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Teenager's website is magic with words

When bedbound and recovering from severe illness, Heather Lawver picked up a copy of Harry Potter merely as another addition to a wide-ranging reading list.

Three years later, the 18-year-old American is editor of her own Harry Potter website, with more than 250,000 readers and an international staff of 102 school-children.

Last week, she was awarded first prize in the individual category of the Cable and Wireless Childnet website awards, chosen by a panel that included Judith Judd, associate editor of The TES.

"When the Harry Potter books came out, I had just read a study saying that most American high-school graduates have a reading age of 14," said Heather, who lives with her parents in Virginia.

"I was appalled. Harry Potter was making lots of people read who hadn't before, so I put the two together."

In January 2000, following a brain infection which left her housebound, Heather set up the Daily Prophet online newspaper. Based on the wizarding newspaper of the JK Rowling books, the Prophet solicits magic-based articles from school-age writers.

Heather said: "Contributors tell me the grades they get at school and what books they like reading, so I can get a feel for their ability."

Some reporters are given specific assignments; others are free to write at will. All are required to produce at least one article every two weeks, which Heather then edits, providing constructive feedback.

Now, as she recuperates sufficiently to apply for university, she plans to expand the website beyond her bedroom.

"I'd like to include other books, to draw in as many kids as possible. I'm working on The Lord of the Rings. I also want to develop a programme that allows schools to create their own mini-branches of the Daily Prophet, with their teachers as editors."

Judith Judd said: "Heather is a remarkable individual. She has a great talent for combining fun and education, and has persuaded children all over the world to use their imaginations and become enthusiastic writers."

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