Harry Potter and the magic of reading
With the final book due in July, teachers assess the impact the popular series has had on children's learning.
Sitting at a table in the library of Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, N.Y., sixth-grader Marcus Weathersby makes a confession.Skip to next paragraph
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"As soon as I get the next Harry Potter book, I'm going to read the last page," he says. "I can't wait. I just cannot wait."
The seventh and last Harry Potter book will be released in July. Millions of Potter fans won't have another book to look forward to after that. But Harry's effect on many young people – and their love of reading – may be magical enough to last a lifetime.
A 2006 study by Scholastic and Yankelovich found that the Harry Potter books have had a positive impact not only on kids' attitudes toward reading, but also on the quality of their schoolwork. The Kids and Family Reading Report surveyed 500 children ages 5 to 17 and their parents or guardians. More than half of Harry Potter readers said they hadn't read books for fun before the series, and 65 percent said they have done better in school since reading the books. The study also found that the reading habits of boys – who consistently have lower literacy test scores than girls – changed the most as a result of reading the books.
Back in the Ithaca library, Marcus's friend, seventh-grader Daniel Carroll, says that he's going to read the end first, too. The boys belong to a group of students who compile book reviews for a blog on the school's website. Their teacher, library media specialist Claire Michelle Viola, doesn't quite seem to understand their strategy.
"That doesn't ruin it for you?" she asks.
"No," says Daniel, smiling. "I always forget [the end] by the time I get there."
The boys are eager to know the answers to many looming questions, including Will Harry survive? But they will have to wait until July 21 – a day that will mark the end of an era. At midnight, a record-breaking 12 million copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" will be released in bookstores across the country. Fans of all ages will stand in line to pick up the 784-page final installment of J.K. Rowling's popular series.
As in past years, kids will sport black-rimmed glasses and colorful capes. Release parties will offer prizes, food, and fortune-telling through the early morning hours. But this July will be different. Amid the celebration and excitement will be the realization that the young wizard's journey is nearing the end.
Nancy Kellner, library media specialist of the Peaslee Elementary School in Northboro, Mass., has been a fan of the series since it began in 1997. The books will become classics, she says, but some of the excitement will be lost after the seventh one is released.
"I can't imagine the original magic of Harry Potter will remain," she says. "The magic is waiting for the next book."
Marcus credits the series for getting him interested in reading. He says his grandfather read him the first five books, but he wanted to read the sixth one himself. Since then, he loves to read medieval, fantasy, and science-fiction books, he says. He also now likes the many books he reads for school – even though the majority aren't his favorite genres, he says.
"I whip through 50 books a year," says Marcus matter-of-factly.
Finding a book that can engage a reluctant reader is not easy, says Jennifer Groff, the library media specialist at Belle Sherman Elementary School in Ithaca, N.Y. Children can feel defeated if by age 9 or 10 they haven't found a book they can connect with. Ms. Groff, who reads Harry Potter aloud to fourth- and fifth-graders at lunch three days a week, says there is something about the way the story is told that captivates kids.
Harry Potter by the numbers
Some 325 million copies of the books (hardback, paperback, and in translation) have been sold worldwide, with 121.5 million copies in print in the United States alone. The books are available in 65 languages and sold in 200 territories. For a decade, they have been enthralling readers of all ages with wizardry, endearing characters, suspense, and countless quirky facts and oddities that fans relish discussing.
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE – June 1997, UK. (It was retitled HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE for the US version published September 1998, 309 pages.) The tale that Joanne Rowling wrote in Edinburgh cafes to keep her newborn daughter warm and escape a chilly and dank apartment was typed on a typewriter. Readers are delighted by the story of the boy wizard-in-training, lessons in potions, Quidditch, and The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It sells 100,000 copies in its first year in Britain and is acquired by US-based publisher Scholastic for $100,000 – the highest advance ever for a first-time author's book for children. Film rights to the seven books planned are secured by Warner Brothers by the end of 1998.
2. HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS – July 1998, UK; June 1999, US, 341 pages.
Harry and school friends, bullies, and ghosts reappear in the second title, also written in cafes around Edinburgh. It becomes a bestseller in the UK, a feat achieved by only a few other children's books by authors such as Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis.
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN – July 1999, UK; September 1999 US, 431 pages. The third title makes its debut as the fastest-selling book in British history.
4. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE – July 2000, 734 pages. Many bookstores plan elaborate events for the fourth book's release, hosting 'Harry Potter' parties for costumed fans at midnight in Britain and the United States. This is the first title to be published simultaneously on both continents.
5. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX – June 2003, 870 pages. Despite the epic-sized tome, the maturing Harry continues to draw. The book sells 11 million copies in 12 weeks, 5 million the first day alone.
6. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE – July 2005. 652 pages. A book with darker themes, suspense, and death, its publication ends weeks of wondering, selling 9 million copies in Britain and the US in the first day of release. The sixth book is the first to be shorter than the previous volume.
7. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, to be published July 21 in English-speaking countries worldwide, 784 pages. First printing: 12 million. High security reportedly surrounds the book's distribution, which will take place the day before. Precautions include security guards at printing plants, warehouses in undisclosed locations, and steel chains wrapped around shipments.
– Compiled by Leigh Montgomery
Sources: Bloomsbury.com; Christopher Little Literary Agency; Infoplease.com; Mugglenet.com; News Reports; Nielsen BookScan; J.K. Rowling official site; Scholastic.