Bookstores, libraries prepare for "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" release

Two decades of magic

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Morgan Reeves vividly remembers the day her elementary school librarian handed her “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

The year was 1999, her last day as a fifth-grader. She had just helped clean up the library for the start of summer when the librarian handed her the book and said, “I think you’ll like this.”

“I was the first person to read the library’s copy. No one in town knew what I was talking about when I was so excited about it,” she said. “It was a moment I always remembered, and one I think about every time I give the first book out to a new reader.”

That was 17 years ago. Now children’s services librarian at the Iowa City Public Library, Reeves, 28, still is an avid Harry Potter fan, helping introduce readers to the best-selling series by British author J.K. Rowling.

Almost 20 years since the first book came out in 1997, fans of wizard Harry Potter and his magical adventures are preparing for a new release. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the script of a play being staged in London, will hit bookstores July 31.

Written by Jack Thorne, the play is based on an original new story by Thorne, Rowling and John Tiffany. It features Harry and his close friends Ron and Hermione as adults, with children of their own now attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, including Harry’s son Albus, who struggles with the weight of his family’s legacy.


The last of the seven books in the series was released in 2007, but local bookstores and libraries are anticipating this volume will attract a lot of fan attention.

Iowa City’s Prairie Lights and Barnes & Noble stores in Coralville and Cedar Rapids will hold release parties for the book. Beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday, fans can head to the stores for games in preparation for the midnight release.

Cedar Rapids Barnes & Noble Assistant Manager Ashley Sharpe, 25, is organizing that store’s festivities. Midnight release parties were a staple of the original series, and she remembers standing in line for her copies of the books as a child — she started reading them when she was 6-years-old.

“I definitely remember going to the first movie premier, and I remember the midnight release parties for the third or fourth book. I went to all the rest of the midnight releases,” she said.

She thinks nostalgia for those childhood parties will bring some fans — now adults — back to relive that excitement. The series continues to appeal to new readers as well, and many of those children are equally excited.

“The people that grew up with it are still really into it, and the younger people are getting into it as well,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people that started reading it when they were young come in and be really excited we’re having a party.”

Attendees will be sorted into houses, then be able to visit activity stations, with games and trivia. They will be able to color postcards to send to a local children’s hospital cancer unit and write their favorite Harry Potter memories and what the series has meant to them on a “Muggle wall.” There also will be a costume contest and prize giveaways, including a sweepstakes for two limited edition Harry Potter prints.

Sharpe recommends fans pre-order a copy by stopping in or calling the store to guarantee a copy on that first day.

Prairie Lights, meanwhile, will open at midnight for fans eager for the book. Since July 31 also is Harry Potter’s birthday, the store will have celebratory cake and a wall where fans can write what the series means to them.

“We just plan to have a mountain of books. A lot of people have reserved copies,” said bookseller Mary Taft, who often works in the children’s department.

Since it is a play rather than a novel and written by someone other than Rowling, she said she’s not sure if “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” will get the same level of adoration as the original series. But she knows people still are excited.

“I think the children who grew up with Harry Potter may be more interested because Harry is now an adult, as they are,” she said.

One of those children was Sarah Voels, 28, the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s materials librarian, who works with the library’s children and young adult staff. She remembers being on a family vacation when the sixth book came out — her parents bought one copy for her and her siblings to share. As the oldest, she got to read it first, but that meant she didn’t have anyone to discuss it with.

“My father took pity on me and took me for a walk so I could tell him all about the wonderful and terrible things that had happened without spoiling it for my siblings,” she said.

She and Reeves attributed the series’ ongoing popularity to a potent combination of Rowling’s magical and masterful storytelling and a steady stream of related releases over the last 20 years, with not only the original books but movies, a theme park, merchandising, audio books, new covers, illustrated copies and spinoff books like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which will get a movie of its own this fall.

“To my mind, the popularity of the Harry Potter series has never withered,” Voels said. “And now the children who read those books have children of their own and are sharing the magic.”

In honor of that magic, the Iowa City Public Library will have a Harry Potter display window designed by Antonia Russo of Solon.

“It touched something in kids, and it got kids reading who may have never enjoyed reading before,” Russo said. “It has become a phenomena. And you have to respect that.”

If you go

Harry Potter Countdown to Midnight Party
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Barnes & Noble, 333 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids, and Coral Ridge Mall, 1451 Coral Ridge Ave., Coralville

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Celebration
When: 9 a.m. July 31
Where: Barnes & Noble, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City

Harry Potter release
When: Midnight Saturday
Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

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