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Harry Potter and the Magic Reading Wand

You probably couldn’t miss the business reports of the Harry Potter sales that dominated headlines yesterday. The first run printing was 12 million copies and a reported 8.3 million sold in the first 24 hours according to figures in USA Today.

When I look at the Potter mania, partly induced by the media, partly induced by the publishers, but most induced by the millions of fans anxious to read the books, I sigh with regret. Not because I hate Potter mania, but because I wonder if there will be something like that around for my daughter to experience. It struck me how influential these books were when I read about the girls and boys who started reading at the age of 12 and now they are adults but their whole life was marked by reading a Harry Potter book almost every year of their childhood.

There was no series where I hotly anticipated the release of a book every summer. There was no book mania in my childhood, other than my own self created one. In 2004, NEA released a Reading at Risk study which cited that in the years from 1982 to 2002, there was “an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers … representing a loss of 20 million potential readers.” In 2008, NEA and the US Census Bureau plan to redo the study with results to come in 2009. Some anectodal evidence from Scholastic, the US publisher of the series, points to a recapturing of readers. Scholastic claims that “More than 50 percent of Harry Potter readers ages 5-17 say that they didn't read for fun before HP, and 65 percent say they have been doing better in school since starting to read the series.”

The local bookstores had parties for the children to come in their pajamas. There was readings, giveaways and Potter inspired games. Barnes and Noble and Borders reported that over 1.8 million people came into the bookstores on Friday and Saturday There will be readings and giveaways and Potter inspired games. The children were allowed to run amok in the store and the parents gladly opened their wallets to purchase all sorts of book related paraphernalia.

Potter mania didn’t exist when I was a child. There were no late nights at the local bookstore and beyond the occasional reading, it was mostly “don’t touch this” “don’t touch that.” My chain bookstore, the one where I buy books when I am not buying ebooks, has a train table and stuffed animals and low seating areas conducive to child sized bodies, but still that is not entirely the same as the festival that took place this last weekend.

img_8838.jpgI want that experience for my child. I want the bookstore to be the most fun place that she could possibly think of going. I want my child to always want to know where the nearest bookstore is whenever she travels. I want there to be some kind of Potter mania for my child to last her throughout her childhood.

For all its faults, Harry Potter introduced an entire generation of children to the wonders of reading, the ramifications that will be felt years from now. I can only hope that there will be something akin to Harry Potter and his Magical Reading Wand when my child grows older.

Next week: RWA Giveaways and the Announcement of the RITA Reader winner.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

24 Comments

  1. Laura Vivanco
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 05:05:45

    We rarely visited the bookshops, but we went to the library at least once a week, and there you could touch all the books as much as you wanted. I’m still much more interested in libraries than bookshops (and when I buy books I’m getting quite a lot of them online).

    I don’t like to start a series without being able to read all the books in one go (and having a fair idea of whether the ending is happy or not) so I don’t think I missed anything by not having the Harry Potter books during my childhood, and I don’t think my child will miss out on much either. The positive side of this is that if he likes the first HP book he won’t have to wait for years before he can read the sequels.

  2. Angela
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 05:16:20

    I was going to cite the excitement a new Baby-Sitters Club or Goosebumps release set off when I was a child, but I remembered that Harry Potter is on a whole ‘nother level. Not only has the series has crossed all socio-economic and racial lines, but it appeals to both adults and children. (It’s been shown that if a parent reads, a child is more likely to read.)

    The downside to Pottermania is that it didn’t break the prevailing stigma that reading is for “wallflowers”–it just made Harry Potter an acceptable set of books to read because one didn’t want to be left out of the talk at the water cooler. I do believe the media fuels this because despite the mega-success of John Grisham or Stephen King, among others, the last work of fiction that made reading an “acceptable” pastime was The Da Vinci Code. And once again, when the hoopla over that book died down, non-readers went back to their iPods and Sidekicks.

  3. jaq
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 06:18:28

    While I can’t remember being excited about one single book series growing up, reading was fun and something to look forward and one of my favourite places was the library, both the one at school and in the neighbourhood.

    There was reading hour in class and one day per week we went downstairs to the in-school library where the librarian usually had something fun to do and we got to pick out our books. There were school trips to the neighbourhood library where there was usually a reading or a movie or a puppet show. There were games there (chess, checkers, battleship, etc) and a nice big fire place, and interesting places and nooks to sit. The librarians made it fun.

    No, we weren’t allow to run to around or laugh to loud, but still, you find me and my friends hanging out at the library just as easily as you’d find us playing ball hockey or hide and seek on our street, or at the park playground. And it was rare that we left the library without a book each. There were still puppet shows, or puppet making, or readings, or whatever happening on the weekends at the libraries.

