Harry Potter and Arne Duncan Fight the Summer Reading Slide

The education secretary has Obama advisers reading to kids this summer.

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By Nikki Schwab, Washington Whispers

Sorry, Lord Voldemort, but the evil sorcerer of the Harry Potter novels and the blockbuster movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has nothing on the real threat to legions of school kids: the summer reading slide. But that's where Education Secretary Arne Duncan comes in. A dad who's currently working through the Harry Potter series with his own little ones, Duncan is hosting weekly book readings at the department this summer with Washington-area kids to help build their passion for books during a period when movies and video games beckon. "If we can get these kids off to a great start and instill a love of learning, a love of reading, they're going to do great," cheers Duncan. "If we don't do this, well, frankly, nothing else that we do matters."

The Ed Sec worked a little magic on President Obama's team to recruit a star cast of characters for his weekly "Read to the Top!" sessions. Under his spell, the White House offered up Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, press secretary Robert Gibbs, top political aide David Axelrod, and longtime adviser Valerie Jarrett. Axelrod recently read First Dog, which prompted kids to ask about first pup Bo.

"It wasn't a hard sell," says Duncan. "I think they enjoy it—it's great to hang out with kids." And look for his own children—Ryan, 5, and Clare, 7—to read at the sessions. "I put them to work," grins Duncan. "They've got to earn their keep."

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR

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