A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this thrill-a-minute story, the first in the Harry Potter series, respects kids' intelligence and motivates them to tackle its greater length and complexity, play imaginative games, and try to solve its logic puzzles. It's the lightest in the series, but it still has some scary stuff for sensitive readers: a three-headed dog, an attacking troll, a violent life-size chess board, a hooded figure over a dead and bleeding unicorn, as well as a discussion of how Harry's parents died years ago. The 2015 lavishly illustrated, larger-format edition features a new cover (different from the original U.S. cover pictured here) and more than 100 full-color illustrations by Jim Kay (A Monster Calls) that depict shimmering ghosts amid breathtaking scenes of Hogwarts, character portraits, and pages from magical textbooks. Parents who want to learn more about the series (and spin-off movies and games) can read our Harry Potter Age-by-Age Guide.
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What's the story?
Harry's magical parents were killed by the evil wizard Voldemort when he was just a baby. Miraculously, he survived with only a lightning-bolt scar as a mysterious reminder. Harry is taken to live with his nasty relatives -- muggles, or non-wizards -- who hide the truth about his parents. Ten miserable years later, he gets a visit from a genial half-giant named Hagrid with an invitation to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At the school, Harry makes friends, fights trolls, learns how to play the fantastic aerial school sport, Quidditch, and uncovers a three-headed dog that guards a secret. Meanwhile, he must contend with Professor Snape, who hates him, and Draco Malfoy, a bratty student. When a mystery arises about the Sorcerer's Stone, which is supposed to possess the powers of immortality, Harry discovers that Voldemort is trying to steal it so he can regain his powers.
Is it any good?
Twists and turns make this first story in the series resemble a junior John Grisham thriller in which loose ends are expertly tied and more threads become compellingly unraveled. Part of Harry's appeal is that he could be any ordinary 11-year-old boy, an underdog readers will root for: small and skinny, with unruly hair, plus glasses held together with Scotch tape. But he also is bright and competent, and he discovers he has an aptitude for magic -- and Quidditch. Author J.K. Rowling also has taken everyday situations such as going to school, playing sports, and doing homework and convincingly combined them with fantasy to create a world more accessible to tweens than J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. From the school-supply lists ("students may also bring an owl OR a cat OR a toad") to Quidditch ("like soccer in the muggle world ... played up in the air on broomsticks and there's four balls"), the book is packed with entertaining details and creative riffs on modern life.
The gorgeous 2015 edition, featuring a new cover and showcasing more than 100 lovingly detailed illustrations by Jim Kay, will appeal to reluctant readers intimidated by the hefty text-only book. The illustrations decorate nearly every ink-stained page, and the play of perspective and light in each make them a wonderfully atmospheric addition to Rowling's story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of the series. For kids who missed the hype and excitement surrounding each book and film adaptation that came out, why do you think the series has been so popular?
This series has been commended for getting so many kids to love reading. Which books made you start to love reading? Or are you still looking for them?
This book is considered a fantasy because of its magical elements, but it draws all kinds of fans -- many who have never read fantasy books before. Do you think Harry's story is more about friendship? Or adventure?
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