By Jean Arthur
MSU News Service
BOZEMAN - Montana State University children's literature expert says the Harry Potter books kick-start reading among youngsters and hook reluctant readers. The next episode of the fictional wizards in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" will be released Saturday.
Joyce Herbeck, MSU education professor, says the books about the orphan Harry Potter and his adventures at a British boarding school for wizards have encouraged a whole generation of readers.
"If kids have not experienced a really good book, then they will want to do something else besides read," Herbeck said. "It doesn't look like much fun, just reading. Kids must experience a good book to become avid readers."
Herbeck attributes author J.K. Rowling's success to a number of literary tools: good and evil, humor, magic, fantasy, relationships and thrills - the stuff juvenile readers love.
Adults, too, like to read about the protagonist Potter and his pals Ron and Hermione during their years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Adults recognize how the three teens deal with puberty, friendships and the importance of loyalty.
"I have my college students, our future K-8 teachers, read a Harry Potter book so that they know what children are reading," Herbeck said. "We talk about J.K Rowling in my children's literature class and read her books as part of the fantasy genre."
She said most of her college students have not read the Harry Potter books before she assigns the books, and are reluctant to read them because many don't like fantasy.
"But once they start reading the book, they are amazed at Rowling's characters. Most people can identify with Harry, a new kid in a new school dealing with all the insecurities, the bullies and the normal problems of
life. Adults like the books because of Rowling's humor. You can read the books on many different levels."
The first printing of "The Half-Blood Prince," at 10.8 million copies, breaks all records for first printing. Rowling's last Harry Potter novel, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," began with 8.5 million copies.
By comparison, the average John Grisham novel has a first printing of 2 million books. "The Half-Blood Prince" has been Amazon.com's No. 1 book on its sales list since the book was announced several months ago.
"Research shows that the best way for children to get excited about reading is to be read to, from day one," Herbeck said. "By kindergarten, they will have heard 10,000 stories and have a positive attitude toward reading. They will want to read."
She suggests that parents read "The Half-Blood Prince" aloud as a family activity. Parents and kids then share the literary experience, talk about characters and guess what might happen next.
Then, she said, keep the momentum going with other great kids' books, such as this year's Newbery Award winners, "Kira Kira," by Cynthia Kadohata, "Al Capone Does My Shirts," by Gennifer Choldenko, and "Lizzy Bright and Buckminister Boy" by Gary Schmidt.
"What I love about children's literature is that the books keep getting better and better," Herbeck said. "I can't wait until 'The Half-Blood Prince' comes out myself. I've had my book on order for months."