On the twenty year anniversary of Harry Potter, it is fitting that we celebrate Kidsbooks, the first Canadian store to sell JK Rowling’s tale of Hermione, Ron and their scarred friend: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Founded by Phyllis Simon in 1983, Vancouver’s Kidsbooks quickly became the go-to spot for families looking to revisit childhood classics and discover new authors. Co-owner Kelly McKinnon came on board in 1990. “Good books and children’s excitement upon reading/hearing good stories are a never-ending source of magic for us!” says Simon.
Kidsbooks marked each new Potter installment with great flourish. Some of you will remember seeing the entire façade of the store transformed into Rowling wonders from Platform 9 ¾ to The Owlery. There was the parade down Broadway for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Particularly memorable was the midnight release party for the final installment: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Muggles galore were lining up in advance to buy the magical golden keys needed to secure HP7 at Van Dusen Gardens.
On that rainy night in July, 4,000 wand-bearing Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws and Slytherins stormed into Van Dusen. The gardens were Rowling-ready with twinkling lights, wizard guides, sinister smoke, stilted dragons and Ministry of Magic tents.
Just before midnight, a flute-led Celtic band played Hedwig’s Theme. As the shouts for Harry gained steam, a young Potter stand-in stumbled through a door marked ‘12’ to thank the crowd for reading his story and to set off the mad rush for books.
What was it like for the Kidsbooks founders to witness the mad success of this series they had introduced to Canada?
“For us,” Phyllis Simon explains, “the greatest excitement was watching the transformation from indifferent readers into enthusiastic readers, something that happened to so many kids. They loved being part of the HP phenom and it was really gratifying to watch their perceptions change accordingly. It was always so fantastic doing the midnight countdown and feeling the tension in the air just before they got their hands on the book. So many started reading right at midnight and didn’t stop until their parents wrestled the book out of their hands in the wee hours of the morning!”
Over the decades, the knowledgeable team at Kidsbooks has continued to introduce young readers to compelling authors and to create fun in-store visits.
“Mo Willems was masterful at captivating a large audience,” says Simon, “especially tough to do with preschoolers. Lemony Snicket’s droll sense of humour and use of sophisticated language always resulted in a hugely entertaining presentation. David Walliams’ talent at mimicking accents delighted the legions of kids who love his wacky stories. Chris Hadfield spoke to each and every child in the endless signing lineups and happily answered every question they had about what it is like in space. We have been so fortunate to have had so many wonderful authors and illustrators, all of whom have made a lasting impression on the children.”
The Harry Potter books will continue to be big-sellers at both the West Broadway and Edgemont Village locations of Kidsbooks. This year, you’ll find Harry Potter – A Journey Through A History of Magic from Bloomsbury and Jim Kay’s newly illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
What other books does Simon anticipate will be big in 2018? “Dogman and Cat Kid – #4 in the hot hot series. Oliver Jeffers’ Here We Are is the perfect book for families rejoicing over the arrival of the new baby. And we’re always excited to discover new graphic novels, the surest genre to turn non-readers into readers!”
We’ll look forward to discovering new books for kids, teens and adults in Kidsbooks. In the meantime, we raise our 20 year glass once more for our favourite HP character and the brilliant Alan Rickman who played him.
Header: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Illustrated by Jim Kay. Oct 3 2017