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We need another Harry Potter.

It is nearly sixteen years since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel and few would argue the immense impact of J.K. Rowling’s series in every corner of the globe. Indeed, there are some young Muggles who cannot remember a world without the famous boy wizard. Whilst the success and cultural influence of the Harry Potter series is undeniable, of late there has been a noticeable shift in the place young Harry and his friends occupy in the hearts of the young.

Harry Potter

The first hint I had of a waning preoccupation with Harry surfaced upon the release of the final movie back in 2011. During a wide-reading lesson, my class of Year 7 boys were discussing the upcoming film release with much anticipation. During the ensuing discussion, I discovered the majority of boys had not read the final book in the series and furthermore, had no intention of ever doing so. They all reported quite cheerfully that they had been waiting for the film’s release to “see how it ended”. Thank you, Hollywood.

Apparently this reluctance to read the actual book is not restricted to boys. A recent change of school now sees me enjoying wide-reading lessons with girls and, much to my dismay, I have discovered a similar avoidance of Harry. The prevailing reason given for not bothering to read the books is “we’ve seen the movies; we don’t need to read the books”. Again, thank you, Hollywood.

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of the movie tie-in, as it frequently sparks eager interest in a book. A fortunate side-effect of the hoopla surrounding certain blockbuster films is often the rush of fans to the bookstore, impatient to read the book and/or series. The Hunger Games is a recent example of this movie-inspired hype.

Sadly, the rush to read Harry Potter appears to be at an end. The story has reached saturation point and as such has created a disturbing predicament for both educators and parents: like Neville Longbottom’s cauldron in potions class, Harry Potter has gone off the boil. The exhilarating whizz-banging blast of spells has faded away to a sad fizzle.

At the height of its popularity, the Harry Potter series was nothing short of a phenomenon. Rowling’s imagination, clever characterisation, warm wit and resounding themes captured the hearts of readers and non-readers around the world. Children ran around playgrounds shouting Expelliarmus! and Wingardium Leviosa! College students created their own Quidditch league, Hermione made going to the library cool, and the word Muggle entered our lexicon forever.

Indeed, there was a time back in the early part of the 21st century where it was hard to find anyone who hadn’t read some or all of the Harry Potter series, or at least expressed the desire to read it. In short, Harry got both kids and adults reading. And as my Reading Rules explain, often all it takes to trigger a lifelong reading habit is enjoyment of and engagement in one book – and Harry Potter was certainly the trigger for a generation of readers.

The majority of these Harry Potter readers are now in their twenties, members of the so-called Generation Y. They grew up reading the print editions of Harry Potter, eagerly anticipating the release of each subsequent book. Later, they were the first fans at the midnight screenings of the films, resplendent in their Gryffindor scarves and Death Eater masks.

Despite receiving bad press for various traits, Gen Y is an incredibly smart and articulate group. I am constantly blown away by the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of this generation – the Harry Potter generation. Of course Harry Potter didn’t create these smart kids – but maybe their habit of sustained, deep reading had a profound influence on the way they turned out.

The world of reading has undergone significant changes and challenges since these Gen Y readers were children. Today’s children often read from a screen and not from the printed page. Whilst I maintain that any reading is good reading studies are beginning to discern a difference between reading from a screen and the printed page, as this Scientific American article reports. Indeed the National Literacy Trust in the UK believes that children’s reading progress is hindered by Kindles and e-books.

Further studies into the long-term effects of reading from non-print sources are clearly needed. But it is irrefutable that a child reading an e-book from a connected tablet such as an I-pad or Kindle Wifi has to compete with many distractions whilst reading – checking social media sites, online chatting and gaming. The ability to become totally immersed and absorbed in a good book is lessened by constant distraction – and this must detract from the enjoyment of the reading experience. Does this lack of immersion and subsequent lesser enjoyment of the reading experience explain the decline in reading among our children? What will be the societal result? Will reading decline to such an extent that we become a post-literate society?

Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, the final book in the series, there has been a void in the reading world. Yes we’ve had the Twilight craze, but this was far more popular with girls than boys. John Green is arguably the most successful author for teens at the moment, in large part due to his clever marketing via social media (a big hello to any nerdfighters out there). Green is undoubtedly an exceptional writer. His novel The Fault in our Stars is being made into a movie, and there is a currently great deal of online hype about this. But few adults will have heard of either the author or the book. Perhaps the nearest rival we’ve had to the Harry Potter phenomenon in recent times is The Hunger Games. But with sales of 26 million against the 400 million of Harry Potter, the comparison is almost embarrassing.

It’s clear that nothing comes close to Harry. And that is a problem. Because anecdotally most educators will tell you that this generation is not reading as much as previous generations. And when they do bother to read, many of them are reading e-books. More studies need to be done on the effect of reading from screens and personal devices, but all teachers will tell you that nothing beats sustained reading and it is difficult to become immersed in an I-pad when Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds are beckoning.

We need another Harry Potter! We need a new series which will tap into the imagination of children (and adults) around the world. And we need a few years between the publication of the book and the release of the inevitable movie so that kids have to make an effort and read the damned book first! Will the next J.K Rowling please step forward?

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Top 10 books borrowed by boys

We are well past the half-way point of Term 1 and it’s time to look at what the boys are borrowing in the library:

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

No surprises here. The imminent movie release has increased interest in this exciting read. I have multiple copies in the collection and still cannot meet the demand. Lots of boys have a reservation on this one too.

 

2. Once by Morris Gleitzman

This is driven by Year 7 interest. The younger boys have really taken to Gleitzman’s trilogy, and it’s not hard to see why – Felix is such an appealing character which softens the content matter.

 

3. Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney

The latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, these books are always popular.

 

4. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden.

