Suarez, Ray. "Publishing Wizardry: A look at the magical power of a children's book," Jim Lehrer NewsHour (PBS), July 10 , 2000.

CHILDREN: Four, three, two, one... (Kids screaming)

RAY SUAREZ: Kids on both sides of the Atlantic swarmed bookstores this weekend in search of the summer book, the latest Harry Potter. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is the fourth book in British author J.K. Rowling's projected seven-part children's series. The exploits of the young wizard with lightning emblazoned on his forehead have enchanted kids and adults alike. Harry Potter attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and shares desperately dangerous adventures.

LITTLE GIRL: I start flipping the pages so tensely, like I've got to read it, I've got to read it. And then when you're done with the first, it's like buy me the second and the third. So I can't wait to read the fourth.

RAY SUAREZ: The pre-release hype was carefully built into a weekend marketing explosion.

LITTLE GIRL: I'm really happy that the new book is out.

RAY SUAREZ: An unprecedented 3.8 million copies were released in this country on Saturday at one minute past midnight. Potter devotees lined up late Friday night to get their hands on the 734-page tome.

RICH HORTON, Manager, Cleveland Park Bookshop: It's been wonderful. It's just nice to see people just fired up about a book-- not just kids, but adults and the media attention. Things are just... It's unusual for a book. It's like a movie. It's like a movie release.

RAY SUAREZ: It was the largest first printing of a book ever. Advance orders flooded book shops, and Internet retail giant pre-sold more than 300,000 copies. The plot of the fantasy novel was strategically shrouded in mystery prior to its release. Even the title was secret until the British press leaked it two weeks ago. Booksellers signed affidavits promising to keep the books under wraps until the July 8 release date. A few lucky fans snagged copies in advance when Wal-mart stores in Virginia and New Jersey inadvertently broke the publisher's embargo.

Since the first Harry Potter was published by Scholastic in 1998, the series has sold nearly 21 million copies in America. Potter books have spent nearly 100 weeks on the "New York Times" best-seller list, and they've even simultaneously held all three top slots. That's prompted the "New York Times" to launch a new best- seller list just for children's books, starting later this month. The tales of the orphaned wizard have been translated into 35 languages. Even the author is at a loss to explain Harry's universal appeal.

J. K. ROWLING, Author: That's the question I most often get asked, and I honestly don't have an answer. You'd think I would have come up with something intelligent to say about it by now, and I really haven't, because the truth is, I wrote them for me. I don't know, I don't know.

RAY SUAREZ: In Britain Saturday, Rowling launched her book tour on a special steam train called the Hogwarts Express, after the train Harry Potter takes to his wizardry school. Rowling has already sold Warner Brothers the right to put Harry on the silver screen next year.

RAY SUAREZ: For more about the Harry Potter phenomenon, we're joined by Valerie Lewis, co-owner of Hicklebee's, a children's bookstore in San Jose, California. She is also author of "Valerie and Walter's Best Books for Children: A lively and opinionated guide;" Diane Roback, children's book editor at "publishers weekly," the trade journal that covers the book publishing industry. And Leonard Marcus is a children's book historian, author, and critic -- his biography, titled "Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon," was published last year. Diane Roback, we just heard J.K. Rowling couldn't explain exactly what was going on. Did people in the trade know a winner when the book started to come over from Britain?

DIANE ROBACK: I'm sorry. I can't hear you.

RAY SUAREZ: Did people in the book trade recognize that there was something different, that they had a winner in these books when they started to come over from Britain?

DIANE ROBACK: I think it actually grew. It grew little by little. The books were somewhat of a success in the beginning, but by the third book, they were really enormously best sellers. And this fourth one is really beyond what anyone could ever have expected.

RAY SUAREZ: Is it unusual to see a children's book or what's being marketed as a children's book weighing in is there anything like it?

DIANE ROBACK: I can't think of anything like it, either in size or the amount that it's been selling. It's really been unprecedented.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Valerie, Lewis, what are your young customers telling you about what it is that they like about these books?

