Teaching Characterization Through Harry Potter Trading Cards

Project: Grace is making a set (10-20 characters) of trading cards for each Harry Potter book. Some characters will show up in each set and some will only be in one (showing dynamic vs. static characters). The design that Grace decided on is: one side with a drawing of a scene that best represents the character along with a caption and the other side with the name, house, year and a short paragraph describing the character. The cards are each cut to fit into a plastic page that holds trading cards in binders.

At some point I expect Grace to realize that the thought that goes into creating a good trading card is similar to the thought that goes into making good characters (ones that are enjoyable to read). But what does make a character enjoyable to read in literature? Orson Scott Card says at the end of Ender’s Game that one can’t help but love someone that they truly understand. I think this truth to it. Even a bully is hard to despise if you truly understand why they are the way they are. So how do you get someone to truly understand a character? One of the most common pieces of advice in writing is: show don’t tell. This isn’t all the information on how to make a good character but it is a lot to work with and more than deep enough for a fifth grade lesson.

Cover Art For Harry Potter #1

In order to attempt to convey who a character truly is Grace is picking the scene that best shows a given character and writing a short paragraph describing him/her. Our first discussion was what scene to draw for Harry in book 1. I was proud and relieved when Grace chose to show Harry in front of the mirror of Erised. I agree that the most important part of Harry’s character in book 1 is that he desperately longs for his parents and he has a tendency to go on adventures when he isn’t supposed to.

As usual, the difficulty I have found in leading this project is to get Grace to sit down and think about each card. Her default setting is to pump out work as fast as she can which often produces results like her book 3 card that shows Lupin as a werewolf. To her credit, the first thing that people remember about Lupin is his affliction but it is definitely not the most important part of his character. We don’t enjoy reading about him because he is a werewolf and he is a favorite character long before this is revealed. In fact, it is an important point that James, Sirius, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore like him despite the fact that he is a werewolf. So why do we like Lupin? I’d argue that it is because Lupin cares for Harry while we have sympathy for him and there we feel a latent connection. I’d argue that the best scene for Lupin is him teaching Harry how to perform a patronus.

Readers also enjoy seeing characters grow and change. This is shown through the cards by  comparing the scenes for a given character from book to book. Grace’s card for book two has little to do with his parents because they are not discussed as much. It is important to give reasons for change so I asked Grace what would cause Harry to not desperately miss his parents in book two. After some pushing she came to the answer that Harry finally made some friends who fill part of the hole. I told Grace that while editing she should try to give her character arcs meaning.

My Goodreads profile shows that I’ve read over 100 fantasy/scifi books and I have a minor in English but I definitely don’t know everything. Do you have a different scene in mind for Harry in book 1? What scenes would you choose for your favorite characters?

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2 Responses to Teaching Characterization Through Harry Potter Trading Cards

  1. Jeyna Grace says:

    Thats an interesting way to teach characterization!

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