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Not Wild About Harry?

These five book series have a little Potter magic in a more manageable form


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The Harry Potter books have been a publishing phenomenon, with parents and children alike scrambling to grab up the doorstop-sized volumes and rush to the movies they've inspired. But here's a little secret that you won't find in all the articles and press releases and features and posters and hype: Not every child loves Harry Potter. While some kids with learning disabilities have developed a passion for reading because of the boy wizard, others look at that huge number of pages and those scary made-up words and those intricate plotlines and give it all a big, "No way!"

If your child's not wild about Harry, here are five book series that employ various combinations of Potter-like supernatural elements, resourceful children, and when-can-I-get-the-next-one? motivation for further reading -- but do it in ways that may be more manageable for reluctant or struggling readers.


The author: Mary Pope Osborne.
The first: Book #1, Dinosaurs Before Dark, was published in 1992.
The latest: Book #50, Hurry Up Houdini, due out in July 2013.
The basics: A young brother and sister travel through history in a, well, magic tree house, having adventures and learning about famous people, places and events along the way.
The magic: Morgan le Fay, of King Arthur fame, is the power behind the tree house, often sending the children on magical adventures for particular purposes, such as gathering books for Camelot's library; recent additions have had them working for ol' Merlin himself.


The author: Jon Scieszka
The first: Book #1, Knights of the Kitchen Table, was published in 1991.
The latest: Book #16, Marco? Polo! came out in November, 2006.
The basics: The Magic Tree House's evil twin. Three buddies rocket through history, escaping from peril by using their wits, their modern-day know-how, and their appreciation of rude bodily functions.
The magic: The secret to the boys' time transport is an enchanted book given to one of them by a magician uncle.


The authors: Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones
The first: Book #1, Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots, was published in 1990.
The latest: Book #51, Dragons Don't Throw Snowballs, came out in March, 2006.
The basics: Weird things happen at Bailey School, and a bunch of enterprising students investigate the paranormal goings on like so many pint-sized Mulders and Scullys.
The magic: Popular creep-show characters rotate through the Bailey School staff -- mummies, vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, ghosts, even Frankenstein himself. Be glad you don't have to go to any IEP meetings there.


The author: Eoin Colfer
The first: Book #1, Artemis Fowl, was published in 2001.
The latest: Book #8, The Last Guardian, came out in 2012.
The basics: Described as "Die Hard with fairies," these action-packed, high-tech tales pit diabolical boy genius Artemis against various fairy-tale characters. Though he's no wizard, young Mr. Fowl shows that brains, cunning and really expensive computer equipment can take a kid a long way.
The magic: Colfer develops a whole new mythology around such old enchanted types as elves, goblins, dwarves, trolls and leprechauns (whoops, make that LEPrecons, for Lower Elements Police Reconnaisance) -- and while some have criticized these books for reading more like screenplays than literature, or for containing much cartoon-ish violence, those can be a plus for kids who are more interested in action than fancy language.


The author: Lemony Snicket
The first: Book #1, The Bad Beginning, was published in 1999.
The last: Book #13, The End, came out on Friday the 13th of October, 2006.
The basics: The Baudelaire orphans can't get a break. Their house burns down, their parents die, they're shuffled through the care of a number of wildly inappropriate family members, they're stalked by an evil count who wants only their fortune, and their tale is told by a narrator who pulls no punches about their dire fate.
The magic: Young Violet, Klaus, and Sunny could certainly use some magic; it's hard not to think they're under a curse of some type, as they give Harry a run for his money in the bedeviled young orphan category. These popular books require fewer superpowers from your child, though: the volumes are much slimmer and lighter than the Potter tomes, and Snicket at least explains what those big words mean when he uses them.

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