When J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits shelves on July 21, fans can be sure of only one thing: the seventh and final volume in the series marks the end of an era. Harry's creator has said that she may pen a companion volume featuring additional background material about her popular characters and settings, and she's likely to publish other non-Harry writings down the line. But readers, retailers, librarians and Row-ling's U.S. publisher Scholastic will be among the masses in mourning and wondering what comes next—for readers and for the book business.

Meanwhile, a number of booksellers, including Chauni Haslet, owner of All for Kids in Seattle, say kids are ready to turn their attention to other books, including Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians fantasy-adventure series. Riordan appeared at her store earlier this month and then crossed the country, visiting Wellesley Booksmith on May 18. “We feel that same Harry Potter excitement about these books,” says book buyer Lorna Ruby. In fact, she says, one Booksmith customer drove her son, heretofore uninterested in authors, all the way from New Jersey to the Wellesley event to meet Riordan, his new hero.

Ruby also cites the Septimus Heap books by Angie Sage, the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, the Charlie Bone titles by Jenny Nimmo and Joseph Delaney's Last Apprentice books as some worthy successors for those jonesing for Harry Potter. Haslet would add Suzanne Collins's Underland Chronicles about Gregor the Overlander to the mix, as well as a new title called Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey.

And then there are Christopher Paolini's Eragon and Eldest. “Kids are talking to me about these books like they did about Harry,” says Ellen Davis, owner of Dragonwings Bookstore in Waupaca, Wis., and president of the Association of Booksellers for Children, Davis added that the Pendragon series by D.J. Mac-Hale is another example of a Harry-like series where “interest builds with each book.”

Taking a slightly different tack is Kathleen T. Horning, president of the ALA's Association for Library Service to Children. “Instead of imitations, I look for original, inventive books that do something completely different, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick,” she says. “I recently gave this to a reluctant 12-year-old reader who was at first put off by the thickness, but as soon as he opened it up and saw all the wordless chapters, he was eager to delve in.”

Although sales matter—and Harry generated loads of them: 300 million copies of the books worldwide, not to mention many millions more in the sale of movie tickets, DVDs, games and other licensed merchandise—many children's book professionals agree that sales are not the books' greatest contribution to the publishing business or the world. It's what the series has done for reading in general. Booksellers and librarians cite Rowling's books as titles that families read together, often aloud, a rarely seen phenomenon. “That's a big commitment, a lot of family together time,” says Davis.

Horning observes that due to Harry, kids are much less reluctant to pick up thick novels. “Because of the waiting period between installments,” she adds, “it has encouraged many children to reread and become more observant and insightful readers. It's not unusual, for example, to meet an 11-year-old who has read every volume of Harry Potter 10 to 15 times, and who remembers every detail and understands every nuance in the books.”

Which suggests that while J.K. Row-ling may stop writing about Harry, the world is far from done with reading about him. It's the opinion of many booksellers and librarians that Rowling's series will be around for a long time, appealing to ever-new generations of readers. “I think it's already there,” Haslet says. “It's got all the elements that all ages who read it enjoy: suspense, magic, conflict, bad guys.” At Borders, Diane Mangan, director of children's merchandising, comments, “We think the series will have a very long life, much like Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising or C.S. Lewis' Narnia. New readers will discover Harry every year.”