When I came to Manhattan Public Library in June 1999, a steady buzz was rippling around the community…and the world. It sounded like this: harrypotterharrypotterharrypotter. I did not realize at the time that I had entered my new career in children’s librarianship at a phenomenal turning point. The Harry Potter craze that ensued has given way to other high profile adolescent bestsellers like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.” This summer, we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, an interesting time to look back at how children’s literature has changed.
Dr. Karin Westman, K-State’s Department Head of English and Harry Potter scholar, says, “The success of the Harry Potter series reminds us that both children and adults enjoy long, complicated stories filled with complex characters who grapple with moral choices within a richly detailed setting. The series paved the way for a new age in children’s literature publishing, too: 400+ page books could become the norm, and midnight release parties could be part of a standard marketing campaign.”
Harry Potter opened the door for many adults to read a children’s book, something they may not have ever considered before, and also drew in people who had never been readers of fantasy. As each Harry Potter novel got lengthier and more involved, young readers amazingly kept up with the challenging literature and formed book discussion groups, clubs and fan websites.
In 2013, does the legacy of Harry Potter live on? While the buzz has died down considerably, our well-used copies of the seven book series at the library certainly do not show any signs of dust. The movies produced by Warner Brothers kept interest up for many years, and the Harry Potter and Lego Harry Potter video games are quite popular. This summer, I noticed the Harry Potter books on our summer reading prize cart are still some of the most coveted prizes we give away.
Dr. Westman points out another interesting development. “Even though the series is complete and films have been released, the Harry Potter phenomenon continues through charitable organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance, which channels the love fans have for Rowling’s series into social change. As the mission statement explains, HPA members seek to ‘destroy real-world horcruxes like inequality, illiteracy, and human rights violations,’ thanks to a staff of over 60 volunteers, more than 85 HPA chapters, and a network that reaches well over one million people across five continents.”
In Manhattan, the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) and the K-State HPA chapter host an annual Hallows & Horcruxes Ball featuring bands named after characters or places from Rowling’s series. Proceeds from the concert are donated to First Book, which provides new books for children in need.
A new generation is being introduced to Harry Potter by their parents who felt its magic when they first read the books a decade or more ago. In a few weeks, Scholastic will release new editions of the entire series, with brand new cover art and a promotional campaign to heighten interest once again.
We invite kids to join us for two Harry Potter Parties at the library this semester (We just couldn’t fit everything in to one!): August 27 at 4:30 and September 27 at 2:00. Children’s librarian Chelsea Todd is helping plan the parties, which she says will “give our librarians the opportunity to promote and share their love for this series and their passion for reading with children who will make the same connections and find someone to relate to, whether it be a character in the books or new friends they meet who like Harry Potter, too.”
With decorations and props, kids at the library will get to enter Hogwarts with house colors and banners, an enchanted ceiling, wall portraits and quotes from the novels. Some activities planned for the events include meeting characters like Professor Snape and Luna Lovegood, attending favorite Hogwarts classes, making a wand or other crafts, exploring Diagon Alley and playing Harry Potter trivia. On September 27th, we will also show the first movie from the series on the big screen in our auditorium.
Reviewed by Jennifer Adams
Published in The Manhattan Mercury, Aug. 11, 2013