Friday, July 20, 2007

A Positive Potter Post

It really wears a woman down to have written nearly 40,000 words on a book and realize she's going to have to do some revising before she moves on. The Durand Cousins came to a screeching halt over a week ago, and while I have some work in mind for it, I haven't been able bring myself to do much beyond opening a new file and starting a new spreadsheet.

I'm going to have to go away for a few days to get over this.

Actually, the trip was already planned. Serendipitously, as it turns out, since I'm feeling frazzled and this is Harry Potter Weekend and probably a good time to travel. It's probably a good time to go to the movies and the mall, too. Millions of people are going to be indoors reading.

In honor of the event, I'm going to say something good about Harry. Okay. Here goes.

A couple of weeks ago, a bookseller at one of my listservs told a story about a woman who came into his store looking for a book for her 6- or 7-year-old grandchild. When he brought her a book appropriate for that age, the woman said, oh, no, that wouldn't do. Too many pictures. Her grandchild was reading Harry Potter. By herself. She needed something like that. And thus this child was being hurried out of the early reading experience. It wasn't a real positive story.

Here's the thing, though. Adults were hurrying kids out of the early reading experience long before Harry Potter was even a gleam in J.K. Rowling's eye. Back when the Gauthier boys were little darlings, it wasn't uncommon for the mothers of their classmates to talk about their second grade child who was reading Jurassic Park or to explain that their gifted one (meoooow) didn't read children's books. I knew one kid back then who started reading Star Trek novels when he was in second grade. It was cool to have a fifth or sixth grade child who read John Grisham.

I have no problem with any of those books or authors. And I am aware that children are supposed to grow up and into adult books. But, as I keep saying, I believe very strongly that we all read looking for communion or connection with others, particularly with others like ourselves. When young children are hurried out of children's books, they miss out on reading about people their age who face experiences they, themselves, face, in order to read adult books about grown-ups who face experiences the child reader won't be encountering for years. (Or maybe ever in the case of Star Trek novels.) I'm not suggesting kids should never read an adult book. I just think kids' books are important for kids. It's good for them to read them.

Which brings us to Harry P. Because adults read Harry Potter, because adults like him and approve of him, they think it's just fine for their kids and grandkids to read him and other kids' books like his.

To make a long story short (yeah, I know, it's too late for that), Harry Potter has made it okay for kids to read kids' books.

And now I must go pack for my trip. Happy reading, everybody.

7 comments:

Lee said...

Instead, adults so inclined will simply transfer their achievement pressure to other areas.

gail said...

Oh, of course.

Sheila said...

Gail,

Usually I enjoy your posts and find them thought provoking, but this post is full of stereotypes and misconceptions. I wouldn't assume that the woman asking for more advanced books for her child is "pushing" her child. I know, because I've been there. My son was an advanced reader who was reading books like Harry Potter independently at age 6, and I never pushed him. Certainly, there are pushy parents out there and we've all met them. But there are also parents who are hanging on for dear life while their child drags them along for the ride.

I've always allowed my son to choose whatever he wanted to read, and sometimes he chose "age appropriate" books, but more often he chose books well above his age range. I watched *his* frustration as he asked librarians for help in finding new things to read, only to have them bring books that seemed boring to him because they were much too simplistic. Eventually, the librarians at our local library got to know him, and once they understood what he was looking for, they were able to help him better. Usually, he was the one doing the asking, but if he had asked me to pick up books for him, I would have been in the same position as the woman you described, having to tell the bookseller that those books weren't advanced enough, not because I thought he shouldn't be reading them, but because I would have known that if I came home with those books, he would have been disappointed.

In my case, I remember reading Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and other SF masters in the fourth grade. I read Lord of the Rings in the fifth grade. I, too, remember desperately searching for new things to read that would be stimulating enough for me.

Your argument that kids should be reading kids books because they need to connect with people like them is flawed, because gifted children often don't see themselves in kids books. A child who can discuss string theory or global warming at a young age may find many books aimed at children to be too boring or simplistic. They're still kids, and love to run around and climb trees and play pretend games as much as the next kid, but reading about these things isn't always stimulating enough.

You're right that the adult content in adult books may not be appropriate for young children. Some kids can handle books about dinosaurs ripping people apart, but others, like my son, can't. That's why I'm grateful that we have such a wealth of middle-grade and young adult literature today that didn't exist when I was young; not because it makes it ok for kids to read kids books, but because it provides much more choice for those advanced readers who aren't ready for adult books yet.

gail said...

I apologize if I appeared to be attacking gifted children or the people who need to advocate for them. The "gifted one" comment referred to only one incident. What percentage of the general population is gifted? There are a great many families out there who aren't dealing with that issue. In fact, I assume most families don't deal with it.

The point I wanted to make was that, say, a decade or so ago, I saw little appreciation for children's literature in the general adult population. At least the general adult population in which I lived. They just had little use for children's books at all and didn't see why their kids needed to linger over them.

Other adults would sometimes comment to me about how much my children read. When I explained that I hit the library every week or two "shopping" for books and would read the first chapter or two aloud until my kid(s) were hooked and would continue reading by themselves, I would literally see my listeners' faces fall. It was clear that reading children's books themselves wasn't something they considered an option.

I think that has changed in the last few years, and I think it's due to the fact that when adults started reading Harry Potter that made children's literature acceptable--because adults read it.

The message children get when they are encouraged to give up reading about characters who are going through experiences like their own in favor of books about adults is that their experiences have no value. "What you go through with the teacher you don't like, with the kids you can't get along with, with the siblings you fight with is childish." I think we adults should show some respect for kids' lives by showing some respect for their literature.

Reading Fool said...

Couldn't agree more, Gail. When I heard that the eighth grade teachers in a local school want their level one students to read adult books as part of their curriculum, I wanted to tear my hair out. WHY?? Why should thirteen-year-old kids have to read books that were written for adults? Why can't they read books written for kids their age? Apparently, their teachers think *those* books aren't "challenging" enough. I think they could find plenty of YA literature that the kids can sink their teeth into and give them things to discuss that are meaningful to their lives, yet which still contain all of the literary devices their teachers need to cover. Some YA books are very challenging. Their teachers just need to be willing to look for them and be open to the possibility that there's depth to them. And that doesn't mean those books will have complicated sentence structure and five or six unfamiliar words on every page. Just because a kid can read something easily doesn't mean they fully understand what they're reading and what the author's intention is. Heck, fifth graders can read The Giver but (gifted or not!), I'll bet it's a richer experience reading and discussing it two or three years down the road. Don't tell me that Pullman's His Dark Materials books aren't challenging enough for really bright eighth grade readers. The words may be easy enough, and it may be a quick read for most of them, but all of that is on the surface. There's plenty there to dig into. They don't need to read Siddhartha yet! (And that's not a random reference. There's a school somewhere in the area, not quite sure which town, which assigns that book to middle school students.)

Sheila said...

Thanks for clarifying, Gail, and I'm sorry if I misunderstood your intent. (And I'm glad that I waited until morning and rewrote my response before posting it - you wouldn't have wanted to see my first one!) Your comments just rubbed me the wrong way, because parents of gifted children are often accused of being pushy parents, and of robbing their children of their childhood, when people don't understand that it's often really the children who are doing the pushing.

Obviously, I love children's books, so I'm totally with you. (My husband and I bought children's books and went to children's movies before we ever had children). I do think that we are fortunate to live in a time when there is such a wealth of children's and YA literature. And yeah, I think that Harry Potter had a lot to do with it, not only because it made children's lit more acceptable, but because it created a groundswell of interest that has caused a lot more children's and YA books to be written and published.

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