Internal Images and Popular Images

I found myself at a curious decision point with my daughter’s upbringing yesterday. It might seem like a small thing to be concerned with, and I don’t mean to make it into a bigger decision that it actually was, but I do think it’s an important one because there are probably many ways to consider the situation – I’d be interested in any educators’ opinions out there – here’s the synopsis:

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter. We started this summer, finished book #1 about a month ago and now we’re about half-way into book #2. My daughter is turning 6 next month, and these are the first novel-style books that she has engaged with, and the first books for her that have no illustrations.

When we first started reading I was prepared to cut-bait on them if she wasn’t interested, or couldn’t keep up comprehensively (we’re reading them in English, which isn’t her first language). She was fine, and actually loved the stories from the start, peppering me with question after question which I dutifully answered. Especially at first, many of her questions were about what the characters look like, expressing some frustration about not being able to picture Hagrid or Harry in her head because she didn’t know what she should picture.

This was exactly what I was hoping for, to try to develop her independent thinking and creativity, and it was one of the reasons I decided to start reading the books with her. I walked through this process a bit, and we talked in some detail about “creating images of the character in your head”.  I returned many of her questions about this with questions of my own: “What do you think Hagrid looks like?” “How tall do you want Harry to be?” “How long do you think Harry’s hair should be?” – always, I was sure to mention something like “You’re in charge of your own mind. You can choose what these characters look like in your own head.” She got the hang of it, it was great.

So, along come the Harry Potter movies.

It was a significant decision, I feel, about when to start watching the movies with her. I know that once we watched them, those images that she created in her mind would be forever replaced with the movie interpretations of the Harry, Ron and Hermonie characters.

I was ok with this, for several reasons. One reason being that we exist in a world with both individual interpretation AND mass culture – and, in this world, we all experience each at different times. It is worthwhile to participate in both types of information creation, the matter falls on how to balance the participation. Another reason was that she had already gone through the process of forming these images in her head, which was my main purpose – not the clinging to her created images. And another reason was that conceptually, she was missing out on a lot of the story. Because of her age and her limited vocabulary, there was much she couldn’t understand in the book, and I think having more images to associate with the language will now actually help to improve her conceptual abilities and her language abilities (perhaps at the expense of her creative thinking some…but, learning is always a balance).

So, yeah, yesterday evening we watched the first movie. It was fun and she enjoyed it greatly. There were many points where I could see the light bulb flash in her mind. I only wonder about the timing of it. Would it have been better to wait for a few more books? Or, until the end of the series?


6 thoughts on “Internal Images and Popular Images

  1. I think having a parallel experience (book and movie) enhances your daughter’s ability to engage with the book itself – even more so considering the fact that English is her second language.

    Besides, I don’t think it is such a bad idea to actually “see” the characters through someone else’s lenses (in this case, the movie director) – it definitely enriches one’s view.


    • ‘Parallel experience’ is a great phrase, I can use this here…and probably often in other situations.

      And, yes, I don’t think seeing characters through other lens is bad, I do think that staggering the exposure (from books or movies) is important at her age, at least sometimes.


  2. I agree, movies can really help us visualize characters and setting…however, they do tend to loose plot and depth which I find valuable for discussion. I guess it’s a matter of balance.



    • I had actually never read the books before. I thought the movies were good (and they are well done) but I’m finding them different in many ways from the books, which as usual, are quite a bit better. Although, in some ways the books do gloss over much of the emotion involved in the story.


      • The books are great! I think you will like them more and more as you keep reading. The earlier books (1 through 3 in my opinion) are meant for younger children. They do “gloss over” more of the emotion in the story. However, as you get into book 4, and especially 5, there is a lot more for Harry to deal with, a lot more depth, and an enormous amount of discussion that can come out of the story and characters.

        After all these books, and the topics of discussion within them, are the subject of my own blog. I think a lot of people can really relate to the characters and events. It’s a truly amazing story.



  3. I had this discussion with some colleageus round a dinner table recently. Some had only watched the films and not read the books, some had only read the books but not seen the films, some both and some neither! There are so many things that could influence your daughter’s response and what influences her. I wonder if it will ultimately depend on whether she is more a ‘words/text’ person than a ‘visual/image/sound’ person, or the other way round, i.e. which is her natural preference.


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