Joy of a good fight - over a book

Last week, I stood in a bookstore and watched as my children absorbed the ramifications of the 30-percent off sticker on "Harry Potter," a wondrous wizard's tale that has hit The New York Times bestseller list. After some negotiation, out came their money, and we left, the happy owners of a second copy of this literally enchanting book.

That's right. Second. The first wasn't enough to prevent nightly soliloquies on whose turn it was to read about Harry and Hagrid and Hermione. Nor could it travel to two classrooms at once.

This book -with chapter titles like "The Midnight Duel" and "Quidditch" - is a big hit. It has 309 pages and no pictures, but it gives readers room to imagine and muse -and in our case, the desire to visit Harry again and again.

That experience is too often missing in children's reading, according to some critics, like researcher Sandra Stotsky. In an interview on page 16, she charges that efforts to bring diversity to textbooks has often devolved into a plethora of preachy, simplistic tales that do little to expand vocabulary. Where's the mystery or adventure, she asks, that will likely create good readers?

The dismal experience with reading scores over the past few decades in the US has spurred reform in how kids learn to read. And schools are making headway: The National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests recently found that no state had lost ground and some had even seen students of all backgrounds advance.

But what kids are given to read also determines how inspired they'll be to crack a book voluntarily. That's where Harry Potter and his many fans have some helpful hints.

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