<em>Harry Potter</em>: The End

Does the end ofmean the end of pleasure-reading for this generation?
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"What is the color of a sickle?"

"What color are Slytherin's robes?"

"Wait -- do you mean their everyday robes, or dress robes, or Quidditch robes? That's not a fair question..."

Yesterday, in celebration of the impending release of the final Harry Potter book, my library held a Hogwarts Trivia Bingo game for the teens in our town. It was a popular event, well attended by middle and high school students, boys and girls, populations that rarely mesh well together. The passion these teens have for the works of J.K. Rowling is limitless, and amount of detail they recall, often years after reading the books would warm even the frostiest English teacher's heart. But alas, with tomorrow's release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, these intrepid young readers will have to find some other title or author to turn their rabid attention to.

The inevitable question on the lips of many is, will they? News outlets, reporting yet another decline in teen reading, have speculated that with no more installments of Harry Potter, many of the thousands of children who have grown up reading this remarkable series will turn away from reading and towards other, less literary pursuits. Does the end of Harry mean the end of pleasure-reading for this generation?

Of course not. Teens who like to read for fun will keep reading.

The teens I work with are waiting on baited breath for Harry Potter. But there is also tremendous anticipation for the forthcoming books by Stephenie Meyer, Scott Westerfeld, Libba Bray and Rick Riordan. When new books by Walter Dean Myers, Patricia McCormick, Pete Hautman or Rachel Cohn arrive at our library, I don't see them for weeks: Teens scramble to check them out as soon as they get returned. Never heard of these writers? I suggest you take a look -- you won't be disappointed. Due in part to the Harry Potter phenomenon, we have entered a sort of Golden Age of youth literature. Great writers are choosing to write for children and teens and the quality of books being published for young people is astounding. Like book-lovers of all ages, teens recognize good books and want to read them.

There will undoubtedly be some young people who never get into books the same way once the final page of The Deathly Hallows is turned. For many of these kids, the experience of Harry Potter isn't just about reading a great story. It is really about being part of the zeitgeist. Reading, as an activity, is a solitary pursuit. But for teenagers, nothing is more important than being social and part of the group. This has a lot to do with the inevitable decline in reading as children get older: Their lives get busier, and any discretionary time they do have they prefer to share with their peers, in person or online, instead of alone in the world of a book.

The most popular teen books among girls in our library are the soapy Clique and Gossip Girl series (soon to be adapted for television), and among boys the action-filled Alex Rider and Pendragon books, front-runners of a myriad of easy-to-read series pumped out for mass consumption. Series books, while they might not be the type of books parents, teachers, or other adults might choose for their kids, make reading cool. Teens choose to read them not because they are great works of literature, but primarily because all their friends have read them: Reading transformed into a social activity, and an important component of a social circle's cultural literacy.

And so at midnight tonight, we close the final chapter of the series that will undoubtedly become as essential as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. This might be the end, but it really is just the end of Harry. Let's worry about whether this generation will grow into adult pleasure readers or never pick up another fiction book later. We should enjoy this truly magical moment, when thousands of us are waiting in delicious anguish not for a movie, or a concert, or a new album, but for a big, fat children's book.