STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Well, people are already racing to the end of the last "Harry Potter" book. It's not officially out, but purported excerpts are on the Web. And The New York Times found a copy in a bookstore yesterday, and by the afternoon, they had a snap review up on the Web. But once the last page is turned, what will kids have to read for the rest of the summer? It turns out the shelves in children's bookstores are loaded with other series that kids love to read, and NPR's Lynn Neary tells us what is left after Harry.
LYNN NEARY: If there's one place that might be feeling all the air has been sucked out of the building next week, it's the offices of Scholastic Books, the publisher of the "Harry Potter" series. After all, it's probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience to shepherd such a publishing phenomenon to the finish line. But Scholastic's trade and book fair president, Lisa Holton, says no one at the company is feeling any vacuum, quite the contrary.
Ms. LISA HOLTON (President, Trade and Book Fairs, Scholastic Books): The death knell was sounding. Right as "Harry" was publishing, everyone was saying, oh, books and books for children and printed books are going to be dead in five minutes. And, in fact, what we have instead, books selling hundreds of thousands of copies. We have an incredibly vibrant market. We have new, original voices being published all the time. So I would say, yes, kids are going on to read other things and there's a lot of excitement around children's books.
NEARY: Although there is some debate about whether "Harry Potter" has increased kid's reading overall, Scholastic points to a study it commissioned which says 51 percent of kids surveyed did not read for fun before they discovered "Harry Potter." But Holton says the study also reveals a less sanguine statistic about kids' reading habits.
Ms. HOLTON: There's a drop off after age eight. And while parents thought that the number one reason that kids read less independently was too much homework, kids said that they had a very hard time picking the next right book. So as kids get more independent in terms of what they're reading, what we see really clearly is they need help finding that right exact one that's going to keep them interested and keep them reading.
NEARY: The popularity of "Harry Potter" is one clue to where parents might turn - children's books series. Anita Silvey, author of "500 Great Books for Teens," says kids have always loved series: "Goosebumps," "The Baby-sitter's Club" and "Nancy Drew" were hugely popular before anyone had every heard of the boy wizard. Children are comfortable with series, Silvey says, because they're so familiar. And for fans of "Harry Potter," there are plenty of alternatives to the world created by J.K. Rowling.
Ms. ANITA SILVEY (Author, "500 Great Books for Teens"): She's really grounded in an enormous body of literature that, if you like "Harry Potter," there is another series out there for you that you may love as much or even more. So it's not like the time when Tolkien finished his fantasy series. If you had loved the "Lord of the Rings" in the 1950s there was virtually no place for you to go.
NEARY: For starters, Silvey says, kids that have devoured the "Potter" series might be steered to some of the classics of the fantasy genre.
Ms. SILVEY: This is, after all, where Rowling herself got her inspiration. Diana Wynne Jones' "Chrestomanci" series, which is about a wizard school in England, Ursula Le Guin's "Wizard of Earthsea" series, Philip Pullman's "Dark Materials." So these are classic series that children can go to. And then, of course, we have a lot of things in the current day.
NEARY: In the children's department at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington D.C., customers can get lots of advice on what to buy for picky readers.
Unidentified Woman #1: It's so, so good. It's my favorite.
Unidentified Woman #2: Thank you.
Unidentified Woman #3: I just started it, so.
Unidentified Woman #1: It's adorable. I love it.
Unidentified Woman #4: Okay.
NEARY: Dara La Porte, manager of the department, says one noticeable change since the advent of "Harry Potter" is the number of new fantasy series being published.
Ms. DARA LA PORTE (Children's Book Manager, Politics & Prose Bookstore): Much, much, much more fantasy, many more fantasy books. Tons more fantasy has been published. Everyone seems to have to publish at least three of whatever it is they write now.
NEARY: All right, let's go look at the - what you have here.
Ms. LA PORTE: What we have here is our…
NEARY: La Porte heads to a table of paper bags filled with first, second, even third books in some of the most popular kid series. Right next to them is a table of hardcovers with the latest installments in the series. She points to the "Ranger's Apprentice" series and another series that got started with the popular book "The Lightning Thief."
Ms. LA PORTE: Both of these are ones that when they come out, it's that same kind of excitement. You have kids coming out immediately coming into the store. Oh, is number three here? My friend told me "Titan's Curse" is here. I need it. I need it right now. And I don't remember that kind of thing happening before the "Harry Potter" thing started. This idea that books come out, they come out on a certain day, and we must have them and we must have that next one now is a phenomenon that really has started and much more in the last 10 years.
NEARY: But to get kids to the point where they're begging for a book, La Porte says, you have to get them interested in reading when they're still very young. And series are a good way for beginning readers to consolidate their skills.
Ms. LA PORTE: Something like the "Andrew Lost" or "Magic Tree House," or "A to Z Mysteries" is another series, the "Capital Mysteries." All of these, every book is set up exactly the same way, the same characters, the same number of pages. Everything about them is so similar that it's very easy for the child to plug in and gain that reading confidence.
NEARY: But while series may help kids build their reading confidence, some of them can also be simplistic. So it's important, says Anita Silvey, to continually challenge your kids with new books.
Ms. SILVEY: Whether the series is "Harry Potter" or another series, you want to move them on to something else. Because you don't want them just caught at a reading or thinking level for the rest of their lives so you really need to move them. And I suppose in that way it's good that "Harry" is ending because at least we can then move readers on to the next set of books.
NEARY: And, of course, the Harry Potter series isn't really going anywhere. For kids who are honing their skills on the "Magic Tree House" books now, Harry, Hermione, Hogwarts, et al, may be the next challenge in their reading journey.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: And you can find lists of some recommended children's book series at npr.org.