    Now TV, video games, gameboys, ipods ect have taken the place of alot of those actitives. And a lot of libraries seem to be shutting down or not able to supply a lot of the services I (we) had as kids. The only reason I start stalking the bookstores in my late twenties, is because I was racking up late charges at the library like nobodies business and I decided I might as well own the books and read at my leisure. I still have great love for libraries.

  4. Tara Marie
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 06:49:46

    Bookstores and libraries are both doing a good job being more child friendly. Our local chain stores have wonderful children sections with daily storytimes and project days. The small library in our home town has incredible children programs starting with Mommy and Me groups going up to Scrabble and Chess nights for older kids and teens.

    They’re doing their part in making books exciting, but it still falls to parent to get children involved. The love of books and reading inevitably starts at home with parent that not only promote reading but live by example.

    Harry may be finished, but it certainly wont be forgotten, these books will live forever. We can only hope that an author is now writing the next great reading phenomenon.

  5. Shiloh Walker
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 07:24:15

    My kids love reading. The five year old is just getting to where he can read simple books on his own but the bratlet is reading two to three years above grade level. I see the excitement on her face when she sees a Magic Tree House book or a new book on Pompeii (she’s fascinated by Pompeii)

    I don’t read HP~neither does she, but she does have a love of books. I was a total book junkie at her age…maybe it’s genetic. ;)

  6. Laura Florand
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 07:36:56

    I don’t know if there will ever be another phenomenon like this. The most recent comparison our local bookseller could find was to Charles Dickens, when people crowded the docks when ships came in from England to find out what had happened to Little Nell.

    But I hope there will be another one. And certainly many authors and publishers are working hard and hoping, too!

    But even though we didn’t have Harry Potter when I was little, we did have what to me was the passionate pleasure of the library. I did a signing at my local library, and in the introduction the head librarian (who knew me when I was a child) talked about how that image was imprinted on all the librarians’ memories: my sister and I when we were little, arriving at the desk to check out, with stacks of books rising higher than our heads.

    So…Harry Potter or not, here’s hoping plenty of kids still find books to change their worlds.

  7. Jackie
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 08:02:33

    I agree with Laura; I’m pretty sure this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I’m tickled by it. I’m not sorry my kids (probably) won’t experience anything like it, because we don’t need something like this to still enjoy reading, to be excited by books and stories and imagination, to be whisked away to a different place and talk with friends about this great book I just read.

    When I was a teen, I first read Lord of the Rings. It was about 9:30 on a school night, and I finished the second part, The Two Towers. And I freaked out when the book ended and begged my mom to drive me to the mall so I could buy the next book because I had to, had to, HAD TO know what happened next. This was way before Harry.

    I do hope that readers who waded through the world of Harry will stick around. There are tons of marvelous books out there, waiting to be rediscovered. And new ones are getting published every week.

  8. Rosie
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 08:22:57

    I can understand your bit of melancholia that it is unlikely your daughter will experience anything akin to the phenomena of all things HP. You realize it’s a monumental historical event and so close in time to her becoming a reader herself that it’s difficult not to want her to have been able to experience it.

    My boys fall into the age group you are talking about. My 20-year old’s reading life has been marked forever by HP. In fact we were discussing it after he finished book 7.

    While the incredible impact of Harry is not likely to be repeated any time soon you were also right when you said its affects will be felt for a long time. I agree with what others have said. With your love of reading your daughter is likely to be a reader as well. Both of my boys are. They’ve been going to the library and bookstore their whole lives. They are professional book browsers now from all the times they’ve been to the library and bookstore with me.

    We always find UBS and bookstore when we travel. They think it’s a normal part of taking a trip. Not all my sons’ friends are readers but they have gravitated to other kids who share their interests, so will your daughter…and she has you.

  9. Jana J. Hanson
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 08:49:22

    Growing up without Pottermania didn’t hurt my desire to read. My mother took us on weekly trips to the library, and, man, what a treat! That rush of excitement — all those books!! It’s a feel that hasn’t diminished in 25 years!!

    My son (who’s almost 3) is just starting to be interested in books. I’ve been buying books for him since pre-birth, but his preferences are definitely showing through.

  10. KrisEton
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 09:05:41

    There was no such thing about ‘hype’ concerning children’s books when I was a kid. I don’t remember going to any bookstores at all as a child, beyond the Waldenbooks in the mall. Of course, my time was way, way before any of these huge bookstores like B&N or Borders. The kids’ section was a miniscule place in the back of the store with maybe one little shelf that had board books, Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, and Judy Blume.

    All of my book experience really came from the public library. And I would just randomly look through the shelves for things I thought would interest me. I was big time into books about magic and talking animals. Anyone remember Ruth Chew? She was one of my faves. The Half-Magic series was delightful. When I got to be about 8 or 9, I started to even read some adult things like “The Hobbit.” Because there just weren’t enough books I could find in the genre I liked.

