Harry casts his spell on fans again

In the hours before and after the release of J.K. Rowling's latest of the magical series, children - and adults - seem focused on one thing: reading that book.

July 17, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

As if by the wave of a magic wand, the normal rules of childhood were suspended Friday night. Bedtimes were abolished. Soda and cookies were in endless supply. And, for a few precious hours, moms and dads disappeared entirely.

The arrival of the latest Harry Potter book can do that. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince went on sale at midnight Friday, with the expectation that 5 million copies would be sold to wand-wielding, cloak-wearing children across the country in its first day of release.

In Baltimore, children lined up at bookstores hours before midnight, playing Muggle chess and Harry Potter Uno to pass the time. But the real fun began when the kids got their books, which they clutched tightly to their chests as they walked back to that most human form of transport, the automobile.

Jack Harmon and cousin Olivia Stevens, both 7, cracked open their 652-page tomes the second they climbed into the back of a maroon SUV outside The Children's Bookstore in Roland Park. Jack had decided to spend all of his summer allowance, $30, on the book.

"Is it good so far?" his mom, Paula Harmon, asked him.

"It's soooo good," he said.

"What page are you on?" his mom asked.

"Two," he said.

Minutes later, he was back at his home in Ruxton, lights blazing through the windows on the quiet, darkened street. Inside, Paula Harmon had made a bowl of popcorn, and Jack sat on his bed with Olivia and his 6-year-old brother Alex. They took turns reading the first chapter, with Mom helping out on hard words, like enumerate and accusation.

Harry Potter Valentine's Day cards were taped to a window and the door of Jack's room, and a Harry Potter calendar hung above the cage of his two hamsters, April and May. After a little while, the children got into their pajamas and made a fort on the floor out of pillows and blankets. At this point, they let Mom do all the reading. Two pages later, they had all fallen asleep. It was 1:30 a.m.

Older children fared a bit better. Across town in West Baltimore, Agee Imparato was just getting started. The 11-year-old is a member of the Fantasy Bookclub at The Children's Bookstore, and he helped plan and run a Harry Potter gala on Friday night. He got home about 1 a.m. and read until 5:40 a.m.

How far did he get?

"I finished it," he said. Not only that, but when he woke up a few hours later, he reread the last 100 pages. He said he didn't need caffeine or other stimulants to stay awake.

"Basically, the only thing that kept me up was the feeling that I'm gonna get to the end and that I'm gonna know what happened," he said in a post-Potter debriefing yesterday afternoon. "The adrenaline just kept me going."

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth of what author J.K. Rowling says will be seven Harry Potter books. The first, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, was published in the United States in 1998 and has sold 26 million copies. Scholastic Inc.'s initial press run for this latest Potter book is 10.8 million.

The books tell of the bespectacled Harry Potter, a young wizard who may be the greatest of them all and who must help save the world from the evil Voldemort. Children have taken to the tales of Harry and his exploits at the wizardry school Hogwarts with an unusual fervor. And their parents have happily played along.

At the Ivy Bookshop in Mount Washington on Friday night, 12-year-old Emily McCully was waiting for the new Potter book along with her parents and brother Connor, 11. Emily said she was supposed to be in Ocean City, vacationing with a friend's family.

"My mom said the beach will always be there, and they'll invite you again, but this doesn't happen every night or every year," Emily said. So she stayed home, and she was glad she did. She stayed up until 3:45 a.m. yesterday, well after her parents had gone to bed, finishing nine chapters before succumbing to sleep.

"It's very interesting. There are a lot of twists, and some things I never expected would happen," she said. But she was wary of reading too quickly: "I really want to finish it, but then again, I want to make it last."

Her parents had ordered two copies of the book - one for Emily and one for Connor - to arrive yesterday. But when they heard about the party at the Ivy, which featured costumed Potter characters, face painting and tarot card readings, well, they couldn't resist.

"We have two coming tomorrow, and we'll get one tonight," sighed Emily's dad, Mike McCully. He didn't seem too upset, though. Parents like the books as much as their kids.

At The Children's Bookstore, Elliott Rosen, 42, brought his daughter Hannah, 9, though he was really there for himself. Rosen and his wife got hooked a few years ago, when they were reading the first Potter book to their daughter and found they loved it themselves.

Rosen has now sprinted ahead of his daughter in Harry-mania. He has read the first five books and was eager to get the new one. "My wife and I will be fighting over who gets to read it first," he said.

He won that battle and got through four chapters before turning in early yesterday.

While some children had prepared for the book's midnight release by taking naps or donning their Potter regalia, others took a more methodical approach. Zeke Morrill, 10, for instance, raced through the first five Potter books in the last 10 days.

After picking up The Half-Blood Prince at the Ivy Friday night, he started reading in the car and kept reading in his bedroom at home in Roland Park. At 1:30 a.m., his mother came in to turn out the lights and say it was time for bed. A few minutes later, she heard the door to the bathroom close and found him in there, secretly reading more.

"It's really good," he said yesterday afternoon, 277 pages in.

His mom, Mary Page Michel, said Zeke can get so caught up with a Harry Potter book that he forgets about all else. "I have to stop him so he can eat," she said.

But this weekend, for children all over, the newest Harry Potter book was sustenance enough.

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