Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reading Harry Potter Is Not Causing Kids to be Readers

I've lambasted the Harry Potter books in the past. I've been upset at their unavailability to small booksellers and that the large chain stores have been able to play games with their distribution. (I don't even try to get these books for the release date.) I've also criticized the Harry Potter books for having characters that are shadows of other, more famous and better developed, ones from other books. But I at least hoped that it was causing some kids to become readers, even a little bit. Now it seems that this hope has been dashed across the rocks.

From a New York Times article by Motoko Rich:
"Potter Has Limited Effect on Reading Habits" —

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of federal tests administered every few years to a sample of students in grades 4, 8 and 12, the percentage of kids who said they read for fun almost every day dropped from 43 percent in fourth grade to 19 percent in eighth grade in 1998, the year “Sorcerer’s Stone” was published in the United States. In 2005, when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth book, was published, the results were identical.

If kids (now young adults) are not being pointed to what to read next, then I put the blame on educators and the parents. If a kid is found sinking their teeth into Harry Potter, the transition to other titles should be easy for teachers and parents to find. There are a multitude of worlds for a kid to get lost in, Harry Potter is just the beginning and should cause kids to be life long readers. I know that I got lost on Middle-earth and never wanted to leave. The next books to read are obvious: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; The Two Towers; and The Return of the King, then Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Then maybe some Jane Austen, then the Brontes, then move on to Sounder, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and then on and on ...

There are so many places to go in books, so many other stories, other times, and other people to meet. Is there a lack of imagination in teachers and parents to point these budding young readers in the right direction, or are Wiis and iPods just that more compelling? I wish I knew.


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