I don’t think this book is ever out of the Top 10.

 

5. The Death Cure by James Dashner

The very brilliant final instalment in the Maze Runner trilogy.

 

6. Department 19 by Will Hill

This book has been hugely popular since its introduction into the collection last year. Jamie Carpenter’s story has huge appeal for teenage boys, no doubt helped by the inclusion of Frankenstein. (Read my review of Department 19 here).The interest in this franchise will only increase with the release of the next instalment The Rising.

7. The Sleepwalker by Robert Muchamore

Part of the ever popular Cherub series. Cherub needs no promotion – it sells itself through word-of-mouth advertising amongst the boys.

 

8. Then by Morris Gleitzman

The sequel to Once and possibly the saddest book I’ve ever read.

 

9. The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

The first book in the Maximum Ride franchise. This series has always been strong and continues to entice new readers. The eighth book, Nevermore, is due out in August. The boys also like the Graphic Novel adaptation of this series.

 

10. Artemis Fowl: the Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer

The fourth book in the Artemis Fowl franchise. This series is eternally popular with the boys and it’s no wonder. Artemis Fowl is a brilliant character: intelligent, witty and calculating. It’s a pity he’s a criminal mastermind.

 

This list has few surprises, but in some ways I find it a little disappointing. I love the fact that the boys are reading and embracing the wonderful series that exist in the world of Young Adult fiction, however I wish there were more new titles on the list. The Maze Runner and Department 19 were the big hits of 2011 so I can only hope that there will be some equally exciting new releases in 2012.

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Get ready for The Hunger Games!

The Hunger Games is the first novel in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world in the former continent of North America.

The gutsy female protagonist is Katniss Everdeen who, in order to protect her younger sister,  volunteers to enter a series of televised, ritualistic games in which participants fight to the death – the so-called “Hunger Games”.

The Hunger Games are an annual event, run by the Capitol, in which one girl and one boy from each of the twelve districts are randomly selected to compete in a televised battle. These twenty-four youth (aged between 12 and 18) are referred to as Tributes. Kat and the other Tribute from her district, Peeta, enter the Games as underdogs and must use every one of their talents and skills to not only advance in the competition but also survive.

The Hunger Games was first published in 2008. It’s a terrific read for young people and adults alike, and there’s still time to read it before the movie hits our screens on 22nd March. Here’s a movie preview to whet your appetite:

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Top 10 heroines for girls

To me, a heroine is intelligent and courageous and not afraid to be different. She is resourceful and enterprising, quick-witted and self-assured.  She has a sense of humour and is not afraid to laugh at herself. She is both entertaining and admirable.

My top 10 heroines for girls fulfil some or all of these qualities, and they are champions for both girls and boys.

1. Hermione Granger (by J.K.Rowling)

Let’s face it – without Hermione, Harry would have died in the first book. Hermione is the brains of the outfit and teams her intelligence with sheer determination and resourcefulness. (Doesn’t every girl want that bottomless handbag she conjured up in the Deathly Hallows?). The thing I love most about Hermione is that whenever she doesn’t know the answer to a problem, she goes to the library and looks it up in a book. Brilliant!

2. Josephine March (by Louisa May Alcott)

I’m sure there are many modern girls and teens who have never heard of Jo March, or Little Women, but Jo is such a wonderful literary role model that I have to place her high in this list. Jo is a girl who is ahead of her time. She is feisty and independent, and has little desire to be constrained by convention or tradition. She remains true to herself, despite the difficulties of being an untraditional woman in the 19th century.

3. Ellie Linton (by John Marsden)

Of the seven teenagers in the Tomorrow series Ellie is the true hero, a fact acknowledged by the later trilogy penned by Marsden called The Ellie Chronicles. Ellie is a tough Aussie chick: she can ride and drive with the best of them, is intelligent and quick-witted and hugely loyal.

4. Katniss Everdeen (by Suzanne Collins)

Katniss is the gutsy protagonist from the Hunger Games trilogy, which is soon to hit the big screen in a movie adaptation. Katniss gets my vote because of her courage, her values and her independent spirit.

5. Matilda Wormwood (by Roald Dahl)

This is the favourite book of one of my daughters. When I chose Matilda as a top 10 heroine, I asked my daughter’s opinion on what it is about Matilda which puts her in this category? She replied “Easy. Matilda has a sucky life but she gets through it.”

6. Josephine Alibrandi (by Marlena Marchetta)

My love for Marchetta’s writing has already been declared elsewhere in this blog. Josie is a heroine because of the obstacles she must overcome: racial bigotry, an absent father and the tragic suicide of a close friend. She represents so many young women who can relate to her journey, and who enjoy her endearing personality. 

8. Trixie Belden (various authors)

What’s not to love about a down-to earth teenage girl detective? Trixie is clever but never loses the appeal of being a typical teenager. The re-release of the books with flashy new covers in the early 2000’s sparked a new generation of fans.

7. Maximum (Max) Ride (by James Patterson) 

Max is the leader of the flock in the hugely popular Angel Experiment series. The result of an experiment, she is 98% human and 2% bird. Max is a heroine because she is a 14 year old leader who shows enormous amounts of responsibilty towards her flock, and she’s incredibly gutsy and determined.

9. Anne Shirley (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Chatty, imaginative and clever, Anne of Green Gables  is  a classic figure in girls’ fiction and a top 10 list would not be complete without her.

10. Bindy MacKenzie (by Jaclyn Moriarty)

Bindy is a character who polarises audiences, but I adore her. She is so self-assured and so perfect, she simply cannot see why anyone would dislike her. Others may perceive this as arrogance, but Moriarty portrays Bindy as one of the most self-assured adolescent female characters in young adult fiction.

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