Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Tale of Two Potters

It's the best of times when you get two -- yes, two! -- big children's literary birthday celebrations in one week. Interestingly, they both involve Potters.

One of the birthday celebrations is all over the news. That would be the upcoming July 31st birthday of Harry Potter, which is being celebrated with the 12:01 a.m. release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It's not a typical novel, however; it's the rehearsal script of a play now running in London and based on an idea by Harry Potter author J.K Rowling. Hearkening back to the worldwide excitement generated by the last release of a Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) in 2007, bookstores around the country have planned midnight release parties, complete with trivia matches, costume contests and more.




The milestone birthday of another famous Potter -- Beatrix -- has gotten much less publicity. This week marks the 150th birthday of Beatrix Potter, who was born on July 28, 1866. Beatrix Potter, as most folks know, wrote and illustrated The Tale of Peter Rabbit and others in her now-classic "little books" series. Fewer people, however, may be aware of Beatrix Potter's fascination and talent for science, especially mycology, the study of fungi. Beatrix Potter also is well-known in the United Kingdom for her efforts at land conservation.




While Beatrix Potter's life may have lacked the excitement of the fictional Harry Potter's life, she was a ground-breaker in her own right, both in creating some of the earliest best-selling children's books and also as one of the first to begin licensing products related to her work, including a stuffed Peter Rabbit. In 2002, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I wrote an article about Beatrix Potter in which children's book expert Anita Silvey noted: "Potter's characters are not human beings in animal clothing, They are animals who can walk and talk. Peter Rabbit is an anatomically correct rabbit. She really combined her knowledge of nature with a touch of fantasy and whimsy."




For more on Beatrix Potter, check out the official website dedicated to her life and work, as well as this article which details "six things you may not know" about her.

Meanwhile, the main focus this week remains trained on the Potter with the lightning scar on his forehead. The play of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has gotten nearly unanimously rave reviews, but very little is known about the story as playgoers (including reviewers) have mostly abided by the injunction that they not reveal its secrets.



This secrecy has made things a little dicey for children's librarians like myself who are wondering exactly what is the age range for readers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Since it's published by Scholastic, a children's and teen books publisher, I'm assuming that it's appropriate at least for ages 10 up, but I'm certainly expecting that teens and adults will want to read it -- especially those young adults in their early 20s who grew up with the midnight release parties. And then there's the issue of whether readers -- kids or adults -- will find it hard to read the script format. Personally, I'm thinking that any true Harry Potter fan will leap over any obstacle to read more about their fictional hero.

At my library, we're skipping any midnight parties, and instead we've planned a "listening session" of the first chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from 1:30-4:30 p.m. this Saturday afternoon (July 30). In my mind, the combination of narrator Jim Dale and a Harry Potter book equals pure magic, and I'm looking forward to sharing that magic with our patrons. We'll have birthday cake, snacks and lemonade, plus Harry Potter artwork for folks to color as they listen. And we're encouraging everyone to bring blankets and pillows and just settle down to enjoy some great listening.




 But we also haven't forgotten about the birthday of the other Potter. We've put up a little display of Beatrix Potter's books, including some biographies, and hope to encourage patrons to rediscover the magic of the "other" Potter this week as well.



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