ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Something magical happened about 20 years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE")
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: (As Harry Potter) Dear Mr. Potter, we are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
When we first met Harry Potter in 1997, he was about 11 years old. We saw him mature with each sequel right alongside many of his fans.
HANNAH EPSTEIN: By the time he was 17, I was 17 or 18.
SIEGEL: Hannah Epstein is now 27. And in a new play in London, Potter is an adult with children of his own. NPR's Neda Ulaby talked to members of the Potter Generation about growing up alongside their literary hero.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: When the very first "Harry Potter" was published in the U.S., Jackson Bird was just a bit younger than the main character, who turns 11 in that book.
JACKSON BIRD: I'm just so grateful that I was a part of that experience and at the right age. Harry Potter got his first pimples and it was the same time that you did, and started dating the same time that you did.
ULABY: Maturing along with the global phenomenon was a very different experience than for kids who read "Potter" today, says librarian Brianne Williams.
BRIANNE WILLIAMS: It is different. It was such a powerful community experience.
ULABY: Williams has specialized in young adult literature at a public library in Portland, Ore. for nearly 20 years. She remembers when a new "Harry Potter" book came out regularly from 1998 through 2007.
WILLIAMS: Such a magical time. It was so much fun to have the "Harry Potter" parties at the library and the wand-making workshops and the release parties at midnight at the bookstores.
ULABY: Back then, says Hannah Epstein, the wait for each book was part of the experience.
EPSTEIN: Waiting at that age in general is not easy. A year is, like, a tenth of your life at that age.
ULABY: So to pass the time, kids made up their own "Harry Potter" stories and told them to each other in fan fiction online, on YouTube and in podcasts like this one.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Do you even know where to find that ring? Malfoy asked derisively.
No, but we could always find one and say it was Slytherin's.
ULABY: These young readers were also the first to grow up with the Internet. No one had it when they were born, in the late 1980s. But by the time they were 9 or 10, magical access to knowledge seemed commonplace, not unlike in "Harry Potter." The books mirrored their lives in other ways, too, says Jackson Bird.
BIRD: Just seeing a war begin for the first time.
ULABY: The way one did in real life when Bird was 12 and a bit later in the books, when Harry was 15. The themes in "Harry Potter" darkened as the characters got older and as that first group of readers became able to handle them. The later books were aimed towards teenagers, not 9-year-olds. Like the last one, where Harry's friend is tortured by a sadistic villain.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2")
HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (As Bellatrix Lestrange) Did you and your friends take from my vault?
ULABY: Librarian Brianne Williams says today's 9-year-olds might want to wait before reading that far into the series.
WILLIAMS: I think it makes more sense to them to see that world when they're older.
ULABY: With that said, Williams recommends that kids today who want to binge on "Harry Potter" have adults read them those later books aloud. Those who grew up with "Harry Potter" were lucky, she says, but today's young readers have an advantage, too. They don't have to deal with the media frenzy that erupted whenever a new book or movie came out. Kids can now enter Harry Potter's world on their own terms. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARRY POTTER THEME SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.