Early readers present a lot of challenges in finding stimulating, worthwhile material. I confess I am a bit of a purist — I don’t like abridgements of anything, whether I abridge it or someone does it for me. It just seems wrong. (Yes, I know that is just a weird quirk of mine and that I will eat my word sooner rather than later.) And I wanted to save some books until Violet was old enough to really love them — I was afraid that if she read the Little House books, for example, at age 4, she wouldn’t be able to enjoy them again as much at, say, age 7.
A conversation along these lines developed at Wickentree [link no longer available], in which I mentioned holding out on Harry Potter as well. (This was largely because Violet has always been quite easily scared and self-censors herself very carefully. We had to talk her into reading HP at first!
When Sarah asked about Hermione as a depiction of giftedness, I jotted down these scattered thoughts:
Violet likes to be Hermione, although she also likes to be Ginny, and in our Quidditch computer game she likes to be Cho Chang (a fellow Ravenclaw!). I think she sees herself in the bookworm-y aspect of Hermione, and probably identifies with the responses Hermione gets to her intelligence.
I have wondered about how positive the portrayal of the bookish girl is. There is a bit of the unkempt nerd stereotype (although that seems to go away more with every book), the teacher-pleaser stereotype, the workaholic stereotype. Violet is none of these – not a teacher pleaser, loves clothes, not one to take anything too seriously. Wouldn’t surprise me if as a teen she were more of a Fred/George type – good marks without much effort, extremely creative, and a troublemaker. (That is, if she were in school.)
I do wonder whether Hermione might give Violet or other kids the wrong idea – that this is how all “smart kids” act. Violet always seems on the lookout for cues for the right way to act to fit a particular part. Luckily she seems to enjoy trying on a variety of parts, so I look at this experimentation less as an attempt to conform and more as a way of understanding the world. Facial expressions, accents, different ways of showing emotion, different clothes—she’s very attuned to this stuff, not only in her drawing and writing, but just in going about her daily business. In the end my hope is that homeschool affords us a variety of experience with people, books, and ideas that will keep her from fixating on one “type” for too long.
As a kind of fictional “case study,” you can see in Hermione that tension between high performance and giftedness. She’s clearly a high performer, but that alone wouldn’t make her gifted. Is she really brilliant, or is it merely, as Hermione herself says in the first book, “Books, and cleverness”? She lacks the sense of humor you might see in gifted children. As one book on giftedness puts it, Hermione “answers questions,” but you could argue that she doesn’t often “question answers.”
If I had a complaint about Hermione as a role model, that would be it. But Hermione isn’t a real person—she lives in a fabulous fictional universe where her character serves a particular function in a larger whole. I think intuitive, big-picture types like Violet (and me) get this, even if they can’t articulate it. The “meaning” of Hermione is so deeply enmeshed in this sprawling series of characters, relationships, places, and events—I don’t think a reader like Violet would be inclined to hone in on an aspect of one character. It’s like a painting—you stand back to get the full effect rather than focus on one quadrant.
And goodness knows if anything would inspire Violet to be a bit more diligent in her work I would not complain!