded “only child syndrome” of those who are spoiled or self-involved. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that as a child I frequently dreamed of having a brother or sister. I wasn’t a complete loner. I had friends. But you can’t have sleepovers every night or playdates every afternoon. I often dreamed of having someone in those down times to play with, fight with, but mostly imagine with. It was in this way that books became my substitute siblings, my playmates, and my friends.

Like so many children I was drawn to characters that were like me. My favorite literary companions were fellow only child survivors: Anne of Green Gables, Matilda (an honorary nominee after she is adopted by Miss Honey), and, of course, Harry Potter. Moreover my parents were divorced. And in addition to being an only offspring, I was drawn to the dysfunctional families of these characters. Anne, Matilda, and Harry helped me navigate the outsideness I often felt amongst the traditional family structures that surrounded me.

Those characters were not only my friends, but they were my teachers: From Anne I learned that kindness and love can change your life. From Matilda I learned the power of imagination. And from Harry, well I learned a lot, but most of all, bravery. In this way, these characters became not only my friends; they were my mentors and my heroes.

My literary kindred spirits, however, have taken on a new hero role for me this year. You see, I currently work in a K-8 school where about 99% of our students are African-American or Latino — many from immigrant backgrounds.

On January 27th, the President issued his Executive Order outlining an immigration ban. As a result, now, more than ever, our students are threatened to feel that label I felt so many years ago: different, other, outsider. And so, much as I did as a small child, I have begun to look back to books and characters that can guide, support, and teach me.

It is those same books of otherness that I keep returning to. I just finished rereading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and was struck by how deftly Rowling includes Professor Lupin’s story of otherness. As a werewolf, he was an outsider. His acceptance by Harry’s father is not only a major plot point, but a subtle lesson for some readers — and perhaps a comfort for “others.”

Additionally, there is a picture floating around my newsfeed that quotes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
“And what would you say, Royal, to those listeners who reply that in these dangerous times, it should be ‘Wizards first’?” asked Lee.

“I’d say that it’s one short step from ‘Wizards first’ to ‘Purebloods first,’ and then to ‘Death Eaters,’” replied Kingsley. “We’re all human aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”

It is this last line that has stuck with me. It is this line that seems to mimic the posters I’ve brought to rallies and the letters to congressman that I have written. It is this sentence which I hope will be a comfort to those children needing one. “Every human life is worth the same.”
While my official job title is literacy coach, my personal passion is to try to connect every child with the love of reading. What will be the book that each student can connect to? Which character will be their best friend? It is these stories of otherness that were once a comfort to me, that I hope to impart to our students. More importantly, however, it is the kindness, love, imagination, and bravery of these characters that I hope every reader can take away with them in times such as these.
Whitney Raser
Whitney Raser
Whitney Raser is an ELA Curriculum Specialist at KIPP Academy Boston—a charter school in Mattapan, Massachusetts. She is particularly interested in the acquisition of language and literacy in early childhood settings, specifically those located in lower-income environments and special education settings.

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