Can there ever be another publishing phenomenon like Harry Potter?
Saturday, July 14, 2007
In a week's time, millions of eager readers will have switched off their computers and TVs, cracked open their copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and surrendered to the delicious pleasure of seeing how J.K. Rowling ends the fantasy series that has so far sold 325 million copies and made her the world's first billionaire writer.
Having the end of Harry Potter magic looming leads book lovers to wonder: Could this extraordinary phenomenon happen again? Are there other authors coming onstream whose talents could one day cause a publisher to print their imaginings in 12 million copies -- as Scholastic is doing with Deathly Hallows in the United States?
Phyllis Simon, co-owner of Vancouver Kidsbooks, isn't holding her breath. Potter frenzy is "a once-in-a-millennium kind of experience," she believes. Even with the instant communication of the Internet age, which fanned the Potter fire, it's a rare book that can "galvanize the entire world."
Indigo Books & Music has produced a top-10 list of possible Potter successors, yet most of the writers on it -- C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lemony Snicket, Cornelia Funke, Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paolini -- are already very well known.
Simon, by contrast, is excited by a book that isn't well known, even though it won a Governor General's Award last year. Pirate's Passage, written and beautifully illustrated by Nova Scotia's William Gilkerson, is about a precarious friendship, with suspense and the history of Western piracy woven in. The jury that gave it the GG called it "a challenging children's novel with a dangerous edge" and Simon says, "I couldn't believe how much I loved it."
Chauni Haslet, owner of Seattle's All for Kids Books & Music, steers book-hungry Potter-lovers toward The Alchemyst, by Irish fantasy master Michael Scott. It's about real-life 14th-century alchemist Nicholas Flamel, who also appears in the Rowling books. "It's flying off our shelves," she says.
Haslet also sees Potter fans going crazy for Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief and its three sequels and for Suzanne Collins's five-book series that starts with Gregor the Overlander.
The Lightning Thief, which is about Perseus (Percy) Jackson, a 12-year-old who learns he's a demigod, plays with mythology and is drawing in both well-read kids and reluctant readers, Haslet reports.
The Gregor books unfurl the adventures of an 11-year-old New Yorker who has fallen through a laundry chute into a fantastical subterranean world beneath the metropolis. "Marvellous," Haslet says.
Allison Taylor McBryde, coordinator of children's and young-adult services at the North Vancouver District Public Library, says Rowling has given young people an unparalleled entree into literature by way of fantasy. Kids have entered "the Harry corridor, gone down and opened every single door to find other authors who are like that."
At her library, the hot properties this summer are the Warriors series, animal fantasy stories by the pseudonymous Erin Hunter ("The girls like them because they're [about] cats," one young man told the librarian, "and the guys like them 'cause there's fighting") and the spy thriller Stormbreaker, by "fabulous" British author Anthony Horowitz.
Taylor McBryde can't resist mentioning Charles Higson's books Silverfin and Blood Fever, books with boy appeal -- they're about James Bond as a teenager. And she says boys and girls alike are reading Cornelia Funke's Inkheart and Inkspell and Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy.
Aaron Martin, a 14-year-old in North Delta who used to advise the Chapters/Indigo chain on teen tastes, is swept up in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Trilogy and the Pendragon adventures by D.J. MacHale. The eighth Pendragon book is out and two more are expected. "That's pretty cool," says Aaron.
Tonya Martin (no relation to Aaron), the children's book editor at Raincoast Books, maintains that a series needs enthusiastic male readers if it's to catch fire with kids. In her previous job, at Scholastic in New York, she was the lead editor on K.A. Applegate's top-selling Animorphs series. She knows from experience that "boys do read, and they read en masse.
"The best way to get a series off the ground that all kids will read is to go for the boys."
Although most of the titles mentioned in this article are from the fantasy realm, Martin thinks that genre has been overdone, with publishers riding on Harry's coattails, and that that particular market is "glutted."
She says a book needn't be a fantasy to score big with kids. Rather, it'll find readers if, "when they open that cover, there's a voice that speaks to them or characters they want to be, or be friends with." And if a series grabs them when they're in the middle grades, the author "will have them for four or five years."
At Kidsbooks, Simon says there's a wealth of wonderful literature for young people to discover once they're done with Harry.
Neither she nor Tonya Martin can predict the next big phenom, but Martin says "it'll be kind of nice that there's a lull so that [readers] can get back to grassroots book-buying and not be swayed by 'I've got to get the next Harry!' Maybe they'll see what else is out there."
Sun Books Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
MONDAY IN ARTS & LIFE Potter celebrations in Vancouver
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