Book related rant – is Harry Potter really all that?

I’ve just, courtesy of twitter, come across the latest words of wisdom from a politician on reading.

The headline is All children should read Harry Potter books by 11, says minister

The actual quote is

“By the end of primary school, all children should be able to read and enjoy books like Harry Potter. But too many children can’t enjoy these brilliant books because they haven’t learnt to read properly.”

Now, the real ire here ought to be directed at the headline writer who mangled the quote, but I’ll save a bit for the politician too.

Let’s have a quick think about the Harry Potter books. They start as Harry reaches his 11th birthday. They go on for 7 years. In the course of those years there are deaths, kisses and iirc at least one birth. The themes, unsurprisingly, are increasingly adult as the books go on, and the last one is really quite dark. Much loved characters perish unpleasantly left, right and centre (it’s my suspicion that JKRowling was trying to kill off enough ppl that no one would want her to go back and write more).

Why on earth should we expect children of 11 to be able to or want to read those? I’d prefer, tbh, that my 11 year old *hadn’t* read all of that. That she didn’t want to know all of the possibilities of life by that age. As it is, she’s not utterly convinced by the kissing 😉

I’ve said in person, and possibly before on here, that I don’t consider Harry Potter great literature. It’s a bunch of ripping yarns, fair enough, but as it gets to the end of the saga it could really have benefited from a much sterner editor. But by then who had the courage to tell JK anything? And yes, I’ve read them all nevertheless – scurrying to read the final couple ahead of Big to be sure of what she was about to encounter.

I read a lot of children and young adult fiction. I intend to blog more about it too – I’m going to be starting a new feature here on this blog called Our Year in Books – where I’ll share what we’ve all got on our reading piles week by week, and review some of it, mainly those that Smallest and I read. I’m hoping the children will also review on their blogs and if they do I’ll cross link. I like YA fiction, and there are some fantastic authors about. Why on earth do politicians not do their own homework and figure that out – why is it always the usual suspects that get trotted out?

And did they ever think that that could be part of the problem? That a few books get overhyped and if you don’t like the sound of those, then reading is shut off to you? Can you imagine being a child who just isn’t that interested in fantasy? That Harry Potter and his ilk bore you silly, but it’s what everyone talks about, so you think that’s pretty much all there is on offer.

I’ve no problem at all with children being encouraged to read. Nor with politicians wanting to increase literacy rates. But children being fed a diet of Harry Potter and Michael Morpurgo (who is fabulous, but also, depressing!) is not the way to do it. Variety is the spice of life, and also of reading.

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  1. I agree it isn’t just the limited range of authors that are constantly mentioned there is also an obsession with children reading stories when not everyone enjoys reading fiction… my eldest (7) shows no interest in fiction books at all but will happily sit and read newspapers and research things on the internet / in non-fiction books – this literacy is arguably more useful than reading stories! I’m just happy he will now read anything at all as until recently he wouldn’t.
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    • Absolutely, and a very good point. Small is also very into his non fiction books and there’s little in the way of fiction that really draws him in.

  2. I agree that more books should be shared, so there’s something that appeals to everyone – but think you might be a bit hard on Harry Potter.

    While the first books are suitable for 11 years olds, I don’t think the other books were. JK Rowling intended them to be read as the children grew up. So if you started the first book at age 10-11, you wouldn’t reach the kissing till age 14-15 and the final book when people are dying wouldn’t be read until 16-17.

    Granted that’s not how children read them now, but that’s surely a parent’s decision.
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    • I am often a bit hard on Harry Potter tbh, but part of what I’m saying is that they aren’t suitable all at the same age. Problem is who wants to wait years to read the sequels? One thing if you are reading them as the author is writing them, but another thing entirely if they are all already available. It’s very difficult to hold a book away from a child, although we did discuss the themes and the potential issues ahead of time.

  3. The quote says like Harry Potter. And I agree that all children should be able to read books at the level of the first Harry Potter book by age 11. These brillliant books could refer to the fantastic array of brilliant books available for 11 year olds, which they should be able to read and enjoy, rather than meaning all the HP books. I thin he just chose an example that everyone knows so that everyone knows the reading level he is referring to. You never know what a person actually said from a newspaper quote and the way they goofed the headline proves that the paper is not 100% reliable.
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  4. I forgot to say that despite my comment above, I do agree with most of your observations about the HP series.
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  5. *All* children will never be able to read such books by the time they are 11 and to say that they should is unrealistic at best. Some children will never be able to read anything for a variety of reasons. Sorry, pedant button hit there 😉

  6. I adored the Harry Potter series but I agree with you, the series is dark and, at times, disturbing and I really dont like the idea of my 11yo reading the last 3 books just yet.
    I also find MM a highly depressing author and my girls dont enjoy his work either (dire was used by one dd, though she is prone to dramatics)
    I do think kids need good literature. I do not feel it needs to be in the form of Harry Potter and Im even less keen on other modern authors like Jacqueline Wilson, and the writers of the Rainbow magic/magic kitten/ etc etc type books. Having said all that though, at the end of the day its whatever gets kids reading.
    My lot prefer non-fiction but these dont seem to ‘qualify’ as reading books in schools.

    • While I agree that whatever works is good, I find it utterly disheartening that it’s the same books and authors trotted out time and again.

  7. As M.S. points out, the sense conveyed by the headline is very significantly different from that conveyed by the quotation. Hardly inspiring of confidence in the journalism…
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  8. hmmmm the MP surely is NOT in touch with children or reality at all !! 😉
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  9. HP was off the menu here until C was 11, then she tore through the lot in a fortnight. One should never forget that what is in the newspaper probably is almost but not entirely unlike what was actually said, but it is sad that either no-one seems to be able to think of any children’s books except Harry Potter, or no-one expects their readers to have heard of any others.
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  10. I’m not bothered by the content of the HP books, though I don’t rate the quality of the writing, but I am bothered by the narrowness and shallowness of ministers’ understanding of both the pleasures and practical uses of reading.

    I resent their prescriptions, I resent their sweeping generalisations, I resent the way they cling to celebrities and pontificate from such an evidently thin knowledge base.

    If we fill our children’s world with books; if we read to them, read with them, and read for pleasure ourselves in front of them, they will get there.
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    • As has been discussed many times on home Ed blogs, lots of children will indeed learn to read in that environment. A few won’t, and need specific assistance. But at least anecdotally, it’s not nearly as many as fail to learn to read, or enjoy reading, as at school. I wish ministers would educate themselves on how children’s minds work, and on the massive array of books available to them today.

  11. Interesting discussion. I agree harry is not good literature, it’s escapist fun and a real page turner. Reading morpugo really shows up its flaws as its fantastic though as you say not for everyone.
    I think children are so lucky these days that there is such a wealth of quality childrens literature. I remember feeling there was nothing for me when I was a teenager. I wasn’t ready for adult books yet none of the books for teens appealed. I think headlines like these just limit perceptions of reading for children.

  12. My older children all loved the Harry Potter series. Whilst it may not be the most well written literary works if it get’s more children into reading it’s ok by me. Plus I fancy Daniel Radcliffe…totally unrelated I know… 😉
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