Roald Dahl and Madeleine L'Engle, take note. There's a hip, new, and decidedly deserving voice in fiction for middle readers named J.K. Rowling. In her debut effort, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Rowling crafts a tale of magical mayhem truly worthy of the often over-used phrase, "a contemporary classic."
Harry, like many orphans of literature, must fend for himself among dim-witted relatives who neither understand nor appreciate him. The Dursleys are indeed dudleys when it comes to their treatment of Harry, but all of that changes with the arrival of his 11th birthday and his only gift of the day - the knowledge that he is not merely a Muggle (i.e., human), but also a wizard. This translates into instant freedom for Harry in the form of a scholarship to The Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he learns far more than just charms, spells, and potions. Harry perceives that things are often more than they appear to be, that friends will often show themselves when least expected, and that smarts and courage are, indeed, components of a young boy's destiny.
Rowling clearly possesses both an ear and an eye for the unexpected, working her own brand of magic with turns of phrase and flashes of humor that are subtle and sly. In terms of its prose, this book reads like spreading soft butter. Harry is as dear a boy as anyone could hope for, and the characters who support, confound, and downright threaten his life at Hogwarts are lively, engaging, and utterly believable. It is not a feat of intricate plot twists and turns that Rowling uses to such great effect here, but rather the wildly creative and imaginative trappings she weaves in along the way. Brooms bear model names like the Nimbus Two Thousand; magic hats spew out the truth of a person's character as though gathered from the brain around which they sat; and giants bear strength enough to break down walls as well as hearts soft enough to harken after baby dragons.
Published to praise and awards, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is as inventive and engaging a title as one could hope to find. Designated for ages 8 to 12, but written for anyone who loves a good tale well told, this is a book to engage the mind and grab the heart . . . and J.K Rowling is a writer to watch and remember.
Denise Olivieri Yagel is a parent and teacher in Richmond, Virginia.