Read, then watch 'Potter'


Advice and strategies to help your children read

November 25, 2001

As children across the country flock to theaters to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Dr. Anne Collins Smith, assistant professor of philosophy and classical studies at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., urges parents to make sure their youngsters have read the book first.

Is it really better to read the book before seeing the movie?

I would say yes. When reading a book, readers are active; they construct for themselves a mental image of what's happening. While watching a movie, viewers are passive; the images are constructed for them and presented to them. Ideally, one should have the opportunity to interact with the book, constructing one's own image of the events, before sitting in a theater and simply receiving the imagery of the movie.

How about with Harry Potter in particular?

There are two factors that will somewhat mitigate the effect described above when it comes to the Harry Potter movie. One is that the author [J.K. Rowling] had a lot of input into the movie and has said that it looks right to her. Thus, the movie conveys -- albeit more definitively and in a different medium -- what the author was originally trying to convey in the books. The other pertains particularly to non-British audiences. So much of the setting of the novels is peculiarly British that it is very difficult for Americans (and presumably others not raised in England) to visualize the books for ourselves.

How can parents share the Harry Potter experience with their kids?

The most important piece of advice to the parents is to become part of the phenomenon along with the kids. Take the kids to the movie and sit with them -- don't just drop them off. After the movie, take them out for ice cream or pizza or whatever and talk about the movie; reduce the passivity of viewership by encouraging them to express their opinions and reactions.

Read the books to the kids if they're young; if they're old enough to read the books themselves, borrow them when they're done, and discuss the books with the kids. Buy or rent the audiobooks and listen to them together in the car on your next long trip. The Harry Potter phenomenon offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to interact with their children; seize the moment!

Will seeing the movie prompt kids to read the book? Or will it kill that desire?

The movie will definitely prompt kids who haven't read the books yet to start reading them. In whatever format it occurs, it's a gripping story of the kind that kids always want more of. It's true that if they've already seen the movie when they read the first book, they'll already know more or less what happens in it. But I don't think that will be an impediment. finding out what happens is only part of the joy of reading the Harry Potter series; there is a depth to the books that rewards rereading. Kids who own the books tend to read them over and over.

New York Times Best Sellers List: Children's Picture Books

Editor's Note: The children's best-seller list has three categories -- picture books, chapter books, and paperbacks -- which are published in rotation, one category per week.

1. Olivia Saves the Circus, by Ian Falconer (weeks on list: 9)

2. What's Wrong With Timmy? by Maria Shriver (3)

3. Olivia, by Ian Falconer (59)

4. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin (43)

5. Monsters, Inc., adapted by Catherine Hapka (2)

6. I'll Be Home for Christmas, by Holly Hobbie (3)

7. Marsupial Sue, by John Lithgow (9)

8. The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau (48)

9. My World, by Margaret Wise Brown (7)

10. Butterflies, by Matthew Reinhart (2)

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