Friday, July 21, 2000

Harry who?

Everybody's wild about Harry. Pick up a magazine, tune in a news show, stop by, and you're likely to see that bespectacled face peering back, accompanied by reports of record sales and unprecedented interest and children lined up around the block to buy a 700-page book. All of these stories mention at some point that anybody who's never heard of Harry Potter must be living under a rock.

Which makes our house Rock Central.

"Who's Harry Potter?" asked my husband when he saw the name emblazoned in a banner on my issue of "Entertainment Weekly." Never heard of the character, never heard of the books, never been touched by the media blitz. But surely the kids have heard of it--I know my daughter's classmates were requesting it in the library, and I've seen endless photos of children her age dressed up in Potter-esque costumes attending bookstore events. But nope. In an informal survey, two out of two of the children living in my home have never heard of the junior wizard. Does the hype machine know about this? It's missed two!

Not surprising, really. As with so many things, we're a little delayed in pop culture skills hereabouts. My 10- and 7-year-olds are still watching "Barney." They can easily watch the whole Nick Jr. lineup without flinching. Since my daughter's been in a mainstream classroom this past year, she's started to get a clue about what she should be liking, but not precisely why. She professes great enthusiasm for Pokemon, but can't tell you any more about it besides the fact that she looooooves Pikachu. She claims to adore Backstreet Boys and Brittany Speers, but rarely plays the music. She does play with her Gameboy regularly, but isn't obsessed with getting new games or new gizmos. She's got the form of fandom, but not the content.

Still, I might have expected her to at least ask to buy the Harry Potter books, even if they'd sit about gathering dust. But then, books are somewhat beneath her radar at the moment. Although she has the mechanics of reading down pat, she's missing the comprehension, the enthusiasm, and the enjoyment. Because she doesn't process words well, she needs to read very slowly, and I don't even want to think about what that would mean with books as thick and detailed as the Potters. Limited vocabulary and limited understanding of abstractions would also be a problem. I'm hoping to read the very slender "Sarah, Plain and Tall" with her this summer, and even that may be too ambitious.

At any rate, the big magical adventure we'll embark on this month will be on the computer, not between the covers. In an attempt to speed up her word-processing abilities, we'll be trying out the Fast Forword program over the next six weeks. The idea is to train the brain to handle sounds faster, in the hope that this will cause faster understanding of words and ideas. There are reports of children gaining a year or more in language development in 30 days. I've had too many disappointments to believe in that sort of quick fix, but I'd be happy if she could just get from the beginning to the end of a sentence without losing her way.

And if she happens to pick up a desire to read books--700 page books or 70 page ones, whatever--so much the better.

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