If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The End of an Era (Although Probably Not)

A strange thing happened on Sunday when the New York Times published its Best Seller List. For the first time in almost ten years, there was not a single Harry Potter book on the list anywhere. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone first hit the list on December 27, 1998. In the intervening ten years, the Times has restructured the list twice--first adding a separate list for children's books, then later another list for children's series--in order to make room for other books. Harry was just too popular for anyone else to compete.

The ten year run of Harry Potter coincides pretty closely with the time frame of my teaching career. In that time, I have had more students than I can count tell me how much they hate to read. They would rather watch TV, see a movie, play on their computer, or really just about anything other than sit still with a book in front of them.

On the other hand, I remember the summer that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. I was working at a summer day camp with kids mostly between the ages of eight and twelve. The day after the book came out, camper after camper got out of their cars in the morning, eyes red from staying up too late, giant hardcover books--many of them bookmarked hundreds of pages in--clutched in their hands, determined to spend every free moment finding out what was going to happen to Harry.

Quite simply put, J.K. Rowling got millions of kids to fall in love with books. They may never love another book quite so much as they loved Harry Potter--most of us who love reading have those books, the ones that were so special to us that even the great books we read now don't quite measure up--but they know that loving a book is possible, and so they become readers. How many teachers would love to say that they had turned even a handful of kids on to reading who might not otherwise have been interested? Harry Potter has made J.K. Rowling one of the richest women in the world, and as far as I'm concerned she deserves every galleon, sickle and knut.

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