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Revisiting beloved youth novels

Art by Anna Nemerov

When he was a 3rd grader, senior Nolan You flipped a page in a “Percy Jackson” book, reading voraciously as it was the much-anticipated final novel. He eagerly theorized about lines of the prophecy introduced, but he stopped at the word “raze.”

He had no idea what the word meant, but decided to continue reading to find context to decipher it. Lo and behold, the main character, Percy Jackson, also did not know what the word meant, and another character in the book had to explain it to him.

Now, whenever he reads the word “raze,” You said he always thinks back to learning the definition of the word “raze” — to destroy — with “Percy Jackson.”

You’s experience isn’t an outlier — many childhoods have been shaped by iconic preteen and young adult novels.

Many fans sorted themselves into Hogwarts houses from “Harry Potter,” pretended they were demigods like Percy Jackson and said, “One does not simply walk into Mordor,” a few too many times. 

But does the magic remain?

Freshman Crystal Li said she continues to enjoy reading childhood books because they are a gateway to another magical world.

“People read to escape reality and worlds like ‘Harry Potter’ provide an alternate reality that is very different from our current situation,” Li said. “It provides somewhere to escape to mentally.”

Li also said books from her childhood bring her to a comforting place.

“(The books) provide a sense of nostalgia,” Li said. “It reminds me of times when life was simpler, there wasn’t that much homework and I wasn’t stressing about whether I’m going to pass or not. It just feels good to live through that again.”

In addition to the nostalgia, popular childhood books have withstood the test of time.

“They’re such great stories, and it’s a really accessible reading,” librarian Sima Thomas said. “The characters are really engaging so they continue to engage; they haven’t really gone out of style the way that some other books do.”

One iconic childhood book series that has enduring popularity despite recent controversies is “Harry Potter.”

Written by J. K. Rowling and consisting of seven main books, the “Harry Potter” series follows the adventures of a boy wizard, Harry Potter, sent to a magic boarding school named Hogwarts and his struggles against the antagonist Voldemort, who threatens the Wizarding World.

Following the release of the final main book and movie, Rowling co-wrote and released the sequel “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” as a play, followed by the ongoing spin-off movie series, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Both have received mixed reviews, especially concerning the characters and plots.

Rowling has faced controversy about the lack of representation in her books, her transphobic Tweets and her additions to the world of “Harry Potter.”

“I remember reading ‘Harry Potter’ in elementary school, and I really noticed a change within the author and especially the franchise after ‘The Cursed Child’ came out,” Li said. “J.K. Rowling had a very stable franchise. And then, in a way to get more profit, she ended up giving the franchise away and allowing other people in on it.”

Thomas said Rowling’s actions had a great impact on “Harry Potter” fans.

“These books are so special to so many people, and then she put a shade over them,” Thomas said.

Another popular childhood book series is “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” by Rick Riordan, which has five books. The series is set in a world where Greek gods are real, and they have children with humans, called half-bloods. The main character, Percy Jackson, is a half-blood and the son of the powerful Greek god of the sea Poseidon.

“When I was in elementary school, I remember I’d walk into my third grade classroom and I’d just see every two or three desks had a new Percy Jackson book, and I think it still has that appeal,” You said. 

Riordan authored a five-book sequel series to “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” called “The Heroes of Olympus,” as well as another five-book sequel series, “The Trials of Apollo,” both of which have concluded. 

Maturing viewpoints have changed You’s opinion on certain aspects of “Percy Jackson.”

“In ‘Heroes of Olympus,’ there’s characters that I absolutely despise that now I somewhat tolerate. I’m looking at characters like Jason who are just bland, but now that I matured a bit, I realized they were there to provide exposition, as well as just character,” he said.

Though people may harbor some concerns that rereading their favorite childhood books when they are older does not provide intellectual challenge, reading benefits people, no matter the content.

“I have no prejudice against any kind of book and all reading is good reading. Anytime you’re reading, you’re going to be stimulating various parts of your brain,” Thomas said. “You’re going to develop your voice as a writer, and you’re going your reading speed for all kinds of reading. Every time you reread a book, you pick up details you might not have remembered and you’re also really paying attention to detail.”

Senior Daniel Yang said he agrees. 

“You get a new perspective about the books,” Yang said. “It’ll change very radically in your eyes, and you’ll be able to also notice the details you wanted to notice before.”

Li thinks there are no strict age guidelines for readers of children’s books.

“I personally read books for the sense of familiarity, and I don’t understand why people are saying certain books are for children,” Li said. “Children’s books are written so that everybody can enjoy them.”

Children’s books such as the “Harry Potter” series have made an impact on Thomas that extends well beyond her childhood years.

“(‘Harry Potter’) seems to have this special place in everyone’s experience,” Thomas said. “It’s such a well developed world, and it’s so fantastical like the idea of going to Hogwarts is just so much fun. And then every time you reread it, it takes you back a little bit to the first time you met it, and that kind of magic of childhood.”

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