Potter enchants grandparents

Seniors bond with grandkids, each other through books, movies

Grandparents find Harry Potter series spellbinding, too

November 19, 2005|By JOHN WOESTENDIEK | JOHN WOESTENDIEK,SUN REPORTER

Ron Schaefer jokes that he normally doesn't talk to muggles. But he was so excited about the opening of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he agreed to make an exception.

Then he had to get back to re-reading the book, which he wanted to do before seeing the movie, which he planned to do when it opened yesterday, and possibly again today.

He was mildly concerned about its PG-13 rating, but he probably had no trouble getting in: Ron Schaefer is 72.

"My grandson started reading them when he was 9 or 10," Schaefer said. "I just picked one up and started reading one day. Now I have all the DVDs, all the books, and I can't wait for the new movie."

That Harry Potter has enchanted children and parents alike is well-known, but grandparents are getting in on the magic as well, picking up their own copies of J.K. Rowling's books (the large-print versions are selling well), sharing passages in retirement communities, and standing in line with people a tenth their age yesterday to get into the movie.

"It's for kids of all ages," said Don Domike, a 78-year-old great-grandfather from California, who had just bought a ticket for a matinee yesterday at the Muvico Egyptian 24 theater in Arundel Mills mall. He started reading the books to his grandchildren, then took off on his own, zipping through all six.

He was seeing the movie with Bill Wright, 57, who started reading the books at the suggestion of another fan - his 83-year-old stepmother.

Heather Edmonds, 57, first learned about the teenage wizard when her 83-year-old mother took her to the first movie. After that, she read all the books. She saw the movie yesterday at Arundel Mills and plans to see it with her grandchildren next weekend and again when her mother visits from Montreal next month.

Lisa Cody, manager of The Children's Bookstore in Roland Park, where Rowling made a rare Baltimore appearance in 1999, says she's not surprised senior citizens are turning out in force.

"I know my father read all of them, and he's 85," she said. "I think a lot of times that's true with grandparents - they see children enjoying them and want to be a part of that," said Cody. "They really are ageless books."

Forming bonds

While some may see it as a way to connect with a grandchild - reading the Potter books is more easily accomplished than bonding over hip-hop music, video games or skateboarding - other seniors are simply caught up in the spell.

Among them is one couple, too shy to speak for themselves, who met in a poetry group at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, got married and have read all the Harry Potter books to each other.

"They ... take turns reading paragraphs back and forth," said Mel Tansill, spokesman for Erickson Retirement Communities. "They have also seen each Harry Potter movie and will see the new one."

"Muggles are people in the magical world of Harry Potter who have no power," he added. "These two Charlestown residents are definitely not muggles. ... They have found the true power of love and the imagination. They have a unique magic."

Jo Magrogan, another resident at Charlestown, has been hooked on Harry since a visit to her daughter and grandchildren in Spokane, Wash.

"She has triplets, and they all know I like to read before I go to sleep at night, and one of my granddaughters brought me the first Harry Potter book," said Magrogan, 82. "I thought to myself, `Yeah, I really need to read a kids' book,' but I got into it and didn't get much sleep that night. I read all of the first three books in a couple of days. That gal is some kind of a writer."

Magrogan received all the Potter books as hand-me-downs from granddaughters - three from Spokane, the rest from Gettysburg, where another granddaughter lives.

Flying off the shelves

Publishers, however, suspect that many seniors are buying the books - and not just as gifts for grandchildren.

Jill Lectka, publisher of Thorndike Press, which has published the large-print editions of all the Harry Potter books, says they are its biggest sellers "by far."

An arm of Thomson Gale publishing, Thorndike publishes only large-print books. The latest edition, Lectka said, has sold three times the copies that earlier ones did.

While large-print books are not only for the elderly and visually impaired - increasingly, they are being used to help young people who have problems reading and those for whom English is a second language - Lectka said the high sales are, in part, a result of the books' popularity among the elderly.

"There aren't very many things out there in popular culture where a grandparent and a grandchild are loving the same thing. The great thing about this is they love Harry Potter, and so does their grandchild, so they can really connect," said Lectka.

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