June 22, 2003
"Pupils who had previously resisted literacy …"

More on the Harry Potter phenomenon, this time in the form of some entertaining rhapsodising about the educational benefits of Pottermania from the always provocative Normal Lebrecht in the Evening Standard last Friday:

Think back to June 1997 when 1,000 Bloomsbury copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sneaked near-unnoticed into British bookshops, after being rejected by some 20 publishers for being variously too long, archaic and politically incorrect.

The pronounced wisdom was that children were uninterested in reading. Teachers and their unions set up a demand for more "visual aids". Pre-teens returned home from seven hours of unstrenuous schooling to slump, semi-vegetative, in front of flickering images of vaguely sexual connotation.

The publishing dictum, impressed on me when I proposed a story about kids with a chronic illness, was that "we no longer take on children's books without a television tie-in". Rowling changed all that, surreptitiously and within months.

Harry Potter spread by word of playground mouth and reprinted time after time.

Children blew their pocket money on the first book and clamoured for more. Infant teachers who read it aloud in class were begged to continue when the bell rang for break. Pupils who had previously resisted literacy mastered their ps and qs on platform nine and three-quarters.

Yes, this is what I've been hearing, and reading elsewhere. And seeing on the TV news of course, in the form of all those super-excited children queueing up at one o'clock in the morning. But is it really like this? Does any teacher or parent have first hand experience of this kind of thing?

Does anyone, in particular, have any tales to tell of Harry Potter resistance from any section of the youth market?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:54 PM
Category: BooksLiteracy