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Was the Boy Wizard the Charm That Made Children's Books Fly?

Rowling's work "has absolutely had a great effect on boys and reading," says Jon Scieszka, author of boy-friendly books such as the "Time Warp Trio" series (though it's worth noting that girls like them, too).

A few years back, Scieszka, a former elementary school teacher, got so concerned about non-reading boys that he started a Web-based literary program called Guys Read ( http://www.guysread.com) and put together an anthology of boy-friendly writing.

Yet Scieszka emphasizes that, more than just Harry, boys need "a choice in kinds of reading," whether it's nonfiction, science fiction or graphic novels.

"There are a huge number of boys who read nonfiction," agrees Jewell Stoddard, who heads the children's department of Washington's Politics and Prose bookstore. Stoddard's son was one of them. His fifth-grade teacher once sent a note home saying "the problem with him is that he doesn't read." This was a boy who "read everything that the Montgomery County libraries had on snakes when he was 11." He's a neurobiologist now.

Many in the children's literature business also note that Harry was hardly the first fictional series to appeal to boys. Among those frequently mentioned are the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, the "Goosebumps" series and Brian Jacques's "Redwall" saga.

What about Rowling's seemingly indisputable contribution to a boom in children's book publishing (or at least part of it)?

Ask about Harry's effect on the industry and the first thing you'll hear is that Rowling's books disproved the longstanding belief that hardcover children's fiction didn't sell. The next is that they've caused a vast and lucrative expansion of the fantasy category.

Simon Lipskar, the literary agent, represents Christopher Paolini, author of "Eragon," "Eldest" and the forthcoming third book of the "Inheritance Trilogy." Before Potter, Lipskar says, if he'd called a publisher and said "I'm going to sell you this trilogy and by the second book you'll have sold more than 8 million copies in North America and a majority of them in hardcover," he'd have been laughed at.

Yet both changes might eventually have occurred even without the boy with the lightning-shaped scar.

"I think the landscape started to change before Harry Potter," says Simon Boughton, publisher of Roaring Brook Press.

Boughton was publisher of the Knopf children's division when it made what was then a substantial hardcover fantasy bet -- a first printing in the low six figures -- on "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman.

"We took a big swing at this book and it worked," he says, though he takes care to note that "something as big as Harry Potter can't be just a symptom. It's a freestanding phenomenon."


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