Spotlight Lucy Msall, 12, knows exactly where she wants to be at 11:59 p.m. July 15—the Harry Potter sixth book release party at Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, waiting in line to buy Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
That is, if her mom doesn’t enforce bedtime.
“There’s excitement in the air,” Lucy says.
And while Oak Park’s was one of only a few midnight parties held when the fifth book was released two years ago, it will be one of many this year as fans count down to the sixth book’s midnight release.
Though the parties will attract a crew of young Potter fans, as Harry has gotten older, the books have gotten darker, the plots scarier, the events more tragic and the content more appropriate for older children.
The new book chronicles Harry’s sixth year at school. And it marks the beginning of the end, since author J.K. Rowling has planned only seven books, one for each year Harry Potter attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. “So much of what happens in book six relates to book seven that I feel almost as though they are two halves of the same novel,” Rowling writes on her Web site.
Kids seem to love it. “I need to find out what happens next,” says Lucy, who lives in Oak Park. When the fifth book came out, she couldn’t put it down—she even read it at the table. “You can’t just cut it off in the middle,” she says. “There ought to be a law against that.”
Every Potter book outsells the last, says Jennifer Pasaen, vice president of marketing for Harry Potter at Scholastic. This year, Scholastic will print 10.8 million copies of Half-Blood Prince, the largest first printing of any book in the United States, Pasaen says.
Diagon Alley in Oak Park
Magic Tree was one of the first in the country to host a streetwide Potter bash for the last book.
It all started when Debbie Mitchell was wandering through a cobblestone alley near Magic Tree Bookstore in early 2003, before the fifth book came out. Mitchell, a former bookstore employee and Potter enthusiast, recalled how kids in her reading group, the Owl Post Club, talked about finding the brick that would lead them to London’s world of wizards.
“I thought, really, with a little imagination this looks like Diagon Alley,” says Mitchell.
Oak Parkers ran with the idea. “People did come from just about everywhere,” says Rose Joseph, co-owner of Magic Tree. The 2003 party made the New York Times and was also covered by national and local newspapers, television and radio stations. “It’s gratifying that all of this could be generated because of a book,” Joseph says.
And Oak Park is expecting big crowds at this year’s party, when they recreate Harry Potter’s magical world again.
To prevent the “wall-to-wall people” problem of 2003, festivities will expand across the village to Cheney Mansion, Scoville Park and the Oak Park Public Library, says Joseph.
Oak Park Avenue, just south of Lake Street, will be transformed into Diagon Alley, the fictitious wizarding center in London where Harry Potter and his cohorts from Hogwarts find all their supplies. Herbology teacher Professor Sprout, a Potter character, will teach incantations and give out magic kits at the Camille et Famille clothing store, and you can taste nonalcoholic butterbeer at nearby Winberie’s Restaurant & Bar.
There will also be an organized, on-the-ground Quidditch game—wizards play the sport on broomsticks—as well as human chess, wand dueling and costumed characters roaming throughout the village.
But this year Magic Tree isn’t the only bookstore to catch Potter fever. Here are some other Potter parties:
Anderson’s Bookshop will transform Naperville into a fantasyland starting at noon July 15. Even the Millennium Carillon bells will chime in, tinkling the movie theme throughout the night and tolling at midnight. The Potter movies will play on huge screens. Merchant participants include the Magical Menagerie, a pet store full of magical creatures.
Also July 15, expect costumed Hogwarts professors at the Hutchinson Commons Reynolds Club, 5706 S. University Ave., Chicago (sponsored by 57th Street Books). Kids can ace the OWLs (the wizarding equivalent of the SAT) by answering Potter trivia. They can join a costume contest, make Potter crafts and enter a raffle secured by Dementors (black-robed spirits).
Potter mania will also take over the 5th floor kids’ department at Marshall Field’s State Street store from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 16 with magicians, a live owl, wands, book characters and giveaways.
Barbara’s Bookstore locations will have giveaways and face painting. Barnes & Noble bookstores and most Borders locations will stay open past midnight to sell the books. Several will have Potter dress-up and games.
Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, will have a July 15 party from 10 p.m. to midnight featuring prizes for costumed characters and the winner of a Hogwarts Spelling Bee. But the store owners are also hoping their Andersonville business neighbors will join in.
To find a party near you, check with your local bookstore, library, www.scholastic.com/harrypotter or page 78 of the Chicago Parent calendar.
And if you’ve never heard of Harry Potter, now might be the time to start. “Each book, it seems there are new fans,” says Borders’ Holley Stein.
Diana Oleszczuk is a Chicago Parent intern and an undergraduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.