Life After Harry Potter

I have a confession to make. I never read the entire Harry Potter Series. I only read the first book. I know: I review children's literature. How could I not read the biggest series to hit publishing since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press? Well, as risky as this may be to admit, I didn't really like it.

No, it wasn't the whole magic and witch thing. Or the violence and "dark" themes. It just didn't grab me. There were clever scenes, like the one with the Sorting Hat that assigned new students to their respective houses and the Quidditch games. Still, on or about page six I felt I was reading the book after seeing the movie, which I hadn't. The outcome of the plot seemed obvious, the characters were all stereotypes, even the dialogue sounded like a movie script. I don't usually react that way to children's books. I hoped the sequels were more substantial. However, since so much had been said about Harry already, I believed I was off the hook.

So why come clean now? I happened to look over my husband's shoulder Friday while he was reading the Wall Street Journal and noticed Alexandra Alter's article Conjuring the Next Harry Potter (August 19, 2011). Hollywood and I may agree on something: that some books resemble movies--primarily action and dialogue. According to Alter, the entertainment industry is in a "race to discover the next Harry Potter" and seems to have found it in Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus to appear next month. What intrigued me more than this new book, though, was the fanfare that will accompany its release. Alter writes:

With the massive success of the (Potter)series-more than 450 million copies have sold globally-publishers and booksellers began to treat books more like movies, with viral marketing campaigns that begin months in advance, and elaborate themed events.

According to Alter, many independent stores are planning book parties with circus tents, magicians and tarot card readers.

The global, multimedia marketing campaign boosting "The Night Circus" certainly seems better suited to a Hollywood blockbuster release than an unknown author's debut novel. Not to mention the limited edition action figures and Happy Meal toys.

All of this hoopla makes me wonder what it takes to get something published. Does literary style, character development or complexity of the plot play a role in the choice or is it simply the book's adaptability to the "silver screen"? When Hollywood succeeds in turning a novel into a hit movie while remaining true to the original story, was there much depth to the story in the first place? Despite concerns about reading levels and attention spans, action and dialogue comprise the basic substance of many (but certainly not all) current children's books, an indication that publishers know superficiality sells.

Jennifer Minicus is a teacher and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.


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