"Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect."
Continuing the magical Harry Potter series is the fifth book, called Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Teenagers Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and their friends are entering their fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under an ominous cloud: the evil wizard Voldemort has been restored to his full power yet the magical government, the Ministry of Magic, flatly refuses to believe this is so or to do anything about it. Instead, they're slandering Harry, calling him a liar and a fraud, and worse yet they've installed a falsely-sweet teacher called Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts, and her level of cruelty is yet unparalleled in this series.
Complicating matters are Harry's dreams: he keeps seeing a door at the end of a dark hallway, a door that beckons to him. What does it mean? He wakes up, screaming in terror, and yet the dreams don't go away. It's not helping that Albus Dumbledore isn't talking to him, or that the fifth-years have to take the all-important O.W.L. exams at the end of the year. Harry's got a lot on his mind, and between the knowledge that Voldemort is back and the fact that no one who can do something about that believes him, Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts is shaping up to be his most difficult one yet.
Total words in Goblet of Fire: 190,637
Total words in Order of the Phoenix: 257,045
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (often abbreviated as OotP) is the longest book in the series, and consequently the longest book we've read aloud; no other Harry Potter story tops 200,000 words. You may notice that it only has one more chapter (37 vs 38) than the previous book, but also around 67,000 more words. This is because the chapters are longer still, many over twenty-five pages long, and with smaller font than the other books.
This is a book that demands to be read aloud in stages. The chapters are simply too long to read more than one of them in a single night, and oftentimes we would need to split chapters across multiple nights. Don't force yourself to read an entire chapter every night; your little ones might simply not have the patience for it.
There are a few characters introduced in this book that go on to have major impacts upon the story. I've tried to come up descriptions for the voices I used for them here.
As I have mentioned many times, the Harry Potter series gets darker with each successive book, and that's no different here. Though it is never explicitly stated, Harry behaves as though he has post-traumatic stress disorder, having witnessed Cedric Diggory's murder near the end of the prior book. He is constantly snapping at his friends, easily provoked, more easily persuaded into doing things he wouldn't normally. He YELLS IN ALL CAPS so it's easy to see when he's angry.
Possibly worse is the fact that he's also a teenager, prone to doing teenager things without thinking them through. He gets into a relationship with his crush Cho Chang, but given that Chang was previously dating Cedric things do not go smoothly. Due to Umbridge's tyrannical rule, he forms Dumbledore's Army, a group of students who practice Defense Against the Dark Arts in a practical manner, which was expressly forbidden.
The most visceral moment is courtesy of Umbridge. Harry frequently gets detention with her, and is forced to write the line "I must not tell lies" while a magic quill carves this same line into the back of his hand. He carries these scars for the rest of the books.
All of that pales in comparison to the climax of the book, so MAJOR SPOILERS follow this point. Due to Voldemort's meddling, Harry believes he has to rush off to London to save someone he loves. This causes Ron, Hermione, nervous wreck Neville Longbottom, Ron's sister Ginny, and out-there newcomer Luna Lovegood to tag along. In short, we find out in quick succession that a) the person Harry loves was never in any real danger in the first place, b) all of the students save Harry and Neville are incapacitated and come close to dying, and worse yet c) because Harry rushed off to save the person he loves that person ended up dying whilst trying to rescue Harry. Harry's PTSD, as you might imagine, does not get better after this.
The book is, in one word, rather oppressive for a "children's" book. If it is always darkest before the dawn, well, the dawn better come quickly. There are moments of light, and Harry's friends and allies do not waver in their belief of what Harry witnessed, but permeating this book is a central question: when the people in power refuse to acknowledge something terrible, can a mere student make a difference?
"We still have five minutes!"
I made a rule saying that we had to be done reading by 8:00PM no matter where we were in the book, mostly due to how long the chapters are. B, being a huge fan of this series, would respond with this whenever we finished a chapter and still had some time left over.
"What did I miss?"
Poor A. Due to conditions beyond his control, he kept falling asleep in the middle of read-aloud time. This was the first book where I implemented a new measure: if two kids fell asleep, at any time, we stopped reading no matter where we were. The remaining kid (often B, but sometimes K) would then get 15 minutes of reading to themselves in their room with a chosen book.
I also made a corresponding rule: any kid who falls asleep will be caught up by me personally before the start of the next chapter. This helped A quite a bit, since he was constantly worried he missed something important. With these rules in place, we were no longer bound to finish a chapter a night, which was good both for my kids and my voice (did I mention that the chapters are really long?)
"It was magic!"
This was K's response to the boys after they asked questions about why something happened or why someone did something, and was a perfect example of an answer that was a) completely correct and b) very, very annoying. I eventually had to ask her to stop responding with that statement every time the boys asked a question, and to her credit, she did.
I continue to be concerned about K's ability to grasp the events that are happening in this book. On the one hand, I don't want her to be so scared she won't finish the series, but on the other hand these books are just getting darker and they are, at this point, probably not appropriate for most five-year-olds any more. She'll be six soon, but still. I think I'll just have to leave it up to her, and I've already told her the most important thing I can: "Remember, sweetie, it's just a story."
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth of seven books in the series, is more adult, more tragic, and more awesome than any of the prior books. In spite of its length, it's a roaring adventure, a thrilling chapter in young Harry's story, and a powerful teaching tool for what can happen when everyone doesn't believe you. It's also dark, scary, and probably not appropriate for younger kids. It's a wonderful read-aloud book, thanks to Rowling's continually excellent prose, but honestly, read it to your kids when they are mature enough to understand the gravity of the story.
Recommended Age: 8 and up