Happy Birthday, Harry (and Jo!)

There are plenty of fictional characters who have birthdays. But the only one I remember is Harry Potter’s–July 31st, aka today. Okay, so Harry’s birthday figures pretty heavily into the plot, but I think it also has to with how Harry Potter is more than just a fictional character. He and Rowling’s other characters are parts of our lives.

At her Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, Anita Silvey has a great post up about Harry Potter and why the series won so many readers. One point she makes:

“Not only does Harry have loyal and wonderful friends like Ron and Hermione, but he also encounters intriguing adults—Albus Dumbledore and Professor Snape for instance. After I read Harry Potter, I had a new life goal—some day I want to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Millions of other readers have projected themselves into the stories in entirely different roles.”

The reference to adults in Harry Potter is a good one, and it’s not brought up often in children’s literature. It’s not only important to craft compelling young protagonists; the adults around them should be compelling as well. It provides even more opportunities for readers to connect with the series, and for readers’ opinions to change over time.

July 31 is also JK Rowling’s birthday. These days, it’s easy to think of Rowling as a wildly successful and beloved author. But Silvey points out that the path to publication was rough for her, too:

“Almost every publisher in England rejected the manuscript of Harry Potter; she had to persevere for years with a story that seemed to be only of interest to her. Finally, she found an editor new to the field in a small publishing house: Barry Cunningham of Bloomsbury Press was willing to take a chance on her book. For around $1,000 dollars he acquired the rights to publish the first book about Harry Potter, and when he called her in for an editorial meeting, he told her that she needed to get a job, because “Nobody, absolutely nobody, ever makes any money in children’s books.””

I have no idea how anyone could pass on Harry Potter. I was hooked on the first page! Still, it’s a great reminder that a) not everyone is going to love your book, no matter how amazing it is, and b) even the most awesome books get rejected. If Rowling decided to quit after a few rejection letters, we’d have been deprived of a fantastic series and a rejuvenation in children’s literature as a whole.

If you still want more HP fun and trivia, check out these ten facts you might not have known. And raise a glass of butterbeer in honor of Harry Potter, the boy who lived!

PS–One summer a friend and I decided we wanted to get an ice cream cake. We didn’t have any friends who were having birthdays and it was after the 4th of July but way before Labor Day. So we decided to celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday and asked the Dairy Queen people to write “Happy Birthday, Harry” in icing. Made the treat that much sweeter.

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