The enchanted gather for Harry
Devotees celebrate the birthday of the fictional and magical Harry Potter.
By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 1, 2002

Devotees celebrate the birthday of the fictional and magical Harry Potter.
The hands shot in the air, waving with fervor. Pick me!

The question was easy for these Harry Potter devotees. What object will help you if you've forgotten something? The answer: A rememberall.

"I knew it," Maren Douglas, 8, of Tampa, said with satisfaction.

The occasion was a birthday party at a Borders bookstore in Tampa on Wednesday for Harry Potter, the fictional hero of J.K. Rowling's series of four books. While among the most popular children's books in the country, they also were the most often challenged books in the nation the past three years for their depiction of witchcraft and wizardry, according to the American Library Association.

Last year, a parent tried to have the books banned from Pasco County public school classrooms, which ultimately was unsuccessful. And in Duval County, students first have to get parental permission before checking the books out of the school library.

But on Wednesday, Tampa Bay area parents who brought their children to several Harry birthday events brushed aside such concerns. They made it clear they are part of the silent majority of adults who believe that a little magic isn't enough to negate the wonder of reading and the Harry Potter themes of truth, goodness, love and friendship.

"I think people need to get a life," said Randy Buono, of Tampa, who brought his 8-year-old son to the Borders party. "It's a theme that Hollywood has lived on for a hundred years -- good versus evil."

Three of the Harry Potter books occupy the top three spots on New York Times bestseller list for children's paperbacks. On Tuesday, the publisher released in paperback the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

"They play it all the time," Susan Keefer of St. Petersburg said of her three children who were among the 80 who attended the Borders event in Tampa. "They run around the house. They get brooms and run up and down the driveway."

The president of the American Library Association said the wildly popular books are an important way promoting reading.

"Children absolutely delight in them," said Maurice J. Freedman. "There are children who read them over and over again. This is good writing. Kids' vocabularies will be improved and there's a lot of fun to it."

-- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.