Person of the Week: J.K. Rowling

It is safe to say J.K. Rowling, the author of the popular "Harry Potter" series of books has drawn more children to reading than anyone else.

At an Atlanta summer camp today, children were awaiting the release of the series' sixth book, which is expected to be the largest book launch in history.

"Sometimes I stay up to 5 a.m. reading any book, especially 'Harry Potter'," said Maya Grimes. "I'm basically obsessed."

"I'll sneak the book off the shelf because I'm supposed to be asleep," said Anna Kate Heller, "and then my mom, when I hear her coming upstairs, quick put the book under the covers, turn out the light. And then when I hear her pass, I take out the book and start reading again."

Harry Potter is the hero of Rowling's tales. Born with magical powers, Potter attends a boarding school for future sorcerers. There, he and his friends must use their magic to battle the forces of evil.

The first five books have sold more than 270 million copies -- more than 100 million in the United States alone.

"I had the idea for it. Harry sort of came to me fully formed, and I just thought it would be such fun to write," Rowling told ABC News in a 2001 interview. "I got this enormous rush of excitement."

The excitement has proven contagious. In an age when kids get their fun watching videos and listening to iPods, Rowling has them lining up for a book.

Kids have been known to read the Harry Potter books so intently they've developed headaches. One doctor called it a "Hogwarts headache," named for the school in the book.

Book Not Just a Passing Fad

But it's more than just a pop sensation.

A recent survey in Britain found that 84 percent of teachers felt these books had improved child literacy. More than two-thirds said they watched the books turn non-readers into readers.

In one Chicago school, "Harry Potter" is part of the curriculum. Teachers use the books to improve students' grammar and vocabulary.

"This has certainly turned a lot of non-readers into readers," said Nancy Pearl, a former librarian and author of the book "More Book Lust." "It has been a focus point for kids who may not think that reading offers them anything, and they've found that something in the 'Harry Potter' books."

"I always wanted to be a writer ever since I got into Harry Potter," said Julia, a winner of a nationwide essay contest about the book.

"They just help you expand yourself and grow and learn about how you react to different situations," said Tam, another contest winner.

Did the author know she would change children's lives?

"That's the question I most often get asked," Rowling said in a 2000 interview, "and I honestly don't have a -- you would think I would have come up with something intelligent to say about it by now, and I really haven't because the truth is I just -- I wrote them for me. I don't know. I don't know."

Rowling Once a Single Mom on Welfare

Rowling was in her 20s when she began writing Harry Potter's story. A single mom living on public assistance in Edinburgh, Scotland, she couldn't even afford a typewriter, let alone a computer. Huddled in a local coffee shop, she wrote the book by hand during her daughter's nap time.

"For five years, I was writing about Harry, and I never spoke about it to anybody but my sister," Rowling told the National Press Club. "You resign yourself to writing lots and lots of rubbish and perseverance -- you've got to persevere. It's a career with a lot of knock backs, but the rewards are huge."

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