Born at just shy of 24 weeks old and weighing in at a single pound, Juniper was quickly rushed to an incubator. Her parents, a shaky title at best, were unknowingly about to begin a terrifying chapter in their lives. It would months before Juniper’s condition stabilized, and years before long term complications could be ruled out. But when new dad Tom French decided to read to Juniper – who could in no way comprehend the words or meaning – Tom and wife, Kelley, found hope in the stabilizing beep of her monitor.
“Chapter 1: The boy who lived”
Images courtesy of Upworthy
When Tom began reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone to Juniper, Kelley was confused. She countered Harry Potter with Goodnight Moon and other inaugural reads, but Tom insisted. In retrospect, in an article written earlier this week for Upworthy, Kelley says she thinks her husband saw everything more clearly than she, that reading the Harry Potter books – collectively over 4,000 pages – was not only just a way to distract, cope, or connect with baby Juniper, it had thematic resonance. Harry, the boy who lived, the infant whose life was saved because his mother was as devout a sentient over his crib as any mother could be, is the story of Juniper. The books made their own story more real and more hopeful. It startled Juniper and her parents into their own unfolding adventure, one that would come with struggle and reward, much like Harry’s.
It was also a Welcome Home gesture:
In our family, the Harry Potter books are dog-eared and worn.
My husband wanted to initiate our daughter into our tribe. My stepsons, Nat and Sam, grew up reading the books criss-cross applesauce underneath restaurant tables. They played Quidditch on rollerblades and made wands out of chopsticks and string. On their 11th birthdays, they began checking the mailbox for their invitations to Hogwarts, clinging to the hope it could all be real. J.K. Rowling’s stories, along with the Springsteen canon, made up our shared mythology.
Kelley and Tom got to know their newborn through the monitor’s pings. She liked Hermione. She didn’t like the voice of Hagrid. When Tom read aloud all Juniper’s vitals increased.
Five years later, Juniper is a regular kindergartner. She loves Harry Potter. She looks up to Hermione just as much as her brothers hoped to get into Hogwarts. After hearing about her story J.K. Rowling did something special.
Upon opening the package, Juniper told her mother that J.K. Rowling loves her, “because she already knew it” says Kelley.
Kelley has been telling her story across various magazines and news outlets for the past five years, sharing updates at they come. For more on the girl who lived, check out Juniper’s story on the Tampa Bay Times and an incredible podcast from Radiolab.
You can also read more in Tom and Kelley’s book, Juniper.
Featured image courtesy of Babble.