The Controversy Continues: Is Harry Potter for Kids?

The Controversy Continues: Is Harry Potter for Kids?

Note: Please, for the sake of my sanity and to facilitate a reasonable discussion, read my previous 2 posts on Harry Potter as well as all of the linked posts by Scott Peterson as well as the comments threads on those posts before posting a comment on this thread

In the discussion below with Jane I had a valuable insight into the whole Harry Potter debate. It seems to me that a fundamental assumption made by critics of HP is that they are books for kids and that childrens literature should be held to a different standard than books for adults. All the staunch supporters of HP I’ve seen, on the other hand, seem to be refusing to hold a double standard, ignoring the question of whether the books are appropriate for children. So far I’ve not yet seen the debate clearly framed in this way, but people seem to be talking past one another because they make different assumptions and judge the books by vastly different criteria.

In my senior year of college I took a class in Children’s Literature offered by the Education Department. I was the lone lit major in the class and I soon learned that the skills I’d learned and the criteria I’d used to read books in my lit classes were not the same as the ones we were expected to use in Kiddie Lit.

The first and foremost question we were to ask was “Is it age appropriate?” And most of the time when I disagreed with Prof C. on the merits of a book it was because I was enjoying it by my own criteria while she was seeing it from the point of view of an educator. Only now am I starting to see some of these books I wanted to champion through her eyes and realizing that I now agree with her. They may be fun books, but I will not hand them to my child.

In fact the biggest beef I have with J.K. Rowling is precisely this: she doesn’t seem to have any real concern for her audience. She has set out to do something that is, to my knowledge, new in the field of children’s literature: to write a series of books that grows as the reader grows. Each book advances Harry one year in school. The assumption is the reader is similarly advancing. But is this a valid assumption? It stupidly ignores the possibility of new readers.

And thus the dilemma. A book that is appropriate for a sixteen year old may not be appropriate for a reader of eight. (And I’ve heard of even younger readers tackling the series.) But the books continues to grow darker and darker and to deal with “age-appropriate” material. Like sexuality and death.

I have a hard time believing that Rowling can’t see this, so my conclusion is she doesn’t care. I have huge problems with someone who takes such a cavalier attitude towards children. Writing children’s literature is much harder than writing for adults. And the children’s book writer has certain ethical responsibilities to her audience that a writer for adults does not have (though all writers share some ethical responsibilites to their audience.) If she is blind to the problem then we have a whole other set of issues.A writer who doesn’t understand her obligations to her audience also has no business writing for children.

Parents and teachers need to realize this. They have a serious obligatin to the children under their watch to make sure they are not given inappropriate material. But the publishing industry needs to help them out and stop marketing harmful books to kids.

The Harry Potter debates will contine to rage with lack of understanding on both sides unless we can agree on the criteria for what makes a book appropriate and inappropriate for children.

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  • I know this happens a little later but after they learn to speak then you realize that they do their own grammar and diction.  Mouse/mice therefore House/hice.  Pudding is the act of eating pud, didn’t you know?  I’m reading your blog backwards today so the article about the bored mother is in my past.  Why wasn’t she fascinated by watching someone put the world together right in front of her?  Because she was too ….  ignorant   ….  to pay attention.

  • That reminds me of a story I heard somewhere about a slightly older child who wanted to stop speaking “baby speak”. So doggie became dog and kitty became cat and donkey became donk.

    I know what you mean. Those little things are the greatest joys in life. Being with our children it becomes easier to follow Jesus’ command, to become like a child ourselves. And then we catch little glimpses of heaven.

    I can only think she wasn’t fascinated because she wasn’t even there. She farmed her children off to a nanny as soon as she could. She spent the time when she was with them wanting to be someplace else. Mentally she was someplace else.

    But I feel very sad for her. She missed out on one of life’s greatest joys. She’s already in her own kind of hell. Life when babies are boring is a terrible, terrible place to be. Where clothes are more important than children.

    But I think it’s also a cautionary tale too. I can see how easy it would be to take Bella for granted, to resent her intrusion into my life. Having to give up doing what I want to be doing to feed her, change her diaper. It does require a kind of martyrdom, a death to self. What those of us who are willing to die that death realize is that the rewards are far, far greater than whatever it was we dropped. Her smiles are worth a thousand great novels. 

  • More kiddie grammar from Rich Leonardi:

    ‘Whooch’ and the Three-Year-Old

    “I want to pick out whooch ones I need.”

    “Which ones, sweetheart.”

    “No, it’s whooch.”

    “Why do you think so?”

    “Because there’s more than one.”

    “So ‘whooch’ means more than one ‘which’?”