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More Kids Reading, Thanks to Harry Potter

Call him Harry Power. The Book Standard article Harry Potter and the Positive Impact shows how the Harry Potter books have persuaded children to turn to books.

More than half of kids ages 5-17 say they did not read books for fun before the Harry Potter series came along, according to the report, which surveyed 500 children and 500 parents nationwide. Among parents, 76 percent say reading the series has helped their child perform better in school, while 65 percent of children agree.

The Harry Potter study found that the average age at which readers pick up Harry Potter is 9, and many older children will read and re-read the books as they get older. This good news follows the findings from Yankelovich’s The Kids and Family Reading Report, released in June, which found that after the age of 8, the number of kids who read for fun significantly drops.

This is great news. I wonder, has any science fiction book had as profound an effect? Ender’s Game maybe?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on More Kids Reading, Thanks to Harry Potter

  1. I think the answer you’re looking for is ‘No’. I don’t think there has ever been a SF book with as profound an effect as HP has had.

    Which leads to this question. Why the hell is HP so popular anyway? I realize part of it is a momentum thing, but why did it take off to begin with?

  2. Maybe the allure of the books is that the protaganist is really an average kid. Furthermore, I can’t think of any kid that doesn’t draw some dragon or monster and really understands witches and ghosts. I also think that as kids get older they think about space travel and things of that nature. I know early on my son was very interested in fantasy topics, but is now starting to take an interest in space and what it has to offer. Plus, it would not hurt if some author decided to write a series of books with a good Space Opera theme for kids, and while I won’t diminish Ender’s Game – you have to have more than that.

  3. I was thinking Ender’s Game because it’s required reading in many schools and thus widely read. Ditto Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, etc., but I thought Ender’s Game is something kids associate with better.

    I for one would love it if sf enjoyed the same popularity with the young ‘uns that fantasy has. I have to go back to the Young Adult issue of Locus and see if they mention the appeal of fantasy over sf in kids.

  4. I think HP is as popular as it is because it feeds into the cult of personality (the importance of being more special than the people around you) that we’re forcefeeding kids nowadays. Plus we live in a highly buzz oriented culture so things that are very popular can often snowball in popularity.

  5. Part of the appeal of HARRY POTTER is the sympathy for the main character: an orphan, who secretly has a special power, but who is unjustly picked on. He has all the disadvantages of fame but none of the perquisites. Think of Clark Kent and Jommy Cross.

    Part of the appeal is that the book is wholesome and good-natured. School chums have to outwit or endure school bullies and mean teachers, but also fight the Dark Lord, in whose existance hapless grown-ups do not believe. Think of TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS, or any of those School Boys Versus Spies adventure stories that had once been popular.

    It is also full of whimsy. You have little wizards and witches flying on broomsticks playing soccer. The kids crack jokes. Things are funny. It is also serious: people die, evil folks do real evil things, and not everything is going to be set right by the end. The characters are appealing, and one need only look over the great cesspool of Modernism to see how appealing being appealing can be, and how rare.

    The fame, however, I think mostly due to the accessability of the world and its characters. Anyone can pick up and read this book. You do not have to be a fan of fantasy, you do not have to be a fan of schoolboy adventure stories.

    Let me dwell on this point for a moment. Most Fantasy has a set of assumptions, a protocol (if you will) that the readers and the author all take for granted. Those who are outside our genre, the muggles, do not understand and have no taste for our protocols. We simply understand why throwing a magic ring into a volcano can destroy the fallen angel who rules The Dark Land. Most mainstream readers do not or can not: to them it looks arbitrary, or childish, or allegorical.

    Harry is not inside our protocols, however. It is a mainstream book, not a book meant only for us. Anyone who has ever celebrated Halloween knows as much as he needs to know about Harry Potter’s world: wizards wear pointy hats and carry wands, witches ride on broomsticks, spells are cast in Latin. It is not Speculative Fiction any more or any less than BEWITCHED or I DREAM OF JEANIE.

    Harry Potter does not take place in Middle Earth, or Earthsea, or Poictisme, or Pern, which are secret countries of Faerie where few mortals go. It takes place in Halloween-land, a place no more mysterious or faraway than Disneyland.

    I submit that the great secret of the success is that nine people out of ten can pick up HARRY POTTER and get some pleasure out of it. Much as I admire, even idolize, LORD OF THE RINGS or DUNE or NINE PRINCES IN AMBER or THE DYING EARTH, only one out of ten can pick it up can get something out of these books.

  6. Great points, John. Me? I am a Muggle in that I often cannot (or will not?) make the leap of believing. But I still like trying every now and then.

    Can you think of any science fiction titles that appeal to the 9 out of 10?

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