The morning of July 16 will be a special one for 80 kids at Surprise Lake Camp. When they wake up in the woods near Cold Spring, N.Y., they'll find their very own copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the foot of their bunks, many with a personal note from Mom and Dad. The camp's director and a local bookstore owner cooked up the idea to allow parents to pre-order Harry's latest installment and deliver it to their children on the day the summer's hottest publishing offering hits stores.
Just hours earlier, on the other side of the country, the Tazzina Bistro in Woodland, Calif., will have transformed itself into a mini-Hogwarts, the school for wizards Harry attends. The hosts promise a free flow of pumpkin juice and butterbeer -- staples in the wizarding world. The festivities are a partnership with the bookstore next door, where the newest book goes on sale come midnight. Why did 27-year-old bistro owner Rebecca Reichardt decide No. 6 was the time to go hog-wild over Hogwarts? Her 12-year-old nephew, Hank, has been reading the series ever since J.K. Rowling's first story came out in 1998, and the whole family got hooked on the series. "We just started reading the books so we had something to talk to Hank about," she says. "Now everyone in my family is buying their own copy. It doesn't feel like we're reading a children's book."
Seven years, six books, three hit films, and countless bespectacled imitators later, Pottermania shows no signs of waning among the young, and continues to gain with adults. More than ever, publishers, booksellers, and even Rowling herself are teaming with die-hard fans to revel in The Half-Blood Prince, the next-to-last in Rowling's planned seven-book series. Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN ) is appointing a panel of Harry's rabid readers to act as Potter experts on its Web site. Rowling will be interviewed at Edinburgh Castle by winners of an essay contest. Harry's U.S. publisher, Scholastic Inc., is planning an initial print run of 10.8 million, the greatest ever for any book. Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS ) says it has received more than 750,000 pre-orders, many from customers wanting more than one copy. Says B&N CEO Stephen Riggio: "That means they're giving them as gifts, and starting other people on the series."
Is the Harry Potter series about to lose its innocence and gain a new demographic core of fans? Certainly, the darker, more adult themes of the past two books -- particularly death and loss of faith in authority -- have attracted more older readers. Adults no longer seem embarrassed to browse in bookstores' children's sections. The fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is "when a lot of adults became as passionate about the story as children had been," says Laura Porco, the manager of publications marketing for Amazon.com.
At the same time, the newer books could see a dip in preteen and even younger readers, the original fan base. Readership demographics aren't being made available by Scholastic or British publisher Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. But anecdotal evidence indicates younger kids are running into some interference from protective parents. "I've had moms say they're going to make their kids wait on the most recent books," says Ruhama Kordatzky, a librarian in Burlington, Wis.
As Potter aficionados dive into the 600-plus-page novel, there will be plenty to talk and blog about. Even after the buzz dies down, it won't be long until the next spell is cast. Warner Bros. Inc. (TWX ) will release the film, The Goblet of Fire, in November. Get ready for the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
By Mira Serrill-Robins in New York