I’ve always felt like somewhat of a parental loser for not volunteering to read the Harry Potter books aloud to our children. I was kind of spoiled by the fact that our oldest daughter is a book-reading machine and she happily plowed through each Potter volume herself. Wizardry and fantasy were never my things, unless the fantasy involved the drafting of mythical sports teams, so I happily left Maddie to navigate Hogwarts on her own.
In anticipation of this week's release of the final Potter book, there's been a debate about whether the popularity of the series has inspired children to read more books in general. In my own unscientific survey of my family, I would say the answer is no. Our daughter The Reader has enjoyed each Potter book. Our younger daughter, The Rebel Without a Bookmark, has steered clear, as she tries to do of much printed material that she feels she is expected to read.
In a Washington Post article last weekend, book critic Ron Charles confesses that he and his 10-year-old daughter happily gave up their ritual reading together of the Potter books.
“Although we'd had some good times at Hogwarts, deep down we weren't wild about Harry, and the freedom of finally confessing this secret to each other made us feel like co-conspirators,” Charles wrote.
By the numbers
A New York Times article questions the assumption that the staggering sales figures for Potter books translate into a wider interest in reading among children, particularly as they grow into adolescence.
Said the Times: “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.”
Hard-wired for nonfiction
I confess that I read novels at a glacial pace. (Will climate change make “glacial pace” a moot phrase?) I’m currently chipping away at Richard Ford’s “The Lay of the Land,” hoping to finish it before the new Peace Bridge is built.
I’ve always felt like I’m hard-wired to prefer nonfiction. My mom refers to that as “reading for information rather than reading for pleasure,” but for some of us, reading for information IS a source of pleasure.
To those who believe in the sanctity of fiction, one educator ventured an opinion in the Times that verges on blasphemy. He said parents and educators may place too much importance on fiction reading.
“If you look at what most people need to read for their occupation, it’s zero narrative,” said Michael L. Kamil, a professor of education at Stanford University, told the Times. “I don’t want to deny that you should be reading stories and literature. But we’ve overemphasized it,” he said. Instead, children need to learn to read for information, he said.