Competition for CliffsNotes arrives on the scene – in print

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Need a study guide to brush up on the lingo in "Harry Potter"? The creators of SparkNotes are hoping you'll want to partake of their take on all kinds of literature.

Welcome to the next generation of CliffsNotes. Remember those bumblebee-colored readers that summarize famous works of literature? SparkNotes claims that it now offers something better.

SparkNotes study guides are created by recent college graduates to help high school and college students better understand classic texts such as "Wuthering Heights" and "To Kill a Mockingbird." And the company offers road maps for modern literature as well.

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"Our guides never dumb down the literature they cover or patronize our readers," says Justin Kestler, editorial director of SparkNotes.

The series' popularity online – the company says that www.sparknotes.com has 2.1 million registered users – could translate into good sales of the new printed guides, which will make their debut next month.

But some educators, of course, are wary: How many students will really use these as a resource, and how many will see the guides as a way to escape reading the books they are assigned?

For students struggling with comprehension, the guides' in-depth analysis can be a valuable companion to the text.

On the other hand, SparkNotes' neat dissections and thorough explanations might discourage students from wrestling with stories' symbolism and difficult concepts themselves.

Mr. Kestler says that SparkNotes, purchased in 2001 by bookstore supergiant Barnes and Noble, has the best of intentions.

"Instead of showing them the shortcuts, we show them how to understand and enjoy the books they need to read," he says. SparkNotes has also been recommended as a tool for teacher review.

SparkNotes is planning to branch out to offer study guides in math, science, history, biology, and psychology.

It might even step into the competitive field of helping students prepare for college entrance exams.

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