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Waiting for Harry Potter

Author John Cech
Air Date 6/29/2000

Waiting for Harry Potter Transcript

There are such things as Harmonic Convergences in the book world–when the forces–a fine book, an excited publisher, a receptive audience, and a favorable Zeitgeist–all vibrate together. Who would have guessed that Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s account of his bleak Irish childhood would be installed on the best seller lists for years. Or that the saga of a young, orphaned wizard-to-be, Harry Potter, would get all the planets to line up together and, “presto!”–have kids fidgeting in frenzied anticipation for the next installment, the fourth volume, Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament, to appear in a little more than a week.

The fact that children–especially boys–are paying attention to books, in ways that are usually reserved for the latest Star Wars movie or the release of the next generation of a video game, is nothing short of a magic.

And parents, teachers, and librarians are certainly right in wanting to pull other books through this window of opportunity. But what to pull through? Magazines and newspapers have been running lists of possibilities; public and school librarians have come into their own because now they can do exactly what they are professionally trained (and love) to do: provide specific advice about books.

But who knows for sure what that magic formula may be to charm the Harry Potter fans? It’s such a large audience that it represents the widest spectrum of tastes. Kids will read the same books because their peers are reading them, or because they’re assigned for class. But otherwise, they’re just like adults, they want to choose their own adventures. That, after all, is a good part of the joy of reading–making those uniquely personal discoveries.

For months I’ve been recommending works of fantasy by that splendid British writer, Philip Pullman, whose “Golden Compass” trilogy is superb. But who knows how many kids, besides the true fantasy fans, will actually want to steep themselves in these rich, complex novels. Harry Potter is fast, like “The Goonies,” not slow, like “Empire of the Sun”–both Spielberg movies are about childhood, but one is a quick entertainment, the other…a masterpiece. And both have a place in the development of our imaginations, where things such as books are not predictable commodities.

So my advice is: make sure your kids have library cards, and go with them there every couple of weeks so they can make friends with their children’s librarians, or stop at your local the bookstore and, if the budget allows, let them buy a book of their own–in time, they’ll find something just as magical and absorbing for them as Harry Potter.

Posted in Literature