VALERIE LEWIS, Hicklebee's Children's Bookstore: Well, I just had a fabulous young boy come in the other day, and he said, "I like Harry Potter. You know, he's a regular guy, and he doesn't rag on his friends." I thought that was kind of nice -- he's a decent character, and he manages to handle that whole business of good over evil.

RAY SUAREZ: And there's no gender gap when it comes to the Potter phenomenon?

VALERIE LEWIS: There doesn't appear to be any. By the way, in reference to what you said a moment ago, when we got the first reading copy of Harry Potter in our store, we got so excited we called the publisher and said, if this person ever comes to California, send her out. She was unknown to his us, but the book from the word go was just incredible.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you have to read the other books to be able to get into this? Can you pick up book number three and kind of get into it the way you would an old movie serial?

VALERIE LEWIS: Oh, I think you should start from the beginning. Now ... the other two people might feel differently, but I think there's so much to lose because it's just such a finely written journal, and every year the character gets another year older. And it makes sense to start from the beginning.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Leonard Marcus, for people who have never really heard of Harry Potter, I think they'd find a lot that's familiar in the children's genre. He's an orphan. He is put in the care of people who... adults who don't really take very good care of him and then has to fall back on his own wits. Isn't that a 500-year-old story?

LEONARD MARCUS, Children's Book Historian: Well, it's one of the classic themes of children's literature, and I think one of the reasons the books are so compelling is that Rowling had managed to synthesize a number of the classic themes. Harry is one of the outsiders of children's literature, just as the ugly duckling is or Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Fin. He's also living in a magic world in our midst. That's one of the fascinating premises of fantasy, the thought that you don't have to go to Mars to find a different world, it's really just next door to us if we know how to look for it.

RAY SUAREZ: Is that part of the explanation for the book's success among children, that it creates a world that's kind of ratifying, that's comfortable for them and a parallel world to the world of adults?

LEONARD MARCUS: Well, that's part of it, but it's not just comfortable, because the world that Harry lives in is full of real and palpable danger. I think it's that it's a heightened reality. That's a good part of what makes it exciting. It's like our world squared or cubed. So there's more to it. And I think that's another reason for that... that's one of the reasons adults find it appealing, too. It's an intensified realty. Rowling is also a satirist, and there are a lot of ways in which she's talking about the world that we know in an indirect way.

RAY SUAREZ: Diane Roback, a lot of attention was paid over the weekend to the hype lavished on this book. One wonders whether they even had to go through all of this since the books... there was so much buzz about them to begin with. But is there a point at which we can assume that it's actually the quality of the book that's propping this up, that really you could take some less worthy book and hype it to death and maybe nobody would read it?

DIANE ROBACK: Well, I would say this about what's being called the hype about the book: Part of the children anyway, the hype is really following the story rather than creating the demand for the books. The kids really love these books. And they have nothing to do with the hype. They're not listening to what the media is saying. They're not seeing ads for the book or that kind of thing. They're really just going for the book. I think what the hype is doing, as far as the media, it's informing a lot of adults about the books who would never have been exposed to them, maybe not have... they don't have children, they don't have grandchildren, and I think Harry Potter has really become a household word now thanks to this publication.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you in the trade have any way of knowing how many adults are reading these books?

DIANE ROBACK: Well, there was a recent study that said that four out of every ten Harry Potter books currently being bought are being bought by adults for adults. Now, that was obviously before Saturday when the new book came out. But I think that's a good indication of how across the board the appeal is for the books.

RAY SUAREZ: In the series, Harry Potter is getting older just as the readers are going older. Will this have to mean a real change in the story when J.K. Rowling is writing about a teenager?

DIANE ROBACK: Well, it will be interesting to see. You're right, the teenagers-the readers will be getting older with Harry. But for the kids who are younger than the age rake that Harry is, they can pick up the books in a year or two, and I think that... This isn't exactly on the point, but there is something to the fact that the books, there are seven books, it's a finite series. Kids can grow up with the books. And I think that adds a lot to the appeal.

