Counting down the days till Harry flies

School: At Midtown Academy, youngsters are reading `Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' and planning a field trip to see the movie next month.

October 21, 2001|By Athima Chansanchai | By Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

This fall, Bolton Hill's Midtown Academy has been transformed into a mini-version of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the charmed boarding school made famous in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. Magic isn't at work here, but an enthusiastic group of teachers and students is, creatively counting down the days until the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone comes out.

Eight-year-old Agee Imparato, a third-grader at Midtown, is a bona-fide Potter-head, having read each of the four Potter books two or three times - once reading the first one from the end to the beginning. The southwest Baltimore fan also went across town to meet Rowling at a book-signing at the Children's Bookstore in Roland Park several years ago.

"I would like to see the movie to get all the joy without having to read it everyday," says Imparato.

Across the country, kids - and many adults - have begun crossing off the days until the film adaptation of Rowling's first book opens November 16. Fueling the interest are TV commercials, movie previews and billboards. Harry is also flying high in magazines: in this month's 22-page Vanity Fair spread shot by Annie Leibovitz and September's Entertainment Weekly. But aside from the hype, there's also genuine excitement about seeing the boy wizard on the big screen.

Second-, third- and fourth-graders at Midtown Academy will be among the first to see whether or not the film measures up to the book. They've been reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone every day since school began in September. Next month, they'll go on a school field trip to the cinema. Some teachers have decorated their classrooms with movie stills, while the halls are decked with Potter posters. If that isn't enough school spirit, Midtown has also adopted a ritual found in the books, "sorting" the 64 kids in those three grades into teams parallel to the books' grouping of Hogwarts students: Houses Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. (Sharp-eyed Potter fans may notice one house missing: Slytherin.)

Today, Team Gryffindor is ecstatic as third-grade teacher Dorothy Kobylkevich reads a play-by-play of a Quidditch match (for non Potter-heads, think rugby on flying broomsticks) with the victors being -- who else -- the Gryffindor team, led by Harry Potter. She's sitting in a multicolored chair in a corner of the classroom she painted sky blue this summer. At story time, she dims the lights and reads from underneath a blue star-shaped night light.

Kobylkevich, a self-described Harry Potter addict who spent her Florida vacation last year reading all four books, says she found out that the first book was coming out as a movie and suggested incorporating a Harry Potter theme at school.

"I chose it because I loved the books, and because these kids, they've heard so many other fantasy stories and fairy tales before. They know Beauty and the Beast, all the classics," says Kobylkevich. "For many of them, this is the first time they've got access to Harry Potter."

Reader loyalty may translate into a box-office bonanza. A recent study by market research company NDP shows that as of July, 66 percent of kids who have read the book plan to see the movie. For adults, that number is 75 percent. Bookmarks, board games and clothing rank high in merchandise sales, with numbers doubling from May to July.

Kobylkevich bought a poster book that features characters from the movie, stapling the pictures underneath her students' essays on friendship. Die-hards like Imparato are already volunteering some early reviews. "Malfoy isn't what I pictured him to be, but he looks fine for his part," he observes. "Everybody else looks pretty good. I especially like how Flitwick looks. They found a really good dwarf to play him."

Really good talent is one thing the film has going for it. World-renowned actors including Richard Harris (headmaster Albus Dumbledore) and Dame Maggie Smith (deputy headmistress Minerva McGonagall) share the screen with new talent Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), who was brought aboard at the eleventh hour. Mrs. Doubtfire director Christopher Columbus is at the helm of a $125 million project. The film condenses the first book's 309 pages into 142 minutes.

On the Internet, fans can check out the Web Site harrypotter. warnerbros.com / home.html for movie information, games and activities. In Kobylkevich's classroom, a computer is displaying this site. On it is a brief teaser for the movie, complete with the bells and whistles of the Hogwarts Express, the locomotive that takes students to school every fall.

Roland Park Country Day School student Emily Sunderland discovered the site in her quest for information on the movie. "I've read Harry Potter a number of times, and I'm excited to see the book come to life. I like to read the book before seeing the movie." Sunderland, 10, has pored over the books two to three times each. She says that knowing the film has J.K. Rowling's blessing is reassuring. "It might change my mind about the characters a little bit," she says, "but it might change it in a good way. The way the characters are in the movie is the way J.K. Rowling imagines them to be, and I'll actually see what she imagines."

"The way the characters are in the movie is the way J.K. Rowling imagines them to be, and I'll actually see what she imagines."

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