"You know, Dad, someone should just write a dictionary of all the hard words in Harry Potter," said Julia Randall. And just like that, father and daughter had a new project — and a fresh approach to both connecting over reading and learning new vocabulary words.
Two years later, Eric Randall, who works as an editor for the New York State School Board Association, published The Pottersaurus: 1500 Words that Harry Potter Readers Need to Know. In it, he identifies and defines the advanced words found in the series — not magical ones, but real English terms including marauder, malady, barmy, and codger. We asked Randall to tell us about his project and its success.
Scholastic.com Parents: What first prompted you to begin this project?
Eric Randall: While reading the books with Julia, who was 7 at the time, I would find myself stopping as I read and asking her if she knew what certain words meant. J. K. Rowling uses a lot of advanced words in her books. Eventually Julia suggested creating a dictionary. For two years we spent 20 minutes each day underlining words, defining them, and adding examples from the books.
SP: What kind of obstacles did you face as you worked?
Randall: Finding age-appropriate ways to define certain words was a challenge at times because the Harry Potter audience ranges from young kids to adults. So words like scarlet,as in "the scarlet woman," were a little tricky. The task of finding examples of each word from the book was a lot of work too. I didn't just want to use the first example I found. I wanted it to really relate to the plot or be one of the funnier instances in the book.
SP: What is your main goal for The Pottersaurus?
Randall: Kids, and all Harry Potter readers, pride themselves on knowing every nuance of the plot. They think they know every twist and turn, but if they don't know all the words, they've actually missed part of the story. The Pottersaurus serves as both a dictionary and a concordance (a collection of the most important terms in a book). Most concordances are for the Bible, but now Harry Potter has one!
My suspicion was that a lot of Harry Potter readers are natural word-lovers, so I wanted to encourage that. If they end up learning some SAT words too, that's great! Mainly I want them to become more conscious of the importance of not skipping over words. Good readers read with dictionaries and notes. They make a guess at what the words mean, but then check it with a reference.
SP: How has this project affected your relationship with your daughter?
Randall: This was definitely a joint effort. My daughter has gotten a kick out of this and it has been a source of pride for us.
SP: Do you have any tips for other parents reading aloud with kids?
Randall: It's hard to decide how frequently you should interrupt your reading or your child's to define words. It depends on the kids. You want them to read for pleasure, so if defining hinders them, then don't do it! You don't want to be counterproductive. I would encourage parents to use their judgment, and let your child tell you when he doesn't know a word.