For Rolfe and Unschooled Readers Everywhere

31 01 2008

” Does J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series pervert American values?”
by Ally Chumley at

. . . For too long, kids have been offered stories which present real life – with its own evils. It’s high time that today’s kids are introduced to the conventions of the English-style fantasy story, which is a legitimate sub-genre, and which has been under-rated and under-represented in Australian libraries in the last decade.

. . .Recent statistical research suggests that children and adolescents are not enjoying the reading they conduct at school (Australia Council for the Arts, 2006). Nor are they choosing to read for leisure.

As a child, I found it virtually impossible to stop reading for fun. I also enjoyed the benefits of increased language proficiency, better powers of retention, recall and comprehension, improved concentration span, imaginative development, improved capacity and confidence in writing, tolerance for a wide range of new ideas and an optimistic belief that life is full of strange and wonderful possibilities. However, the virtually limitless sources of stimuli available to today’s kids compete for their attention, often at the expense of the humble storybook.

Narrative fiction tends towards unity and continuity in its outcomes, a feature which poses a stark contrast to the world of reality. It can become very personally involving, and offers the reader a significant role in constructing the meaning of the text, through exercising the power of interpretation.

. . .The universal appeal of the sharing of stories springing from the imagination and influenced by the experiences of the story-teller can be explained in part by the force of curiosity. A story presents to the listener or reader a world of deliberately limited design. It is a generator of curiosity, being unfamiliar, unpredictable (at least initially) and independent of the reader’s influence.

The world of the text is a temporal place where a reader may lose himself for a time, a place where he may participate emotively, and a place from which he may exit at will. Perhaps children inherently understand this. If they do not, it is difficult to explain how they allow themselves to become so immersed in a book at all. The motivation to open a fantasy story book appears primarily to lose one’s self for a time. Children understand that Harry’s world is limited and affected by forces which do not exist in the real world. That is why kids want to interact with that world – because it is an interesting alternative to boring reality.

. . . In identifying with a character in a constructed world, the chance to satisfy curiosity about that world and the experiences it offers becomes available to the reader. In a narrative, the reader may feel an intimacy with a carefully constructed setting through close attention to the movements of the character, which satisfies to a degree the common human desire for diversity of experience. Rowling has recognised that desire through her own reading experiences as a child and an adult, and it shows in her work. The books give the reader the impression that he/she and the author are somehow making their journey together, exploring together and through Harry.

Statistics show that 63 per cent of Australians are not engaging in voluntary reading as a leisure activity (Australia Council for the Arts, 2005). . . One probable explanation for this is the apparent failure of many readers to successfully engage with books at school and enjoy an aesthetic literary experience.

It is important to foster in children a liking for stories. Each enjoyable literary experience, whether read independently or read out aloud to others, will ultimately affect the valuing of reading for the enjoyment it can offer.

Parents are often the first facilitators of the literary experience among children through the practice of reading stories aloud. This practice has been valued in the past because of its potential to develop in children a liking for stories, and in later years, for reading in general. Parents in Australia continue to read to their children, although disappointingly, in the Australia Council’s survey of reading trends (2005), only 41.2 per cent of parents were found to be reading to young children on a daily basis. . .



2 responses

4 02 2008
Rolfe Schmidt

Thanks JJ, that was interesting. It’s funny, when I was in school I was one of those kids that would never read for fun (aside from J.D. Salinger and the occasional Math and Physics book). I wouldn’t even read under coercion. Of course I didn’t have Harry Potter.

So I’d like to think that all is not lost if your kids don’t like to read. They may be “late” bloomers. Or they may never like it — there are plenty of adults who don’t read for fun but are successful members of society anyway.

I’d say that understanding stories is more important than reading, and telling stories is more important than writing. If you’re a good storyteller, passing that on to your kids is probably more important than reading to them. Loads of people know how to read, but not many can pull you in with a good yarn.

27 02 2009
Making Another Book Meme My Own « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Galaxy, Douglas Adams *5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling (what’s the real power of story in Harry Potter?) *6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (hum the jingle with me: nobody doesn’t love Harper […]

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