The fifth installment of J.K. Rowling's children's series will be released worldwide on June 21

To paraphrase Eminem, the poet laureate of hip-hop: Guess who's back? Harry's Back. Call a Friend. Harry's Back.

At the book industry's annual BookExpo held in Los Angeles earlier this month, booksellers and press people searched in vain for an advance copy of J.K. Rowling's fifth book about the boy wizard extraordinaire. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be released worldwide on Saturday, June 21.

At BEA, Potters' American publisher, Scholastic, greeted each seeker with the same pat answer: "The author J.K. Rowling wants everyone to enjoy the experience at the same time."

In England, Rowling will host a worldwide Webcast from London's Royal Albert Hall at 4:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. local time) on June 26 at www.msn.co.uk/harrypotter. Rowling will read from the book for 4,000 school-age children.

Prediction: Rowling will undoubtedly begin with the first words from the new book: "The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive ... The only person left outside was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number four."

So what else is new in the latest installment? (For readers who don't care to have their fun spoiled, please skip to the next paragraph.) First of all, Harry will lose a friend. A woman will be the new DADA (Defense Against the Dark Arts) teacher; Ron will be the new keeper

For information on the Harry Potter midnight release parties, see the 'Words Listings' in the calendar section of the Current's website.
of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Want more? Harry is beset by a disturbing dream (nightmare?) of "a single door in a silent corridor." The OWL (Ordinary Wizarding Level) exams get tougher. And there is a new sorting hat song. We'll stop there and hope your appetite is whetted.

Although Phoenix will be the best-selling book the week after its release, don't expect to find it listed in the beleaguered New York Times Best Seller List. As most already know, the Times relegated Potter to the lesser Children's Best Seller List since it "hogged" the list for such a long time, other publishers complained to the paper. Oh well, so much for credibility in reporting the news.

A few odd facts: Despite the book's plethora of awards in England, the book hasn't been given any literary awards in the U.S. - although it has been eligible. The author's English citizenship has nothing to do with eligibilty of certain awards. Aren't we being a bit boorish in ignoring the book that almost singlehandedly brought reading back as a viable form of literary entertainment for kids?

Still, the Brits outdo us when it comes to priggishness. Bloomsbury, Rowling's British publisher, puts out an adult version of all the Potter books. No, racy parts aren't added; instead a staid, almost generic cover is substituted so that closet adult fans can read the book in public so others might think they're reading Graham Greene (Harry Lime and the Third Man Zither?)

Rowling's greatest challenge will be to keep her audience through the seven projected installments without readers' interest waning. After all, homegrown Lemony Snicket whose projected 13-book "Series of Unfortunate Events" featuring the Baudelaire orphans keeps gaining momentum. Earlier this year, six of the 10 slots on the Times best selling list were Snicket books. Look for a knockdown slugfest when Lemony and Harry battle it out next year on the movie screen: May the best kiddo win.

Meanwhile, do yourself or the kids a favor, order the deluxe edition of the Potter book and put it away. Not only will it have a smaller press run, but it will contain different cover art by Mary GrandPré. This alone will make it a collectable of the highest order. And if by chance it has a printing error, it could also be a book collector's gold mine. •

In San Antonio, many book and discount stores will be open at 10 and 11 p.m. Friday, June 20. The book will go on sale at midnight. Many stores have special events for Potter fans and will sell the pricey book ($29.95 cover price) at deep discounts. Check with your bookseller for further details. You might prefer to have the book delivered to your door by ordering from the Internet.


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