    Oh, if I were a child today, what a lovely time I would have! So many great series to choose from, and most of them about magic and alterna-worlds. Lucky, lucky children.

  11. Emily
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 09:08:23

    I don’t think mobs are necessary to get that excitement. I was pretty excited to get my hands on new books by my favorite authors without the store holding colstumed events… I even wonder if motivating reading with all this hoopla impairs the development of reading for its own sake?

  12. Jessica Inclan
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 09:27:39

    I am halfway done with The Deathly Hallows, and I was thinking something similar yesterday–but for myself. When will I get another book where I turn my life off to read it? I rarely hotly await publication of a book. Not to say I’m not excited when another Barbara Kingsolver comes out. I loved Philip Pullman’s books (His Dark Materials), and when I found them, I devored them all. But I don’t think about the pub date of things that often, knowing I can get it whenever, and that I will read it eventually.

    My mother was a librarian, and when I was waiting for her to be done working, I would find books. When I came across a writer I loved (I remember finding Mary Stewart), I would feel that sense of needing to read them all. I would be in a mania and joy until her books were gone, and I’d go on to another one.

    So without Harry, we have to manufacture our own excitement for stories. I don’t think my need to read Harry is that much different than my Mary Stewart or Alice Hoffman or Anne Tyler gorges, except it is culturally supported.

    If you read to your daughter and go to bookstores with your daughter- and go to the library with her-if you support her desire to read and maybe to write, you can do for her what Harry might have done for other children. My kids didn’t do Harry (22, 20), and both read prodigiously, one is a writer. There are family ways to develop the love of literature.

    Jessica Inclan

  13. RfP
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 09:46:37

    I don’t think Potter-sized hype is necessary to give kids that sense of excitement about books. The library was my favorite place as a child. I was so excited I could hardly contain it when we went to borrow or buy a book. I don’t think I read any “new” authors, never had to wait a year for the next book to come out, but it was still exciting.

    OTOH, my family had its own little hype machine–my parents read whatever I read, and we read aloud because we all enjoyed it. Not all kids have that, so maybe the external hype does some good.

  14. LinM
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 09:56:49

    My daughter is the right age for Potter mania and we’ve anticipated and read the books, met friends at the midnight releases, and gone to the movies. But my nostalgic memories are all of the public library – the picture book that she fell in love with at age three which we checked out again and again and again and again – the puppet theatre in the kids section – the years that she wouldn’t read fiction and we came home with books on science experiments, cook books, teddy bear patterns and crafts. Harry Potter is OK but libraries are magic.

  15. Wendy
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 10:21:40

    I want that experience for my child. I want the bookstore to be the most fun place that she could possibly think of going.

    She probably will feel that way Jane, because you’re her mother. While I adore Harry, and the excitement surrounding him, something akin to Potter-mania is not necessary to instill a love of reading in children. It falls on the parent. Even though my mother was extremely overworked (full time job, 3 kids, caring for an aging parent), we made trips to the library when I was a kid. And once I got old enough? I was allowed to ride my bike to the library and check out books (any books!) for myself. Once I had disposable income? The sheer bliss of being able to “own” my own collection of books.

    If parents make reading a priority, so will their children.

  16. Jorrie Spencer
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 10:23:27

    I think the HP phenomenon has been unique and positive. My kids hit it at pretty much the right age, though my son was too young for the first three books. I’m rather hoping that there will be a new series in the coming years that can hold this kind of sway. I know some people get fed up with HP, but I love the idea of books drawing this much attention, and I love the idea of everyone sitting down to read it at once on that Saturday. (My daughter and her friend had sleepover and read.)

    But, maybe, hopefully, a new series can succeed, now that they’ve seen what HP can do?

    At least once your daughter is the right age, she can zip through the books and that will a fun, intense read-‘if she enjoys them, of course!

  17. Jane
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 10:48:23

    Harry Potter is OK but libraries are magic.

    Like Wendy, there is some type of bliss in owning my own collection of books. Even as a child, I loved that. I remember I would re-arrange them. Sometimes I would order them by size. Sometimes by color but mostly by author. I even loved the dewey decimal system. God, I was such a geek.

  18. jaq
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 10:56:07

    Very good points regarding parents passing on their love for reading to their kids. For myself, being raised as an only child left me to my own devices many times and ultimately led to my love of reading. Fast forward many years… my son is dyslexic and reading has been a struggle for him from day one. He HATED reading. Hated. It. ::clutches heart:: He’s nineteen and never read a single Harry Potter Book. But he didn’t mind being read to, or told stories.

    Eventually when he was around 10yrs I turned him on to comic books (which I used to collect into my mid-teens) as a way of making reading not such a chore. He’s now an avid collector of comic books and graphic novels himself, has amazing storytelling skills and a strong interest in screenwriting. We now joke about starting a mother/son literary dynasty and collaborating on something one day.

