Diane Stranz on American Life


Harry Potter is not a Role Model
February 22, 2009, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Children and Parenting, Literature | Tags: , , , , ,
Parents are the persons primarily responsible for molding their children into moral human beings of character.  Just as a parent should be concerned about a child’s nutritional intake, a parent should also be concerned about a child’s reading diet.  J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter books constitute a very poor reading diet.
 
I have done research on J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter Mania for years, including that I have read parts of the Harry Potter series for myself.  I am primarily turned off by the fact that Harry and his friends are all very small of character, immature, grudge-filled and essentially mean-spirited.  Fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin, who I respect, holds the same opinion:
When so many adult critics were carrying on about the “incredible originality” of the first Harry Potter book, I read it to find out what the fuss was about, and remained somewhat puzzled; it seemed a lively kid’s fantasy crossed with a “school novel”, good fare for its age group, but stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative, and ethically rather mean-spirited.
I am also convinced that Rowling’s ADD type of story-telling actually destroys a child’s interest in classic children’s literature.  There is a young student librarian at our local branch library who told me one day last summer (while I was perusing the shelf of children’s literature awarded the Newbery medal for excellence) that Newbery books are ‘entirely too boring’ for ‘the modern generation’ of readers, and that ever since she read the Harry Potter books she has no interest in any books which do not demonstrate a similar ‘fantasy/action adventure’ pace and story line (hence the rise of more obnoxiously poor books like the Lemony Snicket series, etc. etc.)
 
As literary critic Philip Hensher wrote in The Spectator in 2003:  “Rowling is not a subtle writer, and one of the tiresome things about her books is how routinely they resort to turning up the volume, rather than describing anything vividly.”  Yes, I agree.  Constant action, violence and emphasis on ‘good versus evil’ does not advance civilization in a peaceful, cooperative, loving, gentle direction — whereas numbers of good children’s books do:  Doris Gates’ Blue Willow, Lois Lenski‘s The Giver, Kate DiCamillo‘s The Tale of Despereaux, Paul Zindel‘s The Pigman, Scott O’Dell‘s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Little House on the Prairie series, E. L. Konigsburg‘s The View from Saturday, Jean Craighead George‘s Julie of the Wolves, Ann Nolan Clark’s Secret of the Andes, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  To name only a very few, of course.
 
Why waste our children’s time reading trash when there is so much good literature waiting to be discovered?  Horse trainers know that once you train a horse to ride Western saddle (which has far fewer demands and expectations of the horse than English saddle) you can never again get the horse to agree to/cooperate with being ridden English saddle.  I believe that once a child is permitted to indulge in a ‘reading diet’ of Harry Potter type fantasy, you cannot again get him or her back into a ‘meatier diet’ of genuine literature.  I may be wrong, but with my own children I prefer to err on the side of caution and feed only the meatier diet.
 
To date my 7-year-old son Jeffrey and I have worked our way through only a few chapter books — including Elizabeth George Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver, which Jeffrey loved — and my point to him is that we are not going to waste time on Harry Potter books when there are SO MANY MUCH BETTER BOOKS we still have not yet read!  Books which teach children how to evaluate and respond to moral crises in real life.  Reading should entertain and teach, but it should also help mold character and values.  And it is a parent’s job to care about that.
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