How Harry Met Sarah

The wands Chris made for us

The first time I heard about Harry Potter and his lightning-shaped scar, I was in high school.  A nerd, and damn proud of it, I had many friends who were members of various fandoms- Highlander, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, amongst other.  A friend in the class below me asked if I had heard of this new British book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I had not, but as an bookworm I was willing to give it a shot.  I wasn’t doing a lot of reading at the time, due to my heavy course load, so a kid’s book seemed like a perfect choice.  My friend, Anne, brought in her copy a few days later, and I flew through it.  This was in 1998.  I was a sophomore in high school.

Upon finishing the first book I was irritated to learn that the next book wouldn’t be available until 1999.  That was a whole year away!  Keep in mind, this was in a world before Mugglenet, before The Leaky Cauldron, and before the joys of the multitude of websites devoted to the Harry Potter fandom.  Waiting for the next book meant just that- waiting.   (I vaguely remember a friend visiting England and getting a British copy, but the rest of us had to wait).

On June 2, 1999 I remember begging my mother to drive me to Barnes and Noble to pick up the newest book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  We didn’t get tickets to the midnight release party so we picked it up the next morning.  I remember spending a gift card on the hardcover book, a rarity for me.  I read it in less than a day.  The next book was released on a few months later, on September 2, 1999.  I remember it was right before school started.  The popularity of the books was growing and more and more people were Harry Potter fans.

Over the next year, Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron were launched.  My friends and I finally had a place to go and share our Harry Potter love.  On July 8, 2000 the fourth book was published.  My friends and I, entering our senior year of high school, attended the midnight release party at our local Barnes and Noble.  We tore through the book, logging onto Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron as soon as we finished so that we could start theorizing.

At this point, some of my friends started getting involved with fanfiction.  I never write and fanfic, but I was a beta reader for lots of friends!

At our last midnight release party, dressed up as Hermione and Harry

We had to wait a long time for the next book- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  I graduated high school and started college.  I met more Harry Potter fans.  In fact, most of my college friends were big fans of the chosen one.  My friend Jess introduced me to the wonders of Draco Malfoy fanfiction and I started reading Cassie Clare’s livejournal and fanfiction.    The Draco Trilogy was epic.  And come on- we had to wait 3 years between books!  We needed something to keep us going!

During this time the first film was also released.  I remember seeing the film with some high school friends over Thanksgiving break.  JK Rowling’s website was also growing during this time, with small updates about the progress of the next book.

Finally, it was 2003.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released on June 21, 2003.  My birthday was June 23rd.  I wasn’t able to make it to the midnight release party and was heartbroken.  But on June 22nd I had plans to go to Seaside for my birthday and my friend Matt was picking me up.  Matt (or “the boy with the orange shoes”, as my mom called him) showed up at my house and handed me a copy of  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  He had gone to the release party a few hours earlier and picked up two copies.  One for himself, and one as my birthday gift.  It was awesome!  I remember reading frantically in the car as he drove to Seaside that day.  Sitting on the beach, celebrating my birthday with friends, I just wanted to get back to reading!

It was two more years before we would have the next book.  By this point, my now-husband and I were seriously dating.  He was not a Harry Potter fan before I met him, but I convinced him  to give them a try.  As a non-reader (I know!), he started listening to the audiobooks.  Pretty soon, he was a huge Harry Potter fan!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released on July 16, 2005.  My friends and I were college graduates.  But that certainly didn’t stop us from dressing up and going to the midnight release party at the Barnes and Noble by campus!  Chris dressed as Harry Potter and I dressed as Hermione.  There was a huge group of us there, including Mel and Siobhan.  We were all dressed up.  We had to get tickets for our books and there was an hours-long party before the books were handed out at the stroke of midnight.  Chris won a free copy of the book, which was awesome!  His costume was great and lots of little kids asked if he was Harry.  And we when left, at 12:05am, he was stopped by one of his professors who was also a huge Harry Potter fan.  Talk about crossing all age and gender lines!

My husband also made us amazing wands, to be used at midnight release parties and premieres.  I used mine when I was student teaching and dressed up at Harry Potter.  I have since used it for other Harry Potter costumes.  It’s amazing and better than anything I would get at Olivander’s.  My wand is painted with monarch butterflies and caterpillars, which are a huge part of my life.  (pictured above)

Chris is not  reader, as I said.  But he does like audiobooks.  Of course at this point, the audiobooks were not released simultaneously.  Thus, Chris and I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince aloud.  The entire thing.  I had no voice by the end, but it was well worth it! We stayed in his room and read for about 12 hours straight.  We couldn’t stop because the internet was full of spoilers!  We avoided tv, the internet, IMs, everything until the book was finished.  At which point we promptly got in touch with our friends (who also read all night and all day) and discussed the book.

