Lauren Simon was 9 years old when "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" first hit bookstores in the United States. But she didn't read the first novel of the beloved J.K. Rowling series until about two years later, when her father bought it for her despite her initial disinterest.
"I said I didn't read fantasy books, and I was wrong," Simon said. "I went to a couple midnight releases, and just devoured them when they came out. And just the excitement among all the other kids about 'Harry Potter' — it became universal among all the kids at school."
Simon is now in her late 20s, and is the community librarian at Tualatin Public Library. And the 'Harry Potter' series turned 20 years old last week: The first book, originally titled "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in Britain, came out on June 26, 1997.
"I grew up on 'Harry Potter,' and now that I'm a librarian, I get to talk up 'Harry Potter' and get excited with kids about it," Simon said. "It's pretty amazing to see the 20-year anniversary role around, as an adult and a professional this time."
At 500 million copies sold worldwide and counting, "Harry Potter" is the best-selling book series ever, and the Warner Brothers Pictures film adaptation series brought in a combined $8.2 billion at the box office. Simon attributes that success to Rowling's ability to engage young audiences.
"There's the idea that there's magic just around the corner, and you might get tapped to go to this magical school," she said. "Also the themes of friendship, and good versus evil, destiny, magic, excitement, adventure. The characters and the world really draws kids in — and keeps them there."
Simon said that she rarely has to actually recommend the 'Harry Potter' series to kids, since their parents already know about it. But the series does encourage children "to read more and more and more," she said, and often kids come in to the library asking for suggestions for stories similar to that of Harry, Ron and Hermione.
When that happens, Simon and her colleagues recommend fantasy series like "The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" by Michael Scott, and "Iron Trial" by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.
"One of the benefits of 'Harry Potter' is that it gets kids reading, and developing that lifelong love of reading," she said. "Which is what we're all about — getting kids to become lifelong readers."
Though the last tome in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," was released 10 years ago this summer, the 'Harry Potter' fanaticism has been strong in the last decade. Last summer, Rowling released the script of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," a play that takes viewers back to Hogwarts, though this time Harry's son is the student who brushes up against the evil wizard Voldemort. The play premiered in London last June.
"It was definitely interesting reading about Harry as a flawed adult who's trying to figure out how to be a parent," Simon said about the play, which Rowling co-wrote with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. "I was rooting a lot more for his kids than I was for him."
Last year also saw the release of film "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," a spinoff film set in the same world as "Harry Potter." The sequel will premiere next year, and there will be a total of five films in the series.
"Harry Potter" is still a big deal at the Tualatin Public Library, too. Last December, the library hosted a "Holidays at Hogwarts" party, where kids played themed games, were sorted into Hogwarts houses and even got their own Patronus, or magical animal guardian.
Simon said she doesn't expect the enthusiasm for "Harry Potter" to lessen anytime soon.
"I see some folks who are my age who are now having their own children and reading the books to their kids," she said. "Kids seem to be naturally drawn to it and pick it up and keep reading it. All those themes and characters will draw kids in for generations."