Before J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, children’s fiction was divided into five groups. Picture books were for the youngest readers who could only understand illustrations and very few words. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Along with those entering elementary school and starting Kindergarten. Simple and basic, only having a to read a few words at a time. While seeing a good number of dazzling drawings to lure them in. This was the first reading level children often experienced, no reading levels at this time were blurred together or blending age groups.
Next were the starter level chapter books, the kind a child would read in the first few years of elementary school. Often beginning in the first grade and ending in third. There would still be illustrations throughout the page, but now there was anywhere from sentence to a paragraph on a page. Since kids at this age were old enough to read a little bit more. These same books would only have a few small chapters to keep reading simple and basic for readers at this age. Yet it would prepare them for what was to come down the road.
Late in elementary school, readers began to be exposed to junior level chapter books. The storylines were still simple, but the illustrations were now replaced with pure text. This level would last until early middle school. These stories remained child friendly without the need to tackle major issues. Characters in these books were anywhere nine to twelve and focused going on some kind of journey, falling into a magical land, or solving a mystery. More literate and aware of the world these kids lived in, but not too literate or aware of the world to keep from a simple and fun.
Middle school brought the senior level chapter books with stories that were scary and more intense, yet still not delving into major real life issues. Some would start reading in the horror genre such as R.L. Stine’s Fear Street. Even though his other series Goosebumps was aimed at younger children in elementary school. These were the books that might scare younger children, but some older children could identify with. Some parents did not approve of their kids reading such ”garbage”, but the kids themselves thought they were worth the read. Some were even banned due to controersy over subject matter.
Young adult fiction came along once kids reached high school, and this subgenre hit them at full force! Children’s literature at this stage were now confront the real life issues younger level children’s books had been protecting them from for so long. Young adult fiction was no different as books for this age group tackled teenage pregnancy, AIDS, homosexuality, disability, disease, and death. This was the stage where children’s books reached the age of maturity. It was also the final step before they started reading full fledged adult fiction. That was, until a young wizard came along and changed everything with a magic wand.
Scholastic began releasing the Harry Potter series written by J.K Rowling in the late 1990’s, it was a storm that hit big. Neither the publishing industry or children’s literature would ever recover. It changed the way many adults looked at children’s books. Even changing the way children read books. Bloomsbury, the publisher who first released Harry Potter in Britain did not believe such a series would work in bookstores. For the most part, it was unheard of to have a series of children’s books or young adult novels written or published in such a format.
Each book was of adult length, making it a fun read for both children and adults. Instead of having a short work of fiction available for a certain age group. This phenomenon also helped children to have fun reading again in an era of short attention spans occupied by video games, cable television, and The Internet. It set off a firestorm with all age groups, and blurred the line between a good number of reading levels. Harry Potter consumed everything except picture books and starter level chapter books. A wave of popularity no one around the world ever expected from J.K. Rowling.
Another innovation resulting from the Harry Potter series was how Harry, Ron, and Hermione aged throughout the books. Unlike The Hardy Boys and Nancy, who had been around 1920’s and 1930’s, and were still the same age. This may have been a bigger factor in blending the different age groups of children together. Along with adults seeing appeal in the Harry Potter installments as full length novels. A younger reader in late elementary school or early middle could enjoy the fantasy and escapism of the earlier novels. The same way an older reader in late middle school and high school could appreciate the social commentary of the later novels.
It would not be surprising to learn that the reading curriculum for schoolchildren has been altered by the Harry Potter novels. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and children in their first few years of elementary schools are most likely still reading picture books and starter level chapter books. Yet by the fourth or fifth grade, many children are most likely reading The Sorcerer’s Stone, if not by middle school. However, by the time they graduate high school, they have most likely read all seven novels. Including the final Harry Potter novel, The Deathly Hollows.
There is no question J.K. Rowling influenced a whole new generation of readers. One that may not have bothered to read a single book had it not been for Harry Potter. Each novel has reached the New York Times Bestseller list has had a hit film adapted from it. The latest being Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince released in movie theaters this past year. Within a year or so, the film franchise will wrap up with a film adaptation of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows, a film that will be made in two parts, due to the book’s length. The two installments of the films will be released within eight months of each other between 2010-2011.