- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Witches, warlocks and a host of Harry Potter fans boarded a purple bus in the District’s Petworth neighborhood yesterday to predict the future of their favorite boy wizard.

The “Knight Bus” stopped in the District and Montgomery County as part of its tour of 40 libraries nationwide in the seven weeks before the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on July 21.

Two hundred students were videotaped for 20 seconds each inside the bus, which has been transformed from a red British double-decker into the triple-decker wizards bus taken from J.K. Rowling’s series.

“I know that Voldemort will perish to Harry Potter … and Ron and Hermione will fall in love because they”ve been fighting so much,” said Amani Alexander, 9, who wore a wizard”s pointed hat and carried a wand to mimic Hermione, her favorite character. She also carried three books from the series. Amani came to the Petworth Neighborhood Library in Northwest on a field trip with 10 other students from the Community Academy Public Charter School.

Reading was the only prerequisite for participation. To register, students had to confirm that they had read parts of the Harry Potter series, and had not just seen the movies.

Though the fifth Potter movie, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” will be released just 10 days before the seventh and final book in the series, many local students, teachers and librarians said they are more excited to get their hands on the 784 new pages.

Grey Butler, 13, called the series “special,” and not just because it has sold more than 325 million books in 64 languages worldwide.

“I know a lot of people who really hate to read, but this is the one book that they will really read,” he said.

Grey said the “deathlike situations” have kept him reading for years, when he could have been playing video games.

The bus arrived in the District weeks after its libraries began the Summer Quest reading program for younger children and Holla’Back for teens.

“We wanted to concentrate on showcasing that kids could have fun reading,” said D.C. public library spokeswoman Monica Lewis. The series includes scientific, musical and magical performances to promote reading.

D.C. students often perform poorly on national reading tests.

Public school fourth- and eighth-graders had some of the lowest scores on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress report card, published by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Twenty-two percent of fourth-graders read at or above the basic level and 9 percent at or above proficiency. The numbers for eighth-graders was 33 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The NAEP national averages show 23 percent of fourth-graders and 26 percent of eighth-graders performed at a proficient level in 2005, which the Department of Education uses to track to progress in student reading, said group spokeswoman Elaine Quesinberry.

Parents and executives for Scholastic, which sponsored the event yesterday, hope the Potter books can improve reading skills.

“People are saying that Harry Potter is not just a phenomenon, … it’s getting kids to read,” said Scholastic spokesman Paul Niemi.

Susan Stein said her son Ben, 8, had trouble learning to read but is now obsessed.

“His favorite thing to do is to have a read-a-thon at night, and that we let him read as late as he wants,” Mrs. Stein said as she looked upon her son clad in a black cloak and carrying a yellow wand. “It’s the only series of really long books that he’s ever read … with more detail and complex ideas. It’s the story that’s really grabbed him into that.”

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