Magazine article Reason

What Harry Potter Can Teach the Textbook Industry

Magazine article Reason

What Harry Potter Can Teach the Textbook Industry

Article excerpt

As the world knows, the latest installment in the Harry Potter series sold five million copies on the first day it was available. Many thousands (or millions) of American children stood in line for hours to buy the book.

Here's the rub: the same children complain incessantly that their textbooks are boring. Whereas they hunger to get a Harry Potter book of nearly nine hundred pages, they can barely tolerate the equally large books that are assigned in school.

What does Harry Potter have that the textbooks don't?

Today's textbooks represent a major achievement in visual design. They glitter with charts, photographs, drawings, and pedagogical advice to the reader. But they are boring.

While researching a book about textbooks, I asked a major publisher why the textbooks are so heavy with graphics. He said, "American kids don't like to read anymore. They are so accustomed to watching television and the Internet that a book can't hold their attention without lots of visual stimuli."

The success of the Harry Potter series shows that this assumption is wrong. American youngsters will read books that are exciting and well written, regardless of their graphics. They devour the Potter books because author J. K. Rowling has infused them with classic themes drawn from legend and myth, as well as biblical imagery. Like J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, Rowling's books resonate with suspense, mystery, intrigue, and showdowns between the forces of good and evil.

In contrast to the gripping tales told by Rowling and Tolkien, our history textbooks skim lightly above the surface of events, ignoring the fact that history is first of all a story. …

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