Harry Potter and the Olympic Games: The Importance of the Next Generation

31/07/2012 09:11 BST | Updated 29/09/2012 10:12 BST

Amidst all the wonderful British quirkiness at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, there was a sequence dedicated both to the NHS and children's literature. This might seem like a strange combination, but director Danny Boyle linked them through the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which focuses on children's healthcare.

What was so exciting about this promotion of British children's literature is twofold. First of all, there is so much fantastic children's literature that comes from the UK and it deserves to be read by a larger audience - not just an audience outside the nation but by an older audience as well. Too many adults dismiss children's literature as childish or uninteresting, assuming that it has a low level of sophistication. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Children's literature is a wide field that takes on basically all topics, including ones previously assumed to be taboo for children. It also challenges ideas about style and plays with genre. In short, reading a work apparently aimed at children can often be a stimulating, satisfying experience for adults too. It's something more people should do, and perhaps they will be encouraged to do so by the Olympics.

Secondly, the opening ceremonies highlighted the importance of the next generation. Instead of being an event that merely focused on the achievements of adults, children have been incorporated into the planning and running of the Olympic Games in a multitude of ways, and of course this culminated in the moving scene at the opening ceremony where established athletes passed on the lighting of the torch to up-and-coming athletes. Emphasising how essential it is for children to have access to top-rate healthcare and wonderful literature showed the UK's strong belief in creating a healthy, educated, confident next generation.

This is an important message, one that is worth spreading world-wide, and the Olympics are an ideal time and place to do it. Of course, there are still children around the world without access to education, and underscoring the role that children's books play in people's lives reminds us that this is something that must be dealt with.

The GOSH and children's books sequence mostly featured the usual suspects of the field - Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 101 Dalmations, and Mary Poppins; as one commentator put it on the BBC, the scene was filled with "stars both sinister and jovial of children's literature". It would have been great to see some other authors and texts included, especially some more contemporary ones, but it's hard to fault Danny Boyle for the effort he put in.

In short, while there was much that was praise-worthy about the opening ceremony, the references to children's literature and children's healthcare and the focus on children more generally deserve a special mention. Perhaps the Olympics will inspire people not only to take up a sport but also to pick up a children's book. Buy a child a book and read a children's book yourself - doing so could significantly expand your life and that of the child.