Professor says Harry Potter books inspire reading, discussion between children and adults

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

As sales for the new book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix top one million in pre-orders for the June 21 release, it's pretty obvious that the series has a huge impact on modern culture.

But unlike most of its predecessors in children's literature, the Harry Potter series has inspired a new level of reading and conversation between both children and adults, according to University of North Texas Professor of Library and Information Sciences Barbara Stein Martin.

"Without a doubt, the Harry Potter books have inspired kids to read more," she says. "But what's remarkable is that it's attracted positive adult attention for children's literature and shown that children's literature can be viable and worthy reading. The Harry Potter series is a phenomena in that it competes in sales with adult books."

Other well-known and popular authors like C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander have used similar themes and ideas to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. But Martin says these books have not enjoyed the same success story as Harry Potter.

The main character of the books is an orphan, Harry Potter, who learns that he is a wizard. Harry is invited to go to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where many of his adventures take place.

"A common theme in children's books are that the kids get to be independent and go off on adventures and learn adult skills," Martin says. "Using the poor orphan in boarding schools is a classic tool -- it offers the independence children desire and the security and rules provided by an organized structure."

Martin believes that a key part of the books' appeal to older readers is that the characters continue to grow up and deal with very real issues as the series progresses.

"In a lot of children's series, the children stay young forever," Martin says. "But in the Potter series with each book the characters grow up, explore their surroundings and prove themselves as worthy people. That's something that appeals to all of us."

Along those same lines, the latter books of the series may not appeal or be as appropriate for younger children. For instance, in the last installment Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, one of the key characters dies.

"Death is a theme that older children understand better, but then the children who started reading the series when it began are entering their preteens now," Martin says. "From my own experience as a librarian I find many parents looking for books to explain death and dying and I believe Rowling does a good job of it."

However, Martin still believes the series will continue to shine and become a classic staple of children's literature

Most of all, she says the Potter books and movies can encourage children to begin a lifelong habit of reading. Martin says Harry Potter fans might also be interested in reading books written by the following fantasy and science fiction authors: Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Ursula LeGuin, Philip Pullman, Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix and Anne McCaffrey.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108