The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on July 21, 2007.  By this point Chris had his own apartment and was working.  I was living at home and teaching full-time.  We decided to skip the midnight release festivities in favor of getting sleep so that we could read the entire book the next day.  We ended up waking up at 5:30am and going to the Shoprite up the road (open at 6am).  We were the only people in the store at that hour, but they were selling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!  We picked up our copy, grabbed breakfast at the bagel store next store, and we were home by 6:30am, reading.  Wespent the months leading up to that moment reading theories online and coming up with our own theories.  We settled in for the day and I began reading aloud.  Again, we were finished in about 12 hours and jumped online to chat with other fans about the end of an era.

In 2009, I attended NCTE in Philadelphia.  While I was there (for the day!), the all-too-kind Monica Edinger was nice enough to take a few moments away from the conference to meet with me.  We met up in the lobby of the hotel attached to the convention center and traded blog stories.  A few minutes into our conversation, Monica excused herself, saying she saw someone she knew.  Moments later, she was back with a petite blonde woman about my age.  “Sarah, this is Cheryl Klein from Scholastic”.  I about passed out.  I was well aware of who Cheryl Klein was- the continuity editor for the US editions of Harry Potter.  I shook her hand and proceeded to spit out a few words about being excited to meet her.  Cheryl was kind enough to pretend to have heard of my blog (only around for about a year at that time!)!  It didn’t matter- I was just thrilled to meet her!  It was one of the pinnacles of my time in the Harry Potter fandom.

While Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the last book, it didn’t feel like the end.  We knew there were more movies coming so we weren’t too sad.  Since then Chris and I have seen each of the movies multiple times.  Today I purchased tickets for the final film.  Gone are the days of midnight showings- I am too old to stay awake that late!  I know I won’t fully enjoy the movie if I have to stay awake until 3am.  Plus, Chris has work the next day.  So we will be seeing the final film at 7pm on Friday.  I know I will be sad when I walk out of the theater, because it is the end of an era.

I read my first Harry Potter book as a sophomore in high school, a book recommended by a friend.  Since then I have made new friends, also fans.  I went to college while waiting for the next books to be published. I met Chris, fell in love, and read aloud the final books so that we could share them together. In the beginning I wasn’t allowed to go to the midnight release parties because I had school.  Today I am an adult and just can’t do it!  But I’ve been to midnight release parties, dressed up in costume, spent those nights with friends, had friends gift me with books, made new friends thanks to Harry and his friends, and eventually, became a married Harry Potter fan.  Before the final book was published, I was a teacher, recommending Harry Potter to my middle school students.  I watched as a new generation of students picked up J.K. Rowling’s tomes, unsure if they could read a series as long as Harry Potter.  I watched them tear through book after book, learning to love reading.  Today I teach at that same high school where I first met Harry.  I know I will see some of my students at the premiere, bringing me full circle.  Harry Potter has been with me from high school to marriage.  I’ve truly grown up with Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

That’s my history with Harry.  What’s yours?

Beedle the Bard on Display!

The Collector's Edition

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (standard edition) will be released to the public at large on December 4th.  It goes without saying that my copy is already on pre-order.  Oh, how I wish I could afford this: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Collector’s Edition (Offered Exclusively by Amazon)   However, I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to view one of the original books here in the United States.  But when I logged onto The Leaky Cauldron this afternoon, I was astonished to learn that one of the seven original manuscripts would be on display in New York City this winter!   

one of the seven original handwritten copies of the book will be on display to the public here in New York City in December. Scholastic has announced that Arthur Levine, editor of the US editions of the Harry Potter novels, was one of the lucky people to receive a copy of this book from J.K. Rowling, and will lend his book for display at the The New York Public Library. Fans here in the States will be able to see the book for free when it is on display at the library December 4, 2008 to January 4, 2009

courtesy of The Leaky Cauldron


I know that I will definitely be making my way to the NYPL sometime during that month!  Also of note is that there will be a special press preview on December 3rd  “where Arthur Levine will be appearing, and ‘will share his experiences editing the series and the thrill of being one of only six individuals who received the special gift from Ms. Rowling.’ ”  Ummm, WOW!?  How amazing would that reception be?  


So, will you make it a point to stop by and view the manuscript during December?

The Next Harry Potter?

Those of you who have been wallowing in children’s lit purgatory since the publication of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, the last Harry Potter book, can now rest easy. On Tuesday morning, Scholastic is expected to officially announce the publishing of their newest series, which they hope will become the next Harry Potter. “The 39 Clues” will be a multi-author series spanning 10 books. There will also be web, video game, trading cards, and other merchandising tie-ins. The series is aimed at the same middle grade age group that embraced Harry Potter a decade ago. The mysteries will tell the story of the Cahill’s, a centuries-old family who are also the world’s most powerful family. Famous historical figures, including Ben Franklin and Mozart, will be labeled as members of the Cahill family tree, with the plots centering on two young protagonists, Amy (14) and Dan (11). Amy and Dan will race against other branches of their family tree to be the first to find 39 clues that will lead to ultimate power. The first book will be penned Rick Riordan, author of the best-selling Percy Jackson series (which I love). Riordan has also outlined the story arc for the remaining 9 novels, which will be penned by authors such as Gordon Korman, Jude Watson, and Peter Lerangis.

