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Has Scholastic at last found the mythical next Harry Potter?

August 28, 2009

catchingfireProbably not. Yet the pre-publication buzz for Catching Fire, the second installment in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, is downright, well, Potterian.

And speaking of Harry Potter: Remember all those Evangelical and Catholic critics claiming the Potter series promoted Satanism? Some of them now say: Oops! Our Bad. Harry’s on the side of the angels after all!

First, Suzanne Collins. With a first printing of 350,000, Catching Fire isn’t the biggest Fall children’s book by sheer print run numbers, reports Publishers Weekly, but it’s generating the most anticipation among wholesalers, book sellers, and readers.

“It’s the one I’ve seen and heard the most buzz for,” Heather Doss, children’s book buyer at the wholesaler Bookazine, tells PW. “Dan Brown is a really good comparison,”

So while it’s unlikely any chldren’s book will match Harry’s sales – ever – it’s not impossible. Besides, Collins could sell a lot fewer books than Rowlings, and still make a lot of booksellers happy.

Buzz has been building for Catching Fire since BookExpo earlier this summer, when Scholastic handed out advance reading copies. Excitement escalated earlier this week when Stephanie Meyers, author of the Twilight series, blogged that Catching Fire exceeded her expectations.

Collins doesn’t come out of nowhere. A veteran writer for children’s television (“Clarissa Explains It All,” “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo,” “Little Bear”), she’s also the author of the best-selling Underland Chronicles series.

But something about The Hunger Games, published last year, struck a special chord with critics and readers– possibly its deft mix of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and teen romance. Stephen King, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called it “addictive,” while the School Library Journal said it’s “exciting, poignant, thoughtful and breathtaking by turns,” and The New York Times added the book is “brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced.”

The Hunger Games has sold 500,000 copies – nowhere near Potter numbers, but more than respectable. Like the Potter books, it’s popular with reluctant readers. “The Hunger Games was one of those books that got kids who normally wouldn’t read to read,” Diana Tixier, a public schools librarian in Colorado.

Scholastic and booksellers are planning a Potter-style rollout, with prominent displays, email blasts, online countdowns, in-store parties, and more. Much more. Catching Fire, which goes on sale Sept. 1, can hardly miss.

As for Harry and the Devil, NPR reports that some Christian scholars now say Rowling’s books are okay after all. More than okay: “The line of the plot defintely follows the Gospels,” says Oona Eisenstadt, religious studies chair at Pomona College.

Anybody who read the books without blinders on knows that. But better late than never, I say.

Another countdown: The Miami Book Fair, barely two months away, features an impressive line-up of children’s and YA authors, including Meg Cabot, Joyce Sweeney, Art Slade, Peter Lerangais, Carmen Agra Deedy, and many more. Nov. 8-15. I consider your calendars marked.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Alexis permalink
    August 29, 2009 10:53 am

    I don’t know if I should say, “The Evangelicals are dumb!” Or applaud them for admitting they were mistaken. But really, I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive.

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