For girl, `Potter' is about family

City youth wins essay contest and trip to N.Y. and London

July 15, 2005|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,SUN STAFF

British author J.K. Rowling's fantasy novels about Harry Potter, the young wizard of Hogwarts School, deal in magic, adventure and the eternal struggle between good and evil. But as much as anything else, they're about family.

Don't believe it? Just ask Kaacy Kelley, 9, a voluble fifth-grader who became Baltimore's latest literary celebrity this month, when an essay she wrote on the Potter series won a nationwide contest sponsored by the book's U.S. publisher, Scholastic. Kaacy, the youngest of six sisters, was one of only 10 winners chosen from among 8,000 entries submitted by schoolchildren across the nation.

Her winnings included a four-day trip to New York and London and a prized early glimpse at the newest book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which is to be released worldwide at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

After last week's subway bombings, though, Kaacy decided to skip the time in London. "I hope I get to go some other time," she said. "But I was too scared to go."

"I remember seeing 9/11 on TV, and it was scary," said Kaacy yesterday as her mother, Mabel, and her sisters helped her pack for her first-ever trip to New York. There, she is to meet the other winners and appear on NBC's Today show this morning.

Scholastic's contest asked applicants to explain why they love reading the Potter books. Judges vetted entries for creativity and originality and "the child's ability to describe their unique connection to the Harry Potter books."

Kaacy's was simple: A family in them, the Weasleys, reminded her of her own.

"It's a big family, and they don't have a lot of money, but they've got love," Kaacy said of her favorite group of characters. "I can relate to that. Especially to Ron [Weasley, Harry's freckle-faced friend]. He's the youngest one, and I'm the youngest one, and we both get hand-me-downs."

Kaacy, a student in the gifted program at Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore, came to the Potter books the same way she comes by her clothes: from her siblings. Dawn, 25, her oldest sister, is a writer and a longtime Potter fanatic who frequents Rowling Web sites and has even made her own line of Potter dolls. She gave Kaacy a hardbound copy of the first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, for her 8th birthday.

"I don't want her messing up my copies," said Dawn, "so I get her copies of her own."

An excellent reader who creates her own poems and rhymes, Kaacy finished the first tome in a week and devoured the next four over the course of the next year.

"I like the magic," she said. "And the schools. That keeps me reading."

Kaacy's mother could be a real-life model for the sort of love the Weasleys feel for each other. Mabel, a 22-year employee of Baltimore's Energy Assistance Program, adopted five of her daughters, including Kaacy, from foster homes and finds them unusually committed to one another.

"It can be an awful lot of work," she said with a laugh. "But this has been such a lovely experience. It's one of those times when you remember it's all worth it."

Of her daughters, she said, Kaacy is "the smartest one. She grasps everything. She's curious. She's always bringing home the high scores. She has such an active little mind; it never rests."

Happy as she is for her daughter, Mabel might agree when Kaacy compares herself to another Harry Potter character. "I'm like Draco," says Kaacy of Harry's Hogwarts School nemesis. "Everybody says I have a mouth on me, I'm a pain; he's a pain."

"She has an opinion on everything - I mean everything - and she lets you know what it is," concurred Mabel.

Those feelings include Kaacy's fear of terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001. Though she has not wanted to fly since then, she was prepared to make the trip to London - until the subway and bus bombings last week.

Her mother tried more than once to persuade her to go, but to no avail.

Cruel reality didn't ruin the entire dream, though. Kaacy's phone has been ringing constantly, she said, with good wishes from teachers, friends and relatives. She appeared on a local TV program Monday. And yesterday, she and Dawn hopped a train for New York - where they were to stay through the weekend, and get an early copy of the brand-new Potter book.

"I don't think I'll miss London," she said. "I think I'll go there someday. And I'm still having a lot of fun."

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