Post-Harry, Whatever Will They Read?
Reading the NY Times piece Potter Has Limited Effects on Reading Habits, I thought, "Well, duh." A quote from a teacher & author sums up the situation perfectly:
“Unless there are scaffolds in place for kids — an enthusiastic adult saying, ‘Here’s the next [book you might like]’ — it’s not going to happen,” said Nancie Atwell, the author of “The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers” and a teacher in Edgecomb, Me. “And in way too many American classrooms it’s not happening.”
You get exactly one guess as to where I'll say it is happening. Did you guess libraries? Oh, well done! A gold star for you. (I mean it! If you see me at a conference, and you guessed "libraries", I will give you a gold star. Either that, or I'll buy you the beverage of your choice.)
I would argue a few things:
- Harry Potter has had an impact on young peoples' reading habits, but it may be more subtle than the study conducted by the NEA was designed to reflect. Many teens go through a period of not reading much, but those who start out with a foundation of enjoying reading early in life come back to it as older teens or as adults.
- Harry Potter has had another indirect impact on teen & children's reading, and that is the impact it's had on publishing. Publishing for children & teens is one helluva booming business these days, and although that's partly to do with demographics -- there are more youngsters, with more disposable income, than ever before in this country -- it's also due to Harry's stunning popularity. One of the reasons we see series of all kinds, from Gossip Girl to TrueColors to Cirque du Freak to Bartimaeus to Skybreaker to Keys to the Kingdom to Spiderwick Chronicles to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to the comeback of Choose Your Own Adventure is that Harry showed publishers that kids & teens will read.
I happened to be in my car during NPR's Here & Now program, and was so pleased that Robin Young interviewed YALSA's new president, Paula Brehm-Heeger to get the YA librarian's POV on this topic. Thank you, Robin, and great job, Paula! You can listen to the segment here.