2016-10-13 / Editorial

What is it about Harry Potter?

Library Links
By Leslie Rounds

When I first became a children’s librarian, it was just after “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first Harry Potter book by J.K. Rowling, had been released to American audiences. Sometimes in the world of children’s books, there are tales that receive excellent reviews from the adults who get to read them first, but then fail to appeal to the intended audiences of 10- or 12-year-olds. Not so with Potter.

From the first, libraries couldn’t keep these books on our shelves. There were always long lists of kids waiting to get their hands on the next available copy. The books were read until they fell apart. Starting with the second of the Potter tales, the release night for the books would draw huge audiences of costumed kids to the bookstores and ensure that in homes all across America lights burned late as engrossed children (and adult fans, too) found no trouble staying awake to get through at least the first few chapters.

In our house, and in houses everywhere, the whole family read each book, and lively discussions continued for literally years afterward on plot points and predictions. Of course the movies followed, and brought into the fold many that for one reason or another hadn’t read the books but loved the story anyway.

The first Potter book hit American bookstores and library shelves in 1998. The 10-year-old child that read that Potter book then is now 28 years old, and may just be the parent of a Potter fan or two of his or her own. Remarkably, we continue to see these books reach new audiences over and over again as each new cohort of kids reaches the right age for them and claims them for their own. But what is it about the Potter books?

Why is it that a library in mostly rural Skagit County in far northwest Washington State could host an outdoor Quidditch match and clever Potter event in the rain and attract thousands of kids and adults – many in homemade costumes? (I know this because my daughter-in-law, Jennifer Rounds, is the creative children’s librarian there.) How could it be that the Dyer Library would host a Potter event on a school night and end up with way more than 200 kids and adults wandering through the stacks, throwing “floo powder” in the fireplace (with fingers crossed that they might just get sucked into the Floo Network and end up in Diagon Alley) and munching on chocolate frogs. (And by the way, we had so many calls from adults who wanted to know if the party was for them, that we are now planning an adult Potter event.)

Of course the movies didn’t hurt the popularity of this series. However, for dedicated Potter fans, the films are like the frosting on their cake, and the books are the main event. The world that Rowling created is among the most attractive and complete of fantasy worlds that I can think of. The droll combination of truly imaginative fantastical elements that just about any kid would want to participate in (like flying on a broomstick – even vicariously through the pages of a book), clever names, (Severus Snape, Delores Umbridge, Bathilda Bagshot) incorporation of folk tales, fast-paced plots with lots of scary twists and turns, and a reading level that, in the earliest books, could readily be managed by most older grade-schoolers was unique in its time and remains immensely attractive, sometimes copied and not yet equaled.

So here’s hats off to Harry Potter. (And all you wise-to-us Muggles and hiding-in-plain-sight witches and wizards, watch for an announcement of our adult event sometime this winter.)

Leslie Rounds is executive director of Dyer Library/Saco Museum.

Return to top