Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Harry Potter and Artful Literature

You knew I would get around to Harry Potter eventually, right?

Does his existence promote reading? I have absolutely no doubt it does. I have talked to many people, young and old, who don’t usually read books and wanted to read Harry Potter. I also know many people who have not read any of the books, have never seen any of the movies, and have no desire to. And that’s fine. But I bet they’ve all heard of Harry.

Does his existence promote bad grammar/writing habits? Probably not any more than Huckleberry Finn or any of a number of other classics. Yes, Rowling does break a number of “rules,” but I’m still trying to figure out who sets all these rules. And her writing gets progressively better with each book, at least in my opinion.

You use whatever works. Madeleine L’Engle used “It was a dark and stormy night” to open A Wrinkle in Time. She forever cemented it as a cliché and insured that the rest of us would not use it. Of course, that didn’t stop Snoopy from repeating it. And often. But Ms. L’Engle did use it, and there’s no doubt the book is a well-revered classic.

No, Harry Potter is not fine literature nor is he on level with anything Ms. L’Engle wrote. But, God help me, I like Harry.

We’re also told to give our characters problems and let them solve them. Harry does that. In spades. A misunderstood orphan, he has to fight one of the biggest evil-doers the world has ever known. Often alone. He’s flawed but lovable.

Does his existence promote witchcraft? Only in Harry’s world. Even outside of fantasy, fiction writers must be free to create their own worlds. No one really believes that the kind of magic Harry practices exists or should be revered outside the books and movies.

Is he over-commercialized? You bet. Is any popular figure today NOT over-commercialized? Chris Evert was once responded to a question of whether she was worth all the money she won in some tennis tournament. She said, “Probably not. But if I don’t take it someone else will.” I get sick of hearing about the costumes, wands, and amusement parks, but it’s all just part of the territory of being popular. At least Rowling does give back generously.

Do I like Harry? I already said I do. He is a phenomenon not likely to be repeated.

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Math Is

Rant warning. Well, this one is not going to win me friends, but maybe I’ll influence some people.

One of my pet peeves is people who say they hate math. Especially writers. Especially children’s writers.

Many people come to writing because their talents lie in word usage. And they use all their effort for improving that usage and becoming the best writers they can. All the more power to them! Effort is what writing is all about.

π  But writers also need analytical skills and objective reasoning. How in the world does someone who lacks these skills produce a plot or even take notes from an editor? How do you get to know a character? Do you just feel the character? True understanding of math may be outside your god-given talents, but I think most people can understand basic concepts.

And how do you hate math? Hating math is akin to hating breathing. Math exists. Math would exist with or without the presence of human beings. Get over it.   ∂

I suspect what they really mean is that they hate using any of their energy to learn about math or think through anything with numbers logically.

∫ fx dx  So many people complain about word problems. It seems the same people complain because math has no relevance to their lives. Umm … The relevance is in the word problems. Sorry. “Janie needs to buy flooring for her bathroom. The room measures …” Anyone out there recognize the relevance of this situation? Show of hands.

OK. You can hate math if you really feel that strongly, but would you please stop telling kids to hate math? Do not use that as a major character trait in your books without having at least having an opposing force, i.e. someone who loves math for no particular reason. Or have the character use something mathematical. Or come to terms with the dreaded subject. Kids are too easily influenced. We need good mathematicians in order to have a good society and good scientists.  a2 + b2 = c2

I’ve actually known people who, in high school, did everything they could to avoid math. Took the bare minimum and squeaked out passing grades. Only to find that they needed the background for a business degree or to be a carpenter or electrician. Even if you’re a rock star and someone handles everything for you, it would be nice to know whether you’re getting cheated.

All that being said, I do love math. It’s always been one of my best talents. It comes easily for me. So, in full disclosure, please stop telling me you hate math.

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