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Children`s Books
by Sherie Posesorski

Harry Potter is a Cinderella afraid to dream at the start of J.K. Rowling's fantasy adventure novel, Harry and the Philosopher's Stone. The orphaned Harry lives with his loathsomely normal Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley. Skinny, small, and bespectacled, Harry tries hard, he really does, to be as normal as his relatives. He just wants to make it through the day without being bullied by his fat cousin, Dudley, or punished by his uncle and aunt. Nevertheless, the uncanny and the odd seem to be his constant bedfellows. Wherever he goes, he glimpses men and women in brilliantly coloured capes who appear to know him, and then there is the curious sizzle he sometimes feels in the tiny lightning bolt scar on his forehead. So even on his loneliest and saddest days, he can't extinguish the flicker of belief that he is not as ordinary as he seems and that this is not the way he was meant to live his life.

Then one day, a mysterious letter arrives for him. Before he gets a chance to read it, Vernon snatches it from him and rips it up. Over the next few days, a flood of letters keeps coming for Harry and when it is impossible to rip them all up, Vernon hustles his family off to a desolate island. To no avail though, for on the morning of Harry's eleventh birthday, Hagrid the giant shows up to give Harry the letter in person. It announces that Harry's been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

It turns out that Harry is actually a wizard and famous, too. His parents, a wizard and a witch, were murdered by the evil Voldemort, who tried to kill baby Harry as well. He nearly destroyed himself in the attempt for even as a baby, Harry's powers were formidable. With a joyful whoop, Harry escapes oppressive ordinariness and goes off to Hogwarts to learn how to fulfill his special destiny.

There is a little bit of Harry Potter in all of us. Children and adults alike keep afloat in hard times by holding fast to the faint hope that just maybe there is more to life than the eye can see. Just maybe there are untapped powers contained within them. Just maybe their lives can change for the better if they can stay open to life's magical possibilities.

Rowling's whimsical and imaginative expression of those wishes accounts, in part, for the enormous appeal and phenomenal success of her novel. It has topped both adult and children's best-sellers lists in England (where it was first published) and the States, and was awarded the British Book of the Year and the Smarties Prize (the equivalent of the Booker for children's literature).

As in all classic children's literature, Rowling's novel works on many levels. Whatever reading level, there is much to appreciate and to delight in. There are engaging, likable, eccentric characters (oddballs are, naturally, de rigueur at Hogwarts) and vividly vicious villains, a completely furnished alternative world, and a suspenseful quest plot line. Rowling affectionately, cleverly, and inventively, has combined familiar archetypes and conventions, and has made them fresh, inviting, and her own.

At Hogwarts, Harry makes friends, becomes a star player at Quidditch (a soccer-like game played in the air on broomsticks), takes lessons in transfiguration, spells, potions, and the dark arts, encounters squabbling ghosts, talking portraits, a troll, unicorns, and a mirror that reveals the deepest held desires of the heart. He is a quick learner-and good thing he is, for soon he becomes entangled in a dangerous adventure involving the Philosopher's stone and has a deadly confrontation with his Darth Vader style nemesis, Voldemort.

Harry takes great pleasure in the discovery and exercising of his talents and powers, and the same goes for Rowling in this her first novel. On every page, you feel and share the exuberant pleasure she took in the creation, so evident in the wit of the wordplay and the fanciful abundance of the storytelling.

Move over Frodo. Harry Potter lives, and a long life he will have indeed, as Rowling has signed a book contract for another seven Harry Potter books.

Sherie Posesorski is a Toronto writer and editor.


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