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A New World of Reading

Anuradha Kumar

This children’s issue of The Book Review comes out in a post Harry Potter world. In July 2007, to much hype and anticipation, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and the last in the series, was published. And publishers all over as well as would be Rowlings scratched their heads hoping to conjure up another readily believable character such as the scrawny, bespectacled Harry Potter.   The Potter books in every respect set a new trend in the arena of children’s writing, though to impute that the world of children’s literature knew little beyond Potter in this last decade is decidedly unfair. The Potter books broke almost every set rule, as it were: They were unwieldy, each successive book in the series seeking to outweigh the one before in its number of pages. They were unillustrated, and as J.K. Rowling herself pointed out, they were largely centred around the theme of death. In the very first book of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we come to know that Harry is an orphan, his parents having been done in by the evil Lord Voldemort.   The success of the Potter books lay precisely in their ability to overturn these rules, and in the formula, almost magically arrived at, of tapping the consumer-reader of every hue. Note the secrecy as publication date neared, the queues, the deliberate leaks that formed the prequel to every new Harry Potter release. The magic then lay also outside the book’s pages. At the same time, Harry Potter did follow certain set patterns of children’s literature—a hero of supernatural powers, an entire new world of Hogwarts, the effortless mix of unreal characters—but because it came to weigh such an overwhelming influence, the world of Harry Potter, with its Potter memorabilia, Potter films, an entire industry outside the Potter books, was also a constraining one.   Where then does all this leave children’s literature? There have always been two ways of defining what such literature is all about. One, books for the young reader that must be formula or thematically set, and are besides clearly age defined and the other kind, as one of our reviewers in this issue puts it, books that ‘stretch’ or transcend such set boundaries. And arguably the Potter books have their feet firmly grounded in both categories, though they still have to ...

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