Coming soon: Harry Potter and Movie's Curse?
Ten-year-old Hannah Dischinger knows Harry Potter's world as well as she knows her own. In fact, she has read J.K. Rowling's three blockbuster books so many times - 21 readings of the first book alone - that her mother finally took them away and told her to read something else.Skip to next paragraph
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"I think I really do see Harry Potter's world," says Hannah. "I see through Harry Potter's eyes when I read those books."
Like millions of children, Hannah will be waiting to snap up a copy of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" the moment she can get to a Denver bookstore July 8, the book's official release date in the US and Britain. But it may be the last time she will ever see the magical world of Hogwarts School through Harry's eyes - or her own imagination.
As the publishing world celebrates an unprecedented first-run printing of 5.3 million copies (3 million more than the average John Grisham novel), Harry Potter merchandising agreements and a movie (expected in 2001) mean that soon children's imaginations will be flooded with somebody else's images of their beloved wizard and his wonderfully wacky world.
And that, say many children's advocates, is a shame.
They argue that, while there's no turning back what one observer calls the "Disneyfication of Harry Potter," it's worth taking the time - in homes and classrooms - to consider the costs of commercializing the experience of childhood reading.
It's especially worth doing, they say, in the case of the Harry Potter books, which have been credited with getting huge numbers of children to discover the pleasures of reading.
"It's really important to think about this, and to talk about this," says Diane Levin, an expert in child development and media and the author of "Remote Control Childhood." "When kids read a book, they bring what they know to it. They create their own pictures and images. In some ways it allows them to bring their own agenda to what they're reading.
"But once all the images are given to them," says Ms. Levin, a professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston, "it becomes much harder to do that. It makes them less creative, less imaginative."
Child-development experts like Levin say children learn best when they play games that allow them to use their own creativity to solve problems and develop a sense of self.
It's the kind of play that many children have engaged in as a result of reading the Harry Potter books - taking on the identities of Harry and his friends and acting out games of their own imagining.
"What is really so astonishing about Harry Potter, is that it became a popular phenomenon as a book, as nothing more nor less than a book," says Susan Linn, associate director of the Media Center at the Judge Baker Center for Children in Boston. "It came at a time when the purveyors of pop culture are saying that children have no attention span, that everything has to have bells and whistles, that to get kids to read, they need to watch television. And Harry Potter proved them wrong."
Don't save her a seat at the theater
Nine-year-old Maggie Thulson, who attends the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning with Hannah, says she and her friends often play Harry Potter games.