Wizardly quizzical

15th July 2005 at 01:00
As young TES correspondent Bethan Roberts heads for tonight's Harry Potter launch, Geraldine Brennan celebrates Bethan's fellow Pottermaniacs in schools

The good news is that our Potter Press Pack winner, 11-year-old Bethan Roberts, is heading for Edinburgh Castle to interview J K Rowling this weekend, notebook in hand.

The bad news is that since we announced the results last month, 122 of the 123 schools that nominated pupils to represent The TES at tonight's launch of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince have probably been plotting to have The TES surrounded by Dementors, the books editor banished to Azkaban and the key thrown away. Re-reading all the nominations (I've had plenty of time since I've had to go into hiding) I'm struck by not only the uncanny depths of Potter obsession in the nation's schools, but by the warm regard Muggle teachers feel for at least some of their pupils: one Year 6 teacher referred to her nominee as "the sort of child that keeps me in teaching... he makes me laugh every single day".

I'm inclined to agree with their teachers that the creator of Harry Potter would be very lucky if she got to meet all our nominees: 82 girls and 41 boys aged between eight and 16. We wish we could squeeze them all into the Great Hall at Edinburgh for tonight's midnight reading of the new book and the author's only press conference on Sunday. Some of the older entrants have grown up with Harry since the first book appeared in 1997; others like Bethan Roberts represent a younger generation of J K Rowling fans. Bethan heard the books read aloud by her father Alan, a secondary science teacher, before she read them herself.

Her entry had the edge because of the whole-school effort that her nomination represented, involving all the staff and pupils of St Joseph's primary in Barnoldswick, Lancashire. But every one of the entries told stories of enthusiasm for the books and for the task in hand; of avid readers, boys and girls, who love talking about books; of children encouraged to overcome barriers to reading because of their fascination with the J K Rowling universe; of others spirited away from difficult home circumstances by the stories.

Alexandra Tonks of St Peter's Catholic primary in Walsall has been reading the first five books in rotation since 2001. Alice Billin of Havelock juniors in Desborough, Northamptonshire has read all of them five times each and gets 100 per cent in the Potter quizzes she exchanges with her penpal, Drew Hammond of Bushfield community college in Peterborough, who has also entered.

We have been sent two Sorting Hat songs, a rhyming A-Z of Harry Potter and a remake of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone film submitted on video. But only one member of the Magic Circle has entered: Chris Yarnell of Tom Hood secondary in the London borough of Waltham Forest, who founded Witch Weekly magazine while at primary school. "Chris brings a touch of magic to our east London comprehensive," says the school's lead learning mentor, Sarah Johnson. We knew there was a reason we'd had so many entries from east London and Essex.

* Teachers are Potter-mad too: see www.tes.co.ukbookclub

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