“Harry Potter”, Literacy, and the 100th Anniversary of Children’s Book Week
This April 29 through May 5 is the first of two Children’s Book Weeks that are going to be held in the United States this year. Why? 2019 marks an important milestone: It has been 100 years since the initiative was first started in 1919. The Children’s Book Council’s charity Every Child a Reader describes the week as “the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country,” in fact.
Every Child a Reader explains the week’s history.
Children’s Book Week originated in the belief that children’s books and literacy are life-changers. In 1913, Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, began touring the country to promote higher standards in children’s books. He proposed creating a Children’s Book Week, which would be supported by all interested groups: publishers, booksellers, and librarians.
Mathiews enlisted two important allies: Frederic G. Melcher, the visionary editor of Publishers Weekly who believed that “a great nation is a reading nation,” and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library and a major figure in the library world. With the help of Melcher and Moore, in 1916, the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association sponsored a Good Book Week with the Boy Scouts of America.
Since 1944, the Children’s Book Council has been responsible for Children’s Book Week, which had been held in November until 2008, when it was moved to May. Every Child a Reader has been in charge of planning events ever since. This year’s theme, Read Now ∙ Read Forever, hopes to continue a century’s worth of love for children’s books. A second Children’s Book Week will be held from November 4 through November 10. Partners include the American Library Association (ALA) and the Library of Congress.
The benefits of reading for children have been documented in many studies, including the benefits of reading the Harry Potter series. Here are just a few examples.
There have also been benefits to children’s publishing. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) discussed this in a 2017 piece. Thanks to the success of the Harry Potter series, the fantasy genre grew in popularity, Dr. Michelle Smith of Deakin University explained. Belle Alderman of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature at the University of Canberra explained that Harry Potter also helped blur the line between books for children and books for adults.
Even the first book of Harry Potter was quite long and quite complex with a large cast of characters and a lot of things that were happening. The editors and people who were reading it [were] thinking, ‘Who would buy this for a child?[‘] … [but now] people are thinking it’s okay to have a very long book.
Author J.K. Rowling has been recognized for her contributions to children’s literacy too. In 2013, the National Literacy Trust named her as one of Britain’s top ten “literacy heroes.” The nominees were selected by the public, while the nine recipients of the award were chosen by a panel.
In 2014, Rowling supported a campaign by the National Literacy Trust to increase reading standards for British schoolchildren. The Read On. Get On. campaign was created after it was found that over a million children in Britain’s schools would not be able to read “well” by the age of 11. As of 2019, the campaign is still active.
Both Bloomsbury and Scholastic, two of the major publishers of the Harry Potter books, have also worked to increase children’s literacy through the Harry Potter series. Last summer, Scholastic launched a summer reading challenge for young readers with a Harry Potter theme, while Bloomsbury is working to make the Harry Potter books easier to read for those with dyslexia. (As a fun fact, even Princess Beatrice of York has said that the Harry Potter series helped her like reading in spite of her dyslexia.)
In short, there’s no better time to read with a child than the present. Looking for ways to celebrate Children’s Book Week with a child in your life? Check out the list of official Children’s Book Week events here. How will you be celebrating?