Twenty years ago this week the first Harry Potter book was published. That was a watershed in children’s book publishing in my lifetime, creating a starburst of delight. At the time I had only heard murmurings on local news about this new character. However, the gravity of the impact that Harry, along with Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, Albus Dumbledore and the rest were about to have on reading around the world was not yet apparent to me.
Then, one day strolling through the local Macy’s I saw a young family walking single file. Two of the elementary-age kids had their faces buried in books as they walked unsteadily along. Each was completely absorbed in a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I bought my first Harry Potter book the following day. As an educator committed to the development of the self-determined habit of reading, my interest was in the fervor for reading that this book caused. The series became a global success (now in 68 languages) capturing the imaginations of children (and more than a few of us older folks) everywhere.
The Harry Potter series is just one among an historic group of series books written for the delight of late elementary and early middle school readers. Series are powerful tools for introducing children to the joys of reading, especially those who have yet to fall for the “magic” of books. For example, series like Little House, Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children. Redwall, Baby Sitters Club, Junie B. Jones, Goosebumps, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid offer uniquely comfortable and captivating sets of habit forming reading opportunities for children.
These series have launched millions of reluctant readers’ literacy development. Time and again if readers who don’t yet trust the power of reading get hooked by the first book in a series, it follows that they are likely to want to read the predictably delightful second. If they become voracious readers of that series who are eagerly awaiting each next installment in order to reunite with their now familiar literary friends, eventually they are likely to be looking for another series … and another. Thus begins those youngsters’ lives as readers.
I was already a reader when Harry first came into my life. So, ten pages in, my wife and I had willingly given ourselves over to Joanne Rowling, Harry’s creator, who was a single parent living on public assistance in England. She’s now more famously known as billionaire author J.K. Rowling. She spirited us into the Dursley’s house at 4 Privet Drive, on to Hogwarts and adventures beyond. We read each of the books aloud to each other over the 10 years it took for them all to arrive. It was difficult to wait sometimes more than a year for the next installment of course. We now threaten to take them down from the shelf and binge RE-read them ALOUD at some point.
Connecting struggling readers with inspiring series books can work for reading a lot like the “unlocking” charm works on locked doors….
Pick a series and try it!