Witches and wizards. Good vs. evil. Loyalty and friendship. All are major themes of the best-selling Harry Potter series, written by J.K. Rowling, which has inspired children to forget about TV and video games and actually read a book for pleasure. Truly magical.
Children — and their parents — have been going out in droves to buy the sixth edition of the series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Scholastic, Harry Potter’s U.S. publisher, announced Sunday that, in the first 24 hours, the book sold 6.9 million of the 10.8 million books it printed in its record-breaking initial run. These sales beat the previous record held by the initial print of the fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” which was published in 2003 with a run of 6.8 million.
Some Christian groups and Pope Benedict XVI — when he was still Cardinal Josef Ratzinger — have criticized the books as being “evil” and promoting witchcraft. Some of Harry’s more radical critics have even gone as far as to burn the Harry Potter books. The Harry Potter series consistently tops lists of books that parents complain about to libraries.
The books teach the values of friendship, loyalty and self-reliance, along with many other positive character-building traits. The sale of nearly 7 million books in 24 hours means they have encouraged children to read.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, in its 2004 report card issued this month, showed a 7-point increase in the average reading scale among 9-year-olds. This is a significant jump — the largest on record since 1971. The Harry Potter book are not solely responsible for the gain, of course. But they surely had a part. If children can find a love for books early on, then there is hope that the habits will continue, and grow.
The United States has not conducted a comprehensive survey of the effect of the books on the youth, but the British-based Federation of Children’s Book Groups recently released statistics illustrating that 59 percent of British kids think the books have improved their reading skills. Forty-eight percent say the books are why they read more.
We leave it up to parents to decide age-appropriate reading materials for their children. If they choose the fantasy world of Harry Potter, their kids will like it. And so will we.