Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Sept. 23, 2020

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J.K. Rowling’s latest serial novel is free

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The publication of a new J.K. Rowling story has often been accompanied by lines of robed children, parents, and wizard wannabes waiting outside bookshops to pluck the first volumes from the piles at the stroke of midnight.

That won’t be happening, or not at least until late fall, for “The Ickabog,” a children’s story that the “Harry Potter” author began releasing free online Tuesday to entertain kids in lockdown. Her plan is to continue to publish “a chapter (or two, or three) every weekday” until July 10.

“I think ‘The Ickabog’ lends itself well to serialisation because it was written as a read-aloud book (unconsciously shaped, I think, by the way I read it to my own children), but it’s suitable for 7-9 year olds to read to themselves,” Rowling writes on her website, jkrowling.com.

As of Thursday morning, eight chapters of “The Ickabog” were available at theickabog.com, where young readers are also being invited to help illustrate the story, for possible use in editions to be published in November. Rowling is pledging her royalties to help groups that “have been particularly impacted by the pandemic.”

What we know so far: “The Ickabog” has introduced a spoiled, not very bright king, Fred the Fearless (he added the fearless part), who rules the largely prosperous kingdom of Cornucopia. It has also laid out the legend of the monster Ickabog, who figures in stories that have been passed down by generations of the far less prosperous Marshlanders who live on the fringes of Cornucopia.

Where it came from: “The idea for ‘The Ickabog’ came to me while I was still writing ‘Harry Potter,'” writes Rowling. Her plan had been to publish it after the last of the “Potter” series, but instead she decided to take a break from writing for children. (She published the novel “The Casual Vacancy” and has been writing a series of detective stories under the pen name Robert Galbraith.) “The Ickabog” manuscript went into the attic. When she brought up the idea recently of publishing it online, her two children, now teenagers, were “touchingly enthusiastic.”

How kids can get involved: Illustrations by artists 7 to 12 years old can be entered by their parents or guardians to a contest run by the book’s publishers for possible inclusion in their country’s edition of the book. Details can be found at theickabog.com/competition.

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