This is quite a coup for Scholastic, as they will retain all rights to this series, unlike Harry Potter- JK Rowling retained the rights to Harry Potter, allowing her to search out and control her own movie and licensing deals. Scholastic is crossing their fingers that this series will be the next Harry Potter while also lining their pockets even more than Harry Potter did.

I am not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I do love Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and Gordon Korman is also popular with my students (I am not familiar with the other two authors mentioned). On the other hand, and I am leaning more towards this one, I have never been a fan of multi-author series. I find that it is hard to keep story elements consistent when you have a different author penning each volume of the series. Or the books become too simplified, like The Babysitters Club. A series like this feels too manufactured for my tastes. I will say that I am a bit intrigued by the plot summary. It sounds like a middle grade version of “The Da Vinci Code”/National Treasure. But I can easily see it moving into the boring, preachy, historical fiction that my students can’t stand. I will probably read the first volume and make a decision from there. But I will be interested in seeing the final product when it is released in September.

Do I think this will be the next Harry Potter? No, I don’t. I don’t think you can predict that kind of success. Kids know what they love, and it can be almost impossible to predict what that is from day to day. Also, Harry Potter built up an incredible YA and adult fan base, who grew up with the books. With these books being published multiple times a year, Scholastic will lose that very important aspect of the fan base- fans won’t have time to grow with the series. Yet, there is something to be said for instant gratification, and most kids these days are used to that instant result when they ask for something. Plus, the online and gaming tie-ins will add a new twist to the marketing scheme, one that Harry Potter had to do without when the first few books were published.

What do you think? Is Scholastic trying too hard here? Will “The 39 Clues” be a success? More importantly, will you read the series?

Harry in the Classroom

While reading some other blogs today, I found a great article from Britain’s Daily Mail today about a school in the UK that has experienced a significant turnaround in the academic performance of their students after introducing a Harry Potter curriculum this year. Apparently, the Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school was in the bottom quarter of schools in Britain. After introducing a student-designed curriculum, they are now in the top 5% of schools in the country!

At Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school, students are immersed in Harry Potter.

Year classes have been named Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, after the school houses at Hogwarts, the wizards’ school attended by Harry in the novels and hit movies.

Example lessons from the “Harry Potter curriculum”

•Maths: subtraction is seen as a “spell” which has been created by Harry Potter. Children have to say the magic words “numerus subtracticus” when they give an answer eg “58 minus 14 – numerus subtracticus – equals 44”.

•English: to learn about dramatisation, pupils create their own scripts for plays based on the text from chapter two of J K Rowling’s debut novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

•Art: imagine what Harry Potter would do if he painted a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece The Starry Night. The Potter-inspired versions featured witches, dragons and other beasties.

•History: the history of flight, starting with a discussion of Harry Potter’s broomstick, then discussing if that is real and tracing the real development of aviation, including the Wright brothers.

•Geography: comparing the children’s home town of Arnold, Nottinghamshire, with Goathland, North Yorkshire, where the scenes of Hogsmead Station were shot for the Potter films.

•Computers: take a virtual tour of Harry’s fictional school Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on the internet, then create a map of Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery School using similar information.

•Science: put a stick of celery in a beaker of blue dye and see how it takes in the fluid, turning the celery from green to blue. Discuss whether Harry Potter could use this to turn one of his foes a different colour.

•Music: learn how to create a mood by performing a piece of music relating to the theme “Hogwarts at night”. Using percussion instruments, the children made appropriately spooky sounds.

•PE: balance and co-ordination is taught by getting the pupils to pretend they are Harry Potter and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger getting on and off their broomsticks (pupils used imaginary broomsticks).source

Wow! What a great idea on the part of the school! While some of this may sound silly to adult ears, I can picture primary students eating it up. How fun would it be to treat math as a magic spell, when so many students dread math? Or to treat science as a Potions class, coming up with magic experiments. And the music class sounds amazing. I’m a grown woman and I would have so much fun playing a piece of music that is related to the mood of the Harry Potter film music.

Part of me thinks that the whole “dressing the part, playing the part” aspect of a Harry Potter curriculum might become obnoxious. However, the students are only immersed in Harry Potter for the present term. Right now, the student body votes on a school-wide curriculum theme for each term. Past themes have included the Titanic, Africa, Princesses and Princes. According to the school head, choosing their own themes has had a dramatic “impact on their[students’] enthusiasm and motivation.” Well, of course it has! I see that on a much smaller scale in my own classroom. Whenever my students have the option of designing their own project or assessment they do much better. This is why the workshop format works so well, also. Student-directed learning is always the best choice.

I wish something like this would jump across the pond. The project-based learning taking hold around here has a lot in common with the topic learning seen in Britain. We haven’t yet made the leap to devoting our entire curriculum to a single theme or idea, but I would love to see some variation take hold here. I know it’s a big step and a huge jump away from NCLB, but it would serve students so much more than teaching to a test every year. Even if we only devoted one semester or marking period each year to a theme, it would be great. I know it would force more teachers to co-plan and work together to set up the term, but it would benefit students to much! Definitely some food for thought.