"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the wildly popular J.K. Rowling novel that inspired America's current No. 1 movie, will soon become required reading for a group of third-grade students in one Ventura, Calif., elementary school.
The book's leap into the public school's language-arts curriculum is a sign of a growing trend by educators to use Rowling's novels which have captivated millions of young readers around the globe as a teaching tool.
"It's an advanced book for a third-grader, but what I have found is if they're excited about it and motivated to read it, they can handle a greater challenge," said Teresa Johnson, principal of Portola Elementary School, which last week got approval to purchase 30 copies of the book as a supplemental textbook. "It will enhance their comprehension skills, at whatever level they are."
"Harry Potter" has had a strong presence in school libraries and on extracurricular reading lists throughout Ventura and Los Angeles counties since its 1999 release. But the book which has been banned in other parts of the country because of perceived satanic content has yet to be widely used in formal reading-comprehension lessons.
Johnson said third-grade teachers thought the 312-page novel the first in the series would be a good challenge for their most advanced readers. Starting later this school year, students will study the characters, themes and vocabulary in "Harry Potter," discussing the book aloud and writing about it.
It will fit into the portion of the language-arts curriculum that has students doing different reading activities in small groups based on their skill level, Johnson said.
At other schools, the Potter books are used in different ways. For example, copies are available during free reading time, or teachers may read the books aloud to younger students.
While Rowling's fiction has topped best-seller lists around the world, it also has sparked controversy. The "Harry Potter" titles were banned from a handful of school libraries across the nation after parents argued that the book could attract children to witchcraft.
During the past three years, the series has been the most frequently challenged of all books in schools and libraries, said Beverley Becker, associate director of the office for intellectual freedom at the American Library Assn.