by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
June 21, 2007
30 DAYS AND COUNTING
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The "Days Left" sign at Borders Book Store drew customers' eyes instantly when they entered the large, air-conditioned store at the Carolina Pavilion here. Parents with children made their way to the back shelves where the books for children were stacked next to kid-sized tables and chairs set up welcoming the future readers of America.
However, children in the six-to-12 age range hovered around that sign at the entrance, staring at the posters showing colorful illustrations of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows," the seventh book in the series by J. K. Rowlings.
If you go to Borders site online, you'll discover Borders guarantees publishing date delivery for Internet orders or your book is free. From what I understand by talking with customers hovering around the table at the bookstore, the young readers won't take the chance; they'll be on line for two hours or more before the store reopens at one minute after midnight on July 21.
The first book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," was released in the United Kingdom in 1997 and in the United States in 1998. Not since the phenomenon called The Beatles has anything imported from the U.K. been so overwhelmingly popular here. I haven't read even a line in any of the books but I do understand it's part of the formula found in books for and about schoolboys. There will be fantasy (magic and wizards here) and discovery, I'm sure. Parents are reading to their children and sitting around with their children while they do.
The illustrations are still by Mary GrandPré, and Harry continues to age with the books. This is the last book in the series - and just in time, too. The actor playing Harry Potter in the movies will turn 18 on July 23rd, two days after the publishing date of the final book. With the exception of Richard Harris, who died after playing in the first two motion pictures, all actors are still playing their original roles. The movies are so true to the books that it appears J. K. Rowling wrote each book with screenplays in mind. Readers and moviegoers alike are satisfied, an especially rare happening when books are made into more than one movie.
Not having read the books nor seen the movies, my comments are based on observable facts. Children are reading - and they're reading "Harry Potter and the ..." in great numbers. The kids looking at the posters at Borders were part of a marketing ploy in which anticipation is part of the package. You can read it on their faces. My six-year-old grandson Tyler stood there in awe while his mother and I browsed the other tables for a good summer read. He came over to us, red-faced and actually beaming as he said slowly, "The Harry Potter section is g-r-r-r-e-a-t! The books are open and we're allowed to turn the pages."
That is just one of hundreds of families who will line up with a snack and a bottle of water when the book goes on sale the 21st. From reviews I've read, this is not great literature, but Ms. Rowling certainly knows how to grab a young reader's attention.
Our children can live vicariously through Harry Potter as he learns magic, wizardry, and broom-flying. At the same time, they are reading sentences written by someone who isn't talking down to the reader because of their youth.
I find it relevant that the recent reports on students reading at grade level have improved for the first time in eight years. A May 23 article in the New York Times by David M. Herszenhorn reports:
"The number of eighth-graders reading at grade level or above in New York State climbed impressively this year for the first time since 1999, when the state adopted tougher educational standards and its modern testing system, according to scores released yesterday from the annual statewide English exam," he reported.
"The eighth-grade results showed the most clear-cut advances in a year in which students in all tested grades, third through eighth, demonstrated better reading ability, including overall gains by students in New York City, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made education a cornerstone of his administration."
Well, it is a positive sign when improvements in reading are reported; we deal with negative reports all too often. However, in other articles on improved reading I found countless references to the "No Child Left Behind Act" as the contributing factor.
While I think NCLB adds emphasis to reading programs and offers parents more flexibility in choosing schools, I'm convinced greater interest in reading will come about when a student is offered reading materials that engage not only his eyes but his brain and his imagination so that his anticipation is in finding out what's on the next page.
In the time it took to write this article, the countdown for that earlier midnight I mentioned is now 30 days, 9 hours and 22 seconds. Check it out as you read.
AR Correspondent Constance Daley is based on St. Simons Island, Ga. She recently published her third collection of articles for AR, "Sidewalks and Sand," available from www.amazon.com.