Frankie asked if I could read this book to her, as some of her classmates are now tucking into the series. It’s a while since I was engrossed into the doings of Harry – would I still find this first book as readable as the first time I encountered it?
Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s house, which he thinks is normal for someone like him whose parents have been killed in a ‘car crash’. He is bullied by them and his fat, spoilt cousin Dudley, and lives a very unremarkable life with only the odd hiccup (like his hair growing back overnight!) to cause him much to think about. That is until an owl turns up with a letter addressed to Harry and all hell breaks loose! He is literally rescued by a world where nothing is as it seems and magic lessons are the order of the day. Read and find out how Harry discovers his true heritage at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, the reason behind his parents mysterious death, who is out to kill him, and how he uncovers the most amazing secret of all time, the fabled Philosopher’s Stone! All this and muggles too. Now, what are they?
That’s the blurb. I recall reading this book to my Year 5 class back when I was teaching – and how it grabbed every one of them. Frankie was similarly enchanted. I read until my voice was hoarse and had to cry quits – only to have her wander back an hour or so later and ask for some more… I’d forgotten the constant little touches of humour and how deftly Rowling builds the world. The pacing and narrative drive are pitched perfectly and she is also very adroit at giving us a range of colourful, memorable characters with some wonderful names.
I found I, too, wanted to read on and that I cared every much for poor Harry the second time around – although knowing what I now know, I find I really dislike unctuous, double-dealing Albus Dumbledore, despite the fact that his Machiavellian schemes are for the right reasons. The gothic darkness that emerges in the films and later books is also there, lurking under the light-hearted quips, where wandering the corridors at night will result in expulsion – because there are things at Hogwarts which will make short work of young, semi-trained wizards… The trek into the forest as punishment duty hails back to a former time, when our children weren’t protected from all possible danger – but endured it right alongside the adults. A responsibility that modern children greedily lap up in their fiction.
This book was the start of a phenomenon that swept the playgrounds, seeping into staff rooms and classrooms by word of mouth – my copy of this book was an end-of-year present by one of my pupils, after I’d been asking the children in my class how many of them had read it. While the prose isn’t particularly elegant, Rowling’s stories have an energy that bounces off the page – and reading it aloud sucked me back into Harry Potter’s world and wouldn’t let go until we’d finished it. If you have a youngster in your life who hasn’t yet encountered the books – sit down and start reading them aloud. It’s a lovely bonding time, as well as being great fun.