“Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables. … These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. …
“Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars … It was hard to believe there was a ceiling at all, and that the Great Hall didn’t simply open on to the heavens.” – “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
It’s like this, Pilgrim. For Gina Armfield’s third-graders at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary, Thanksgiving came a week early. ‘Twas ne’er a more fanciful feast than Friday’s celebration of the first Harry Potter book, which chronicles the boy’s ascent from a drab, unloved existence to challenge and triumph in the realm of wizardry.
With the magic of parents Christel Shaw, Nancye Franzoni, Tammy Gainer and Laura Rosenthal, Armfield transformed her classroom into the scene of the seventh chapter, “The Sorting Hat.”
Beneath a handmade canopy of the night sky, ivory tapers wrapped in gilded stars dangled over lavishly dressed tabletops. Stately banners announced the four houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry-Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.
Dressed as their favorite Potter characters, children were greeted outside by a portrait of the Fat Lady and by their teacher, magnificently costumed as headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Prompted by her clue, kids whispered a secret password to gain entry into the Great Hall.
Armfield conducted the sorting ceremony, assigning each student to one of four groups. The kids crafted magic wands and whet their appetites with home-baked scones and Devonshire cream before playing Harry Potter Bingo.
Then came a quiz of Seven Magical Questions, with a Beanie dragon awaiting each child who answered all correctly. The sport continued with Harry Potter Word Search, where teams of three competed for prizes.
Shaw conjured up a proper English luncheon of bangers and mash, Cornish pasties and Treacle pudding. The most elaborate and authentic of party favors followed.
There were coins of Gringott’s bank — golden galleons, sickles and knuts in rich chocolate. And a goodly portion of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans: “When they say every flavor, they mean every flavor.” Lastly, Milificent’s chocolate frogs accompanied a quartet of wizard trading cards on parchment. Armfield molded the frogs, created the cards and assembled more than 60 treat bags.
The Malibu mom began reading J.K. Rowling’s first novel aloud last semester. “I’d turn out the lights, put on my green banker’s lamp and my fake English accent,” said Armfield. “When it was time for P.E., some of the boys would beg, ‘Please, keep reading!’ If boys are willing to miss P.E. to hear a story, then you know you have them.”
She’s got them, all right. Armfield rounded up present and former students to attend the Westlake stop on the national book-signing tour. Along with nearly 1,000 fans, she spent five hours in line on Oct. 17 to meet Rowling, a former teacher.
Further to the Potter phenomenon, she urged, “Regardless of how old kids are, parents should read to their children. Show them how to use inflection and emotion, and where to pause and the kids will emulate it.”
In just two years at the Point Dume campus, and without benefit of broomstick, Armfield clearly has cast a spell on students. “I have a great time,” she said. “I figure if it’s fun for me to teach it, then it’s fun for them to learn.”