For God’s sake buy your kids some other books

I’ve commented previously on my pronounced distaste for Harry Potter. Partly, I don’t like it because it’s bad.

Secondly, I don’t like it because all Harry Potter fans seem to read is Harry Potter. The numbers for which prejudice are now coming in:

Potter Has Limited Effect on Reading Habits

Of all the magical powers wielded by Harry Potter, perhaps none has cast a stronger spell than his supposed ability to transform the reading habits of young people. In what has become near mythology about the wildly popular series by J. K. Rowling, many parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers have credited it with inspiring a generation of kids to read for pleasure in a world dominated by instant messaging and music downloads.

And so it has, for many children. But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.

In his original editorial (this is a cached version – for some reason all links I try to follow to criticism of Harry Potter by Harold Bloom fail), Bloom commented,

…a host are reading it who simply will not read superior fare, such as Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows” or the “Alice” books of Lewis Carroll. Is it better that they read Rowling than not read at all? Will they advance from Rowling to more difficult pleasures?

His review was scathing, and the response to it moreso. In a much-later interview, Bloom said,

I wrote the piece, and it was published. It is not an exaggeration to say that all hell indeed broke loose. The editor called me ten days later and said, “Harold, we’ve never seen anything like this before. We have received over four hundred letters denouncing your piece on Harry Potter. We’ve received one favorable letter, but we think you must have written it.” I said, “No, I assure you.”

It never stopped. The damn piece was reprinted all over the world, in all languages. I will never hear the end of it. But of course, the Harry Potter series is rubbish. Like all rubbish, it will eventually be rubbed down. Time will obliterate it. What can one say?

If your kid is reading Harry Potter, they’re probably enjoying it because it barely challenges them more than the films. Much as I’d like to suggest you give them nothing but the basis-story, Tom Brown’s School Days, Kenneth Graeme, Lewis Carrol or CS Lewis, or for older readers Isaac Asimov and JRR Tolkein, it probably won’t work.

Buy your child a single copy of any book from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchet. It isn’t much more challenging than Harry Potter, will be a good deal shorter, and just might open them up to the rest of Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare is another good bet, for another direction.

My wife will call me every synonym for ‘snob’ that she can muster, I’m sure. But at least I’m unapologetic about it.


1 comment so far

  1. gninja on

    Probably not, dear. You know I’m with you on the matter of Harry Potter. My suggestion for the kids? Madeleine L’Engel’s work– A Wrinkle in Time is a great, great book. Also, anything by George Orwell. Even though I didn’t get the Russian Revolution allegory, I still loved Animal Farm when I was 10 or so. It got even better the second and third times I read it.

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