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It's not all Harry Potter
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-04-02 07:58:11
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I’m going to borrow an intro Asa has used because I feel like it works perfectly with what I want to write. Did I like the Harry Potter series? Yes! Do I believe Harry Potter series helped children’s literature? No! Actually, regarding the Harry Potter books, after having read all seven of them, I agree with Asa, who never read any, but watched and enjoyed all the films so far.

I’ve read often that Harry Potter books helped kids to return to reading and I was amazed to read this from experts, teachers and children’s psychologists and in numbers it is true, thousands of kids who found reading a book difficult started reading Harry Potter adventures and teachers started giving homework inspired from Harry Potter, but I have the feeling that, yes millions of books were sold all around the world, but they were just Harry Potter books - kids didn’t return to books, but stuck to reading Harry Potter. So the next question is if Joanne Rowling contributed anything to children’s literature and, in my opinion, no!

Joanne K. Rowling is a good writer and is one of the best writers of 2000, who knew very well that fame brings money and, in her case, she was lucky to bring a lot of money. She had a good concept, she sold it well, franchised it perfectly and now she’s happy. She said that she was inspired from a story she was telling as a bedtime story to her kid while penniless and unemployed. I do admire her and envy her inspiration but she’s not a children’s book author. She wrote a fantasy story, very contemporary in the sense that everything is fast food, ready chewed food that doesn’t leave anything for the children’s imagination.

Children’s literature is very sensitive and very unique, many authors, illustrators and novelists have written books for kids, and very few have succeeded. Oddly, many wrote books for adults but had a tremendous success with kids; Jules Verne is the best example of this. A children’s book must be very realistic inside its surrealism just like Alice in the Wonderland. A children’s book must be very clear in its meaning and very honest, kids understand dishonesty more and better than adults. But the most important element is that a children’s book must leave the imagination free.

Imagination is the most beautiful talent kids have, in their quiet moments they create words and characters, they become part of the book and they take it one step further. I often read bedtime stories to my daughter and she really enjoys the one with a naughty rabbit. I must have read the same exact story tens of times and we must have seen the picture that illustrates the story dozens of times. Every time when we finish the very same story, she asks me, can the rabbit do this or that? Can the rabbit fly or can the rabbit drive? In the story the rabbit just ate a lot of carrots and got a stomach ache, so simple. Still the way the story is written and the way it is illustrated has made her imagination gallop. For every time I’ve read the same story she has created tens of more stories with the same hero.

After listening to my daughter creating stories starring the little rabbit I thought of Harry Potter and suddenly he looked handicapped. He has a magic broom and an invisible cape, he has a magic hat and he knows all these spells and conjuration actually there is a dictionary and an encyclopedia for Harry Potter, what there is not is imagination from the reader’s side. The reader stays still reading page after page and that’s all and when it finishes the reader wants more …Harry Potter!

The kids don’t buy books, adults buy books. So if the kids are reading or not it has to do with the parents and all the adults that surrounding the kid. My daughter cannot read yet but she’s trying hard, she pretends and she wants to learn and that’s because both me and my wife read a lot. We much rather read a book than watch television, so don’t expect Rowling to teach your kids read. You must teach the kids to read and there are books, thousand, millions of wonderful books, full of adventure ready for the kids to read, they just need somebody to show them where to find them.

Jules Verne doesn’t have any magicians or magic hats, but his books are full of adventure and drama. Rowling’s book is part of a gigantic franchise that lacks imagination and is full of constant consuming, that’s why all the shops are full of Harry Potter products. The International Day for Children’s Books is a good chance to think all that and do something, get a book for your child or for a kid you know.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-04-02 10:59:51
Indeed Thanos, the consideration that adults buy children’s books confirms C.S. Lewis’ original insight that in our brave new Cartesian world of rationalism and efficient ordering many people are starved for the poetic, and were a literature and philosophy professor (which Lewis was) write an imaginative poetic children’s book he would quickly become rich. So he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of 7 fantasy novels for children, and proved his point. Lewis wrote many fine philosophical books but it is that book remains the author’s best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 41 languages, and adapted for radio, television, stage and cinema. What I find intriguing in the series’ conception of the fictional realm of Narnia, where animal talk, is its ethical underpinning where good battles evil. There is no preaching and no philosophizing about that and none is needed because any child untouched by modern cynicism can grasp that archetype of the human condition. And the protagonists are the children themselves from our brave new world called upon to help the lion Aslan to right some egregious wrong. Alas, since C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, no philosophy and literature professor has repeated their feat. They are simply jealous if his success but lack his insight on how to achieve it. Which can only mean that rampant rationalism in and out of academia has to get worse before things get any better and the gods and the poetic return.

Sevil Stathoula2008-05-04 01:29:04
Mr Kalamidas,as I have been a bookseller for over twenty years and an English teacher in Athens, I totally could not agree more with what you say. It is the parents responsibility to bring the fantastic world of books into their childrens' lives.
A child's world is full of imagination and what better place could they cultivate it, than in a well written children's book. The only sight of your child's eyes twinkling whilst reading an adventurous story or the way they eagerly wait for you to read on more of the story cannot be compared to anything else. As a bookseller, I have seen many little eager faces ask for a storybook to be bought for them . They know in advance that they will travel in the pages, be part of the adventure and live an experience that will follow them for many years. A well written children's storybook will fill a child's life with social and philosophical meanings, meanings needed for their life when they become adults and then responsible parents.
As for the Harry Potter series, I think they were well written books but lacked the magic of bringing children into the fantastic world of books. As stated above, Harry Potter fans became fans only of Harry Potter's magical tricks ; what child isn't fascinated with magic and tricks.
Whoever read Harry Potter wanted more of Harry Potter and wasn't interested in any other book. I experienced this in the bookstore with the majority of Harry Potter fans awaiting anxiously for the next Harry Potter book to come out and not reading anything else in the meantime.

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