07/15/05 — Books are ‘cool’: Harry Potter tales encourage young people to read

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Books are ‘cool’: Harry Potter tales encourage young people to read

All in good fun.

That is the best way to look at tonight’s debut of the latest in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

There will be some who will question the novel’s connection to magic and wizardry. And, if that aspect of the story bothers you, there might be a better choice for your children’s bookshelf. There is certainly nothing wrong with choosing the messages that you allow your children to receive, and if this is not one of them, there are many other wonderful books to try.

But the reason to talk about Harry Potter and his next adventure centers around more than simply the subject matter. The response to J.K. Rowling’s hero is an inspiration for those who wonder if it is possible to get children interested in anything that doesn’t involve a computer screen or a television set.

Millions of young people are reading these books, even though they are not written in comic book form, and they are more than a little complicated in their characterizations and plot structures. This is not a book anyone — even an adult — can finish in an hour.

And therein lies the lesson. Perhaps the reason we have so many children who aren’t reading these days is that sometimes we adults give up too quickly. Who really would have thought these books would be so popular and that so many children would find themselves engrossed in the adventures of a young hero who really is a bit of a “geek” by normal definitions? Harry likes science, and although he knows magic, he doesn’t skateboard or do anything else that might normally be labeled “cool.”

Maybe there might be more of a market for “smart” and “bookish” than we previously thought.

Harry Potter is proof positive that reading is not dead. Perhaps we should work a little harder as a nation to bring back the excitement about books that seems sometimes to be completely eclipsed by Gameboy and PlayStation 2.

Maybe we are underestimating how our children might respond to if we pushed them to turn off the TV and power down the X Box.

Published in Editorials on July 15, 2005 11:47 AM