Dr Seuss or Harry Potter - a new opinion

Sorry, I was away for a few days and therefore delayed posting the latest opinion on Harry Potter books or Dr. Seuss books - which have had the most impact on kids’ reading?

Harry Potter Builds Lifelong Readers & Thinkers

There is no denying the powerful influence of Dr. Suess. Back in the 1950s, kids learned to read with Dick and Jane. There were pictures and it was much easier than reading adult material, but it wasn’t that fun. Then along came The Cat in the Hat, and the rest is history. Dr. Suess was controversial, to be sure. If the idea of reading disguised as fun wasn’t enough, his subject matter certainly caused a few uncomfortable moments. Sneetches, Loraxes and Buttered Bread spoke to kids about serious topics.

A teacher once told me that up to third grade, kids learn to read. After that they read to learn. Most adult reading material is written at the fourth grade level. Why? Because most adults stopped learning to read in the third or fourth grade, and only use their existing skills to read after that.

The outside world has adjusted to this sad reality. Newspaper articles, both in print and online, are short and use simple words. Television and film use short, action-filled scenes to capture and hold viewers’ attention. Anything about a “boring” topic has to be even simpler to be seen and heard. Politicians speak in sound bytes.

Since Suess’s time, books have been fun up to a certain level. Kids love to read about tesseracts, literate spiders and wardrobe portals. But what happens after they pass that age? Lord of the Rings is a big jump both in maturity and reading level, and not many adults have the patience to meet Tom Bombadil. (Don’t know the name? That part of the story was too slow to make it into the movie.)

Then along came Harry Potter. It has everything kids love to read about, but treated in a more mature way. It starts off pretty young. In the first installment a kid discovers that he’s actually part of an involved magical world. Staircases move, pictures talk and kids fly on broomsticks. What could be more fun than that? Without noticing it, kids are reading a 300 page book at a fifth grade level, and they’re hooked. Reluctant readers are encouraged by the fact that everyone at their school is reading Harry Potter. Mom and Dad are probably reading it too.

Then J.K. Rowling ups the ante. The final installment is almost 800 pages of seventh grade level material. Along the way, the topics explored include courage, sacrifice, slavery, war and racism, all in a way that kids can understand. The first half of the final book has very little action. Like Harry, Ron and Hermoine, readers have to stick with a long and difficult problem in spite of how hopeless it looks at times. Most young readers and many adults would have given up if they weren’t already invested in the story and the characters. Their reward for patience and concentration is a victory that is all the sweeter because of the difficulty.

Schools should take this wonderful trend one step further by incorporating some of these more modern classics into literature classes. For years, kids have read the Old Man and the Sea, Lord of the Flies and Moby Dick. While we shouldn’t abandon the tried and true classics, incorporating some literature that kids want to read would contribute to the popularity of reading in general. Studying some of the more serious themes might encourage kids to look for a little more depth in their entertainment. Blurring the line between education and entertainment in this way would certainly cause controversy, though. Dr. Suess would be proud.

This response was provided by Coleen Bennett, avid reader, mother and perpetual online college student.

Wow, Coleen. I love this answer and especially the quote:

A teacher once told me that up to third grade, kids learn to read. After that they read to learn

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