Murphy, Candace. "Potterheads celebrate Harry month: Fans await the release of next film, then, 10 days later, final book in series." San Jose Mercury News, July 1, 2007.

According to the Julian calendar, today is the first day of July.

But by any other measure, today is the first day in the Month of Harry Potter.

First comes the release of the fifth Harry Potter film, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," in theaters July 11. Then, 10 days later, just as Harry Potter fans have been whipped into a frenzy from seeing their ever-maturing hero on the silver screen, comes the literary crescendo and the denouement -- the release of the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," at midnight July 21.

The release of the book, likely to draw the most attention, marks the end of a 10-year run for Harry Potter and author J.K. Rowling, who made their debut in 1997 when "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" (renamed "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in the United States) was first released in the United Kingdom.

The record-breaking first printing of 12 million copies in the United States of the final Harry Potter book comes in addition to 121 million copies of U.S. editions of the first six books. It all amounts to an onslaught of Harry Potter hype, discussions of how Harry Potter changed the world of children's reading and what could possibly match it in the future.

"Oh, I'm definitely sad to see the Harry Potter books end," said Jane Kraut, librarian at Eden Gardens Elementary School in Hayward. "It's gotten kids excited about fantasy as a genre. It has also spilled over in that they are looking at longer books that they believe they can read -- that's been the biggest thing."

Eclipsing cerebral discussion, at least at first, will be the media hype, which will soon approach full speed.

There will be midnight readings, bus tours and raffles for the opportunity to check out copies from the public library. There will be round black spectacles and fake lightning bolt tattoos everywhere. There will be food sections devoted to Hogwarts-inspired snacks designed to sustain Potterheads of any age across the nation.

And there will be the usual deluge of Harry Potter cliches: phrases like "muggle mania," "magic in the air" and "There's Something About Harry." There will be critical assessments of how book sales are "magical," that the book "worked its magic," and that Rowling has "cast a spell on fans." There will be references to "he-who-must-not-be-named," even when the "he" in question is not Lord Voldemort.

Those cliches are no exaggeration. Most of them come from a list of Harry Potterisms to avoid, as decreed by the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.

"I'm not sure I would use the word 'hype' to refer to all of this," said Kathleen Horning, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. "I think of it more as a phenomenon. The excitement surrounding the last book's release, the information generated by readers that are both children and adults -- that's what makes Harry Potter so unusual. People are literally counting down the days till this book comes out. And they've been doing that for every book, ever since the first one."

There was little fanfare for first Harry Potter book in the United Kingdom; it gained momentum largely through word of mouth on the playground.

Librarians stateside, though, had an inkling that something was afoot when publisher Scholastic Inc. paid $105,000, an unprecedented amount, at an auction for rights to a children's book by an unknown author. _

"There was a buzz about it before it was even published here," said Horning, who also serves as the director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center in Madison, Wis. "First, the U.S. rights were sold in auction, and then librarians began to hear from child readers. I remember before I even read it myself, I bought it and sent it to my nephew who was 5 and had a fascination with witches. When I saw Harry Potter came out and that it had a boy witch as the main character, I sent it to him without reading it myself, which wasn't typical of me. My brother called a few weeks later and said, 'That book you sent to Joseph, have you read it?' I thought, 'Uh oh.' But he went on and said 'I've been reading it aloud ... it's great!'"

The Harry Potter series' broad appeal helped strike a chord in readers. First and foremost, Rowling has always described the books less as a series and more as one long book broken into seven parts. And whereas books like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy series had characters that stayed the same age, the Potter books feature characters who age.

"People have to put down the book in the middle of the story and then pick it up two years later," said Horning. "That's why people so eagerly anticipated each next book."

The books also have an appeal that crosses playground cliques. Children who like books about fantasy, magic, sports, orphans, humor, animals, adventure, mystery and now, even romance, all have something to turn to in the pages of Potter.

Of course, the $64,000 question is whether the series has really had the revolutionary effect on children's readership that was predicted around the time when book three, "The Prisoner of Azkaban," came out in 1999. That year, Rowling went on a book-signing tour that included a stop in San Jose at Willow Glen High School. The event was slated to accommodate 150 people but ultimately grew to a 1,000-person affair.

The hope then was that interest in reading would spill over to other books while readers waited for the next Harry Potter installment.

Anecdotal evidence suggests those predictions have panned out. A study of 1,000 children in the United Kingdom two years ago found that almost six out of 10 children thought the books helped them improve their reading skills, and 48 percent said the Harry Potter series is the reason they read more.

And though no firm statistics can be found linking other titles to an interest sparked by the Harry Potter series, some librarians say children have sought out other titles.

Kraut, the librarian at Eden Gardens, says the children in her school have gravitated to Lloyd Alexander's "Prydain Chronicles" as well as San Francisco author Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events" books.

"It's impossible to tell if there's more interest in reading, but I do know it's increased in what we call 'browsing,'" Kraut said of the children at her school. "They're looking at the books with greater intent to read them than they previously did."

But certainly the cash cow, or at least the bookish bovine, is Harry Potter. Vivian Lee of the Oakland Public Library's Children's Collection Development said she has preordered 252 copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" for the system's libraries -- 50 of which were ordered from A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair in a show of support for an independent bookstore. Of the 306 library patrons who as of earlier this week had put a hold on the book, 200 will be able to check it out when the main library hosts its midnight release party July 21.

For those buying their own copies, stores like have had entire sections devoted to Harry Potter for months. Amazon has a "muggle counter," which, at last look, had tallied 993,703 preorders. The site also lists the Top 100 "Harry-est" towns in America. On a local note, Mill Valley, Sebastopol and Sonoma are among the Top 50. (No. 1 is Falls Church, Va.)

"It's been very exciting as a librarian -- it's encouraged family reading together, discussion among children about the book across boundaries, it has just been very exciting to watch," said Horning. "The only other thing that I've heard about like this in the past is when Charles Dickens was writing books in serial form and people were standing on the docks waiting for them. But I don't think there will be anything like this, like Harry Potter, again. Not in my lifetime."

Original page date 1 July 2007; last updated 1 July 2007.