An original printing of twenty-eight million copies of a book? A
children's book? What is this country coming to? Is it possible that
our children are more literate than the naysayers would have us believe?
Obviously with spectacular salesmanship, a bang-up story line and the
instinctive curiosity of our children, reading is still fun, even for
the kids who don't read much but want to know what all the excitement is
Now we have the literary phenomenon of Harry Potter. Probably nearly
everybody in the western world knows that the fourth in the Potter
series, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" became available at 12:01
July 8. Bookstores all over England and the United States -- and maybe
Tokyo for all I know --stayed open until after midnight so that they
could start selling the books to kids - and to adults - at 12:01 am.
This is not a book for children alone. My friend the journalist is
beyond the 8 to 12 age range but she was in line well before midnight
for her copy, which she sat up most of the night reading. She said,
"And it's sooooo good. . . It did my heart good to see all the people
and I'm feeling quite hopeful about the state of American literacy.
You've GOT to read it." Don't worry. I will. And so will most of the
adults I know.
Harry Potter is setting records. There are 28 million copies of the
first three volumes being worn out by Potter fans, and a first printing
of 3.8 million copies of "Goblet of Fire" sets a publishing record.
John Grisham's books usually start with 2.5 million.
But the important part of the phenomenon is not the marketing, but the
millions of kids and imaginative adults who are reading it and loving it
and talking about it with their friends.
Children's books have been sparking the imagination of kids and bringing
them joy for over a century. The Faultless Starch Co. booklet titled
"A Trip to the Moon" from the 1890's is about a boy named Robbie who is
taken to the moon on a moonbeam by elves. These booklets, which came in
sets of 36, were distributed to rural homes by peddlers via horse and
wagon. One of the booklets would be attached to each box of starch
sold, and lots of kids learned to read from them. Sound familiar? I
wonder whether my dad read them between chores on the farm in Illinois.
Going forward a few years, Mary Jane was my version of Harry Potter.
She was, of course a proper little girl just like me! The first 12
volumes of the series were printed between 1918 and 1927 and I could
hardly wait for each one to appear. Mary Jane lived in Boston and her
favorite outing was a ride on the Swan Boats on the lake in the Boston
Gardens. Many years later when I visited Boston the first thing I did
was take a ride on one of the famous Swan Boats. The Paul Revere House
had to wait. Such is the power of children's books.
The next generation -- the boomer kids -- read "The Hardy Boys" and
"Nancy Drew." My friend the philosopher read every Nancy Drew adventure
along with everything else she could lay her hands on. My two boys
were also voracious readers, and devoured every Hardy Boys book. Both
those series were stories of boys and girls about their age having
This generation's kid hero is a wizard who attends the Hogwarts School
of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry is now 14 years old and since I have
not read "The Goblet of Fire" yet, I don't know what adventures he has
this time. But I do know that he is brave and loyal and honest. As my
journalist friend says, " If you thought Quidditch sounded like fun
before, just you
A hundred years ago Robbie was being taken to the moon on a moonbeam
by elves. Now Harry Potter, who is a bona fide wizard, is giving
today's electronic whiz kids a taste of adventure that doesn't need
batteries. Go for it, kids. Books are here to stay.