written by Isabella Barbuto ’21 and Abigail Cox ’21
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, the most inexhaustible form of magic,” President Leocadia Zak quoted Albus Dumbledore from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This year’s Decatur Book Festival recognized the twenty-year anniversary of the first publishing of the Harry Potter series in the United States and its influence on literature and readers. On September 1st, 1998, J.K. Rowling published the first novel in the seven-book series that inspired a world of readers of all ages.
The Decatur Book Festival opened Friday, August 31st with Kidnote: A Celebration of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which included a panel discussion by five authors to honor the anniversary of Harry Potter. The panelists were Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, now a Major Motion Picture called Love, Simon, Tony DiTerlizzi, known for The Spiderwick Chronicles, Adam Gidwitz, a children’s book author and author of The Inquisitor’s Tale, Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, and Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, a film that was released October 5 of this year. The event was geared toward a younger audience, and it took place in Gaines Chapel at Agnes Scott College, where children dressed in various Hogwarts attire to show off their magical spirit.
Laurel Snyder, the children’s book author who wrote Orphan Island, introduced the panelists as moderator. Before she started asking questions, she spoke about the power reading has on the children of Decatur. She spoke about the bookstore in Decatur Square, Little Shop of Stories, and described it as the “heart that beats in the center of the town.”
Snyder opened the panel by asking the diverse group of authors what their first encounter with Harry Potter was. “It was a beautiful beacon of hope,” said Stone. These authors, as well as millions of readers of all ages, experienced Hogwarts as their home. Through Rowling’s development of not only the school but also the entire Harry Potter world, readers and authors alike are pulled into the curiosity within the walls of the Hogwarts castle and the wonder that lies outside. No matter when or where readers went on Harry Potter’s journey, his story has stuck with them for years.
Another question for the panelists was how Harry Potter was different from other literature. Thomas began answering the question by talking about how real the characters felt while reading the books. She also mentioned that Hagrid held a special place in her heart as a murmur of agreement swept through the auditorium. When it was Stone’s time to speak, she described how J.K. Rowling “created a world easy to fall head over heels into.” Gidwitz then stated, after agreeing with the prior statements, that “if you were at Hogwarts, you were at home.”
As the Kidnote event came to an end, the authors offered some closing statements.
“Spend as much time as you can imagining,” Gidwitz delivers advice to young writers. The last panelist to provide guidance was Thomas with an encouraging closing statement: “Save the world around you and you will soon save the world.”
During Zak’s opening statement, she told a story about a vacation she took to Chile in the year of Harry Potter’s release. She was staying in a ski lodge in Chile that was filled with children from all over the world.
In the lodge, there were children from all over the world, from the U.S., Europe, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Multiple languages were being spoken, and normally you would hear an uproar in the living room where all of the children were gathered. Parents were concerned because they could hear a pin drop . . . they saw children sitting in circles talking about Harry Potter.
– President Zak
After bringing the auditorium to tears, Zak concluded with, “This book brought children together from around the world.”
This story demonstrated the power of not only reading among children, but also the impact that the story of Harry Potter has had on readers from all different walks of life. Thanks to the Decatur Book Festival, people of all ages were able to relive the magic that the series brings off the pages and into their everyday lives.