World Read Aloud Day 2018: Join us for 24 hours of magical belonging!

When we first meet Harry Potter, he lives in a small space under the Dursleys’ stairs, lonely and afraid that what his cousin says about him is true: he will never fit in. Yet destiny soon bursts into his life in the form of a half-giant named Hagrid to correct that assumption. Harry belongs to a whole new world; he’s a wizard, and in Diagon Alley, his infamous scar is no longer ugly, but miraculous. On the Hogwarts Express, his compartment is small, but it holds true friends. Harry escapes the Dursleys, and finds places and people with whom he belongs. These early moments in the Harry Potter series are so memorable and special for all of us because we too feel we are being invited into a world where all of us, with scars and all, can not only belong, but soar together. Books and stories are miraculous too, because they create worlds of invitation.

In 2010, my organization LitWorld created a holiday called World Read Aloud Day to give every single person in the world a way to feel a sense of belonging to stories, books and reading together. Since that first celebration, “WRAD” has grown to include millions of people, in countries across the world.

With all that magic, it is this year, 2018 that is perhaps the most magical time ever for World Read Aloud Day. On February 1st, we will become a worldwide 24-hour experience by teaming up with Harry Potter Book Night! Harry Potter Book Night is an annual celebration that is all about passing on the magic of J.K. Rowling’s books to the next generation of readers, as well as celebrating with devoted fans.

One of LitWorld’s powerful 7 Strengths for reading is “Belonging.” Our children hunger to belong to the world around them. We have seen how the power of the read-aloud—and the joy that it brings to every child—generates a powerful feeling of belonging for all who join with us on this special day. For all the children around the world, and for adults too, the read-aloud is a profound and often instant relationship between story, listener and reader. It is a way of showing we care about one another and that we are welcoming one another into the sense of belonging that stories bring to us.

There are three key ways the read-aloud helps us all to find a sense of belonging, and in these three ways we can celebrate 24 hours of the power of the read-aloud:

1. Understanding Ourselves

By reading aloud and together, we can talk together, brainstorm together, and ponder who we are in the reading experience. We can find our own self in courageous Harry, generous Hagrid, and fierce Ginny. We can find out how we can become more like Hermione, or a bit less like Snape! We ask each other what our sorting hats would tell us, and which House we’d be placed in if we were lucky enough to be enrolled at Hogwarts. We wonder what our own owl would look like and which wand would be selected for us. We find ourselves by reading, we find the selves we want to become by reading together, and we find new ways of thinking about ourselves by hearing a read-aloud and talking with someone else about that story. Reading is a self-discovery and the read-aloud makes that discovery visible.

2. Connecting to Others

Stories teach us about empathy and interactions with others. The characters in the Harry Potter series are not always perfect; they are as flawed as we are, and some, like the Dursleys, are far worse! But also what we learn—from Harry and Hermione’s relationship, from Harry and Ron, and from Dumbledore and his students—is that relationships transcend age, perspective and time and that relationships matter; in fact, friendship and kindness sustain us and make us live in a deeper and more joyful way.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that by identifying with Harry, participants’ attitudes towards real-world stigmatized groups improved, as they took on the perspective of someone who tried to understand and stand up for others. Harry's empathetic approach translated into their own. In the classroom and at home, we can use the metaphors offered by the stories we read to have conversations with our children and our students about equity, about justice, about power and also lack of power, about all the big ideas in the world today that both distance us from others and connect us more fully. By reading aloud, we share a text. And by sharing a text, we become closer to one another. The text gives us a way forward: a way to have a conversation. And taking steps towards each other, to find each other’s humanity, is key to building peace and to creating a world in which all children feel safe and a sense of belonging.

3. Creating a Worldwide Community

The voice of the reader draws children in close. It is an invitation to join in. At Hogwarts, all the wizards-in-training come together around long tables to share meals together. There is a strong sense of belonging in an invitation to gather and share a meal, a conversation, a read-aloud.

On World Read Aloud Day and Harry Potter Book Night on February 1st, from morning to night, in every time zone, as the day dawns on WRAD and ends on Harry Potter Book Night, we are putting forth an invitation to you: we invite people of all ages to join in a feast of words and stories together.

The art of reading aloud is one of the world’s most ancient tools we have to strengthen our community, and to build new ones. On this, a 24 hours to celebrate the profound magic of being called together by a read-aloud: World Read Aloud Day and Harry Potter Book Night ask us to belong. And they ask us to help others belong. With our voices raised together, and our stories fueling our connections to one another, we can create a worldwide community of acceptance, love and peace.

In the words of the wise Dumbledore, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.”

Choose to celebrate 24 hours of transcendent joy and hope with us. Be with us on February 1st.