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Hooked on Kids' Lit

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Dear editor,

My sons (15 and 12) and I were delighted with Andrew Davis's film Holes, based on the delightful novel by Louis Sachar. I'm glad your reviewer, J.R. Jones, liked it too ["Hotter Than Potter," April 18]. And this isn't the first criticism of the Harry Potter novels I've seen. As a 43-year-old balding office worker, however, I noted the reviewer's question about why so many adults like me read the Harry Potter series. Something about the erosion of childhood. It seems good enough to me that the novels are fun and well crafted, if flawed. But they have meant more than that to us.

The Harry Potter novels are certainly formula fiction, and I wish sometimes J.K. Rowling would break free of that. Why not have Harry get kicked out of Hogwarts or venture out on his own? The novels are also sloppy on a lot of details, like most fantasy and science fiction literature these days. But deeper problems trouble me too. No character ever shows up who even dislikes this stodgy boarding school, with all its mindless rules and slovenly devotion to the way things have always been done, let alone asks any hard questions about the place. Why does Hogwarts exist? Is there any philosophy behind the school, or is it just a trade school for wizards? Why is Hogwarts so serenely bigoted and hypocritical, and why doesn't anyone ever challenge that? I also can't find any evidence of a wizardly moral code or any standards or values that would govern how wizards make decisions. Why shouldn't an ambitious wizard follow the evil wizard Voldemort? No character even wonders out loud about the competence and integrity of the faculty. So one value in reading the series, I guess, is that it gives me a chance to talk to my boys about thinking critically beyond what an author provides.

All that said, the Harry Potter novels are great fun to read, with skillfully drawn characters, smart, funny dialogue, and breathtakingly creative ideas page after page. And when they ran out, the Harry Potter novels served to inspire us to keep going in reading children's literature together, starting with Louis Sachar's work late in 1999. We passed novel number 100 late last year. I have been amazed and delighted to find that there are a lot of terrific children's novels available these days. In fact it is something of a pity that they are called children's novels at all. Children's novels limit the profanity, avoid graphic sex and violence, and have protagonists that are 12 years old or younger. Beyond that, I would recommend some amazing kids' novels published over the last 30 years or so to anyone, including Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, David Almond's Kit's Wilderness, the "Earthsea" series by Ursula Le Guin, and The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson, among many others. Like most books I read, the Harry Potter novels were well worth my reading one time. I'm not embarrassed to say that I loved them at 43 years old, as long as you don't take them too seriously. More important, J.K. Rowling's works prompted us to keep going, and we've enjoyed a wonderful ride in kids' lit ever since.

Mark Dawson

Ravenswood

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