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Jane. All you have to do is pass your love of books onto her, she’ll make her own excitement and share it with you. :-)

  19. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 11:16:53

    It's been shown that if a parent reads, a child is more likely to read

    &

    but it still falls to parent to get children involved. The love of books and reading inevitably starts at home with parent that not only promote reading but live by example

    This is pretty much the bottom line. Fostering a love for reading, and making it a valid way to spend one's time is vital. And this doesn't mean that you can't own a TV, or that video games must be banned. It just means that books have to be available, and they have to be presented as worthy.

    my son is dyslexic and reading has been a struggle for him from day one. He HATED reading. Hated. It. ::clutches heart:: He's nineteen and never read a single Harry Potter Book. But he didn't mind being read to, or told stories.

    You could be talking about my brother here. I finally found the “right” books to hook him, and now he’s an avid (if slow) reader.

  20. Charlene Teglia
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 12:38:48

    I didn’t have Harry Potter to look forward to as a kid, but I lived for those weekly trips to the library. As far as instilling love of reading in kids, we started buying ours books when they were babies. Pretty easy to do; the husband and I would go to the bookstore for ourselves so when #1 came along we started buying a book for the baby, too, on each trip. And now there are two of them, and they love coming home with books in hand, reading in their carseats all the way home.

    The local library here is really kid-friendly, with a train to play in, little chairs and teddy bears. The kids love to go. Would it be great to see another series like Harry Potter come along and capture the imagination of millions of readers? Sure. Be great to write a series like that, too. But either way, we’re raising happy little readers who cry if we don’t let them have books in bed. If they grow up with books and parents who read, I think reading comes pretty naturally to kids.

  21. Marianne McA
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 14:24:16

    “For all it’s faults…”

    There were faults?

    Apart from that, I’m not sure I agree. It’s important my children are literate. Naturally, as someone who gets a huge amount of pleasure from books, I’d like them to share my interest. Does it actually matter if they love reading? I’m less sure. If my daughter’s favourite place in the world is not the bookshop, but the hockey field, does that – apart from indicating a cock-up of gargantuan proportions at the hospital – matter?

  22. bettie
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 14:40:27

    Kids don’t need the next new thing to read, they need an interested parent. My mother always read to me when I was a kid, and she shared her favorite books with me. The series of books that made me a reader wasn’t Sweet Valley High or the Babysitters Club, it was a turn-of-the-century “it” book about a red-haired Canadian orphan. Anne of Green Gables sucked me in. It made me laugh, and it was the first book to make me cry. I read it everywhere, on the bus, as I walked home from school, behind my math book during class.

    I think every kid has a book that will call to them, that will pull them into its world and show them the magic of a good story. In a way, the Harry Potter books make me sad precisely because they’re so widespread. Chances are, there are a lot of Anne Shirley or Cassie Logan kids out there who are making due with Harry Potter simply because no one has taken the time to introduce them to books like Anne of Green Gables or Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry.

    The Harry Potter hype has probably gotten a lot of families talking about books that otherwise wouldn’t have. But the media shouldn’t be responsible for making kids read, that’s the parents job. Sure, there probably won’t be another series that your kids will be peer-pressured into reading, but you know your kids better than a bunch of marketing execs. Give them a book that you loved, a book you think they’ll love. Introduce them to the incredible diversity of voices and stories out there and chances are, one of those books will be the one that makes your child laugh and cry and read when no one’s watching.

  23. Jeaniene Frost
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 15:06:45

    “For all its faults, Harry Potter introduced an entire generation of children to the wonders of reading”

    Amen :) One can only hope there will be another fantastically popular series to take Harry’s place, so that the trend of bookstore parties with kids (and adults!) can continue.

  24. Anya
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 16:17:46

    I have had this same thought, Jane. I am grateful to the HP craze for what (I hope) it’s done for reading. After this last book in the series has been read, I’m optimistic parents and young adults will sigh, shed a tear…and then look for other books to read. There are lots of great authors out there. JK Rowling isn’t the end all, be all.

    I haven’t read the HP books yet because I want to wait and read them with my daughter when she’s old enough. She’s only one now, so it’ll be awhile. We’re starting with board books. :) I read to her every day, but mostly she just wants to chew on them. *g*

    I’ll do everything I can to foster a love of reading in her because it brought me so much joy growing up. I was a reading fool and came home with stacks of books from the library to devour every weekend. It helps, I think, that we don’t have cable or satellite. We get one channel — PBS. Sometimes we watch Sesame Street, but that’s it. It’s a practice I plan to continue. I’d rather have her playing and using her imagination and, later on…reading.

    I figure if there’s nothing out there to get her excited about reading when she’s older, I’ll just write something. It’ll be quite a genre change from my current endeavors. *g*

    Anyway, I rambled, but you hit on something I think about a lot.

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