RAY SUAREZ: Valerie Lewis, as a book seller, I'm sure you're just overjoyed at the idea of it. Seven, a new generation of every generation of eighth graders and eight-year-olds and nine-year-olds might want to pick up and start at the beginning.

VALERIE LEWIS: Right. I mean, it's very exciting. This is about a book. And it's thrilling for those of us who have been pushing to get books into the hands of children.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you feel constrained by the way that this book was marketed, or did this help you as a bookseller to handle the demand for the book?

VALERIE LEWIS: It's been fun. It's been fun. I kind of like the challenge of having to figure out the next way to have this book come. This morning when I went to work after this wild weekend of Harry Potter, walked to the front door, and there was an origami owl, and I pulled it out of the door. Inside its beak was a tiny little red note, and I opened it up and it said simply, "Thank you for all you do." And each one of us on the staff thought, that's what it's all about. We got the community so excited that they're thanking us because we managed to hand them this book that they want so much to read. And that is very exciting.

RAY SUAREZ: And it wasn't bad for you either since -

VALERIE LEWIS: It wasn't bad for us.

RAY SUAREZ: -- human beings aren't supposed to be able to get those messages from the owls. Those are for wizards, right?

VALERIE LEWIS: That's right. But adults have been reading children's books. Harry Potter isn't the first one -- because I've been hearing a lot about Harry Potter appealing to adults. We've had adults for years coming in and reading people like David Almond or Philip Pullman, other people who write basically for young adults -- have quite a lot of fans in adult readers.

RAY SUAREZ: Leonard Marcus, can you sort of place this in the vast pool of things being written for children these days, or is it just in a class by itself?

LEONARD MARCUS: Well, every book is a little bit different. And as I said before, this book really represents a kind of convergence of different genres. There are mystery stories. They're buddy stories. There's the aspect of the super soccer game that they play. So there's sort of sports novels, too. There's a very long tradition of novels for adults, as well as for children, about students, students who are learning about life and getting ready for life. I think one of the ways this series is bound to evolve is that we're going to learn more and more about the uses of the magic that these kids are training for -- what will it be used for, for good or for bad.

RAY SUAREZ: There are some people who have said these books are kind of dark, and they have especially in mind the sort of younger edge of the reading pool there. There's incidental murder. There's frequent death. Should parents know this going in?

LEONARD MARCUS: Well, yeah, they should also realize that children from a very early age know about death and other dark matters. And what books have to offer is a way of framing those experiences and putting them in the context of life. A story has the unique power of putting the most uncomfortable matters within the framework of a beginning, a middle and an end. On some level that's comforting, at the same time that it offers a very valuable kind of understanding.

VALERIE LEWIS: You know, I'd like to jump in with this one, because I think those of us who have survived Hansel and Gretel... talk about abuse. We have a father that sends their children out to the woods. The clever children work their way back. They're not exactly warmly received. The father carries them farther out into the woods. There it's dark. They work their way not back home the second time. But they make their way to a gingerbread house that they soon discover is owned by a witch who happens to be a cannibal interested in... she puts the older brother in a cage and tries to fatten him up. And then the sister has to murder the witch through incineration in order to save the brother. And then they work their way back home.

That is a terrible story. And you can't help but wonder how in the world did we survive that? And I think it's because the children who hear that story are not concentrating on the witch and they're not concentrating on the abusive father. They're thinking, wow, those two kids survived. And every year when parents come to me and say, "I've got a toddler having nightmares who wants to read where the wild things are, what do you recommend? I always say, we're looking at the months terse. There's a chance that child is booing at the little boy who sees the boy who says wild things and absolutely tames them. So who knows - maybe people - I mean, this is the perfect solution for youngsters reading a book where there kid is able to outsmart all those villains.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, panel, thank you all very much for being with us.