Potter mania grips Southern Crescent

By Justin Reedy

When you ask 9-year-old Rachel Thompson who is her favorite character from the Harry Potter books, she has a simple answer: the girl.

Does she mean Hermione Granger, Harry's classmate at Hogwart's?

Rachel's head nods up and down vigorously in response.

Though she's tight-lipped when it comes to talking about one of her favorite books, Thompson is no less a fan of Harry Potter than other children her age. And despite the fact that she just started reading the series n Rachel is most of the way through the first book n she and her family might still get involved in the fun surrounding this weekend's release of the latest book.

Saturday morning marks the greatly anticipated release of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth book in the best-selling children's fantasy series featuring witchcraft and wizardry. Eager fans around the Southern Crescent and the rest of the world will get the chance to purchase the book as early as midnight tonight at certain stores.

The Barnes & Noble bookstore in Morrow is hosting a Harry Potter-themed party tonight to lead up to their midnight sale, complete with a look-alike/costume contest, a trivia competition, and live owls (an homage to the book's messenger owls). Many of the more than 600 people who have pre-ordered or reserved copies of the book are expected on hand for the party.

"(Rachel) just started reading them, but we're thinking of coming to the party," said Ellenwood resident Laura Thompson, the mother of the 9-year-old Potter fan.

"The anticipation surrounding this has just been amazing to me," said Barbara Byrd, the community relations manage for Barnes & Noble. "I personally called all of the people who pre-ordered the book to invite them to this party, and I'd say about 75 percent of them say they're going to attend."

The Barnes & Noble celebration begins at 10 p.m., but pre-registration for people picking up reserved copies of the book begins at 6 p.m. The event will also include a countdown to midnight and a ceremonial unveiling of the books before they are distributed for sale.

Waldenbooks and Southlake Mall in Morrow will co-host an Harry Potter-themed celebration tonight leading up to the book's release Saturday morning. The event, which begins at 7 p.m. in the JCPenney courtyard on the lower level of the mall, will include a costume contest and a magic show from The Magic Man. The grand prize winner of the costume contest will win a free copy of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" from Waldenbooks.

Though that store won't be selling the books at midnight tonight, Waldenbooks is opening at 8 a.m. Saturday morning for the book's release. The all-day release party will include fun activities, readings, snacks and a dragon egg hunt.

The release of the new Harry Potter book has been shrouded in excitement and secrecy. The publisher's first printing of the book produced 8.5 million copies of the book, and Barnes & Noble expects to sell one million of those company-wide in the first week of sales.

Though Waldenbooks won't release exact numbers of pre-sales and reservations of "Order of the Phoenix," more than 100 copies have been put on hold at the Southlake Mall store alone, according to assistant manager Gina Finocchiaro.

And at Barnes & Noble on the other side of Morrow, several hundred copies of the book sit under lock and key in the store's backroom in preparation for tonight's release.

"We can't even open the boxes until midnight," Byrd added with a chuckle. "We don't want to break the rules."