Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Scholastic Books, New York, 1999
Borrowed from my friend Alex, who is ten. Winner of so many awards I can’t list them all.
Okay, so most of you know the story. As an infant Harry is left with his Aunt and Uncle and their nasty son, Dudley. For ten years he is ignored, harassed and forced to live under the stairs. Then shortly before his eleventh birthday letters delivered by owls start to arrive and all hell breaks loose.
Harry is invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns his parents were magicians, killed by “he who must not be named” and that he somehow survived that deadly attack. He finds acceptance, friendship and self-worth along with amazing skills at Quiddich. This series honors friendship, encourages stepping beyond one’s comfort zone and taking responsibility for one’s actions. All the while it is filled with action, excitement, ghosts and mythical monsters.
So why is it at the top of this list? There are, of course, many arguments on the literary value of these books. I have seen many children who disliked reading drawn into this series and, through them, learn to love the written word. So, even though I find some of those arguments valid, I believe J.K. Rowling has done a great thing by writing them. I also think she did an excellent job following Harry and his friends into young adulthood.
Discussing intellectual merit, and challenging or banning a book because of content, are two very different things. Many challenges have come from Christian fundamentalists or churches, claiming that the books promote an interest in witchcraft and the occult. These books are fantasy, not true stories, and offer a great opportunity for discussions about the history of folktales and fairy tales and the transmission of knowledge and ethics through generations of storytellers.
There are those that feel Harry lies, cheats and struggles against authority figures, thereby promoting “bad behavior”. I have never known an adolescent who doesn’t question the adults around her, along with many of the rules of the prevalent culture. These questions and arguments often work to keep adults honest, with young people and with each other. This is one way a culture expands and evolves into something greater, more empathetic and ethical.
I think wanting to ban the Harry Potter books is just silly. If a parent or educator honors the children around them, works to foster trust and communication and is willing to take the time to listen, brilliant and thought-provoking discussions can happen when reading Harry Potter. It might even be a good thing to read the books together.
I won’t even attempt to discuss the movies…