Commitment not Harry Potter aids reading skills
It is rare that a book gets the reception that the latest and last of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows," received this week. Books just don't generate the kind of excitement that has fans standing in line at midnight awaiting the first chance to buy a copy. That kind of behavior is reserved for the latest installment of an action movie serial, the release of a popular video game format and an album from a popular recording star.
Amid all the hoopla of the release, commentators have found the Harry Potter phenomenon a hopeful sign that reading books can at least hold its own in a world increasingly dominated by electronic media. The sale of more than 300 million books in the series would support that hope. Those sales figures are a reminder of how much the Harry Potter books have captured readers' imaginations and taught millions of children the printed word can enchant and enthrall as much as the latest video game or flashy summer action movie.
The series seems destined to enter the cannon of children's classics while offering a unique contribution. Rowling's' books, it is said, matured with their readers since the first appeared in 1997, so it is hoped generations can continue to grow up with the series.
And while that may stimulate a lifelong interest in reading for some, those looking to find in the Potter series, no matter how remarkable, or any other works of literature a major formula for increasing reading interest and skills are likely to be disappointed. But there are ways that research has shown helps children attain the goals. They're simple and free, but do take an investment in time. Research has repeatedly shown that those who were read to frequently as children learn the alphabet sooner, have larger vocabularies, have greater success in school and are more likely to develop into lifelong readers. Research also has shown many of the same benefits from children participating in summer reading programs.
This shouldn't be news to any teacher or caregiver. Educators also stress that reading to children needn't end when they outgrow picture books.
Like so many other things, the hope many would place in the Harry Potter books is found instead in involvement and commitment.