For promoters of children’s literature, like Debbie Duncan, the Harry Potter series is in a category all its own. Here’s her Perspective, part of KQED’s collaboration with PBS on ‘The Great American Read.’
One cool October morning twenty years ago, I ate a bowl of oatmeal by the window in a hotel restaurant in Sedro Woolley, Washington the day of my aunt’s memorial service. She had been a middle school librarian. Appropriately, I was reading a book, a new book that would change my life. I was, and still am, a children’s literature advocate. In 1998 I was promoting a book I had written about reading and kids. Joy of Reading includes lists of great books. And when I began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I knew my book was already out-of-date. I couldn’t have been happier.
Here was an instant classic, a novel with darn-near universal appeal. What kid wouldn’t want to read about 11-year-old Harry’s escape from his evil relatives and into the wizarding world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a boarding school in a castle where students climb through portraits to get from one place to another? Harry acquires an invisibility cloak to help him sneak out at night in order to battle the dark wizard. He plays a sport called Quidditch, on a broomstick. And one of his best friends is a girl, the brilliant and spirited Hermione Granger. I looked forward to getting home and reading Harry Potter to my eight-year-old daughter. She’s thanked me ever since.
Soon I learned that J.K. Rowling had six more novels mapped out for the series. Seven Harry Potters? I could talk about these books for years! And I have. I promoted them as family read-alouds, filled with enough imagination and old-fashioned story-telling to entertain readers and listeners of all ages. They’re a perfect gateway to books of all sorts. New Harry Potters were ushered in with midnight release parties at bookstores and libraries, where kids could find even more books. (We kid-lit people are tricky like that.)
Before long the Harry Potter brand extended to movies, conventions, theme parks. A generation has grown up knowing “The Boy Who Lived.” More than 500 million Harry Potters are in print and still selling strong in 80 languages. Universal appeal? You bet.