Was it only twelve short years ago that “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” changed the children’s book world forever? This Friday’s release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the first installment of the last Harry Potter film, brings it all back.
I can still remember eagerly reading an advance copy of the first book and falling head over heels into the world of Hogwarts. J. K. Rowling used familiar elements – a school setting, an orphan, wise teachers, magic – in a fresh story that was notable for its wild invention. Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans, portraits that came to life, the sorting hat, Muggles: these clever new creations were what readers noticed first. It was only with the unfolding of succeeding books that Rowling’s masterful plotting became apparent. Like many others, I devoured the final book over the course of a weekend, tearing up in places and turning the last page with mingled satisfaction and regret.
The effect on young readers was the real phenomenon. Kids who might once have eyed thick books with trepidation now proudly announced that they’d read a whole Harry Potter book in one sitting! They read the books over and over, sharing jokes and sayings from the books with their friends. It’s not too much to state that J.K. Rowling created a new generation of fantasy readers.
Though multi-volume fantasies have always had a place in children’s literature – think of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising”
series or Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain
” – Harry Potter really opened the floodgates. Among the more recent series, here are several that kids and teens shouldn’t miss.
“The Underland Chronicles
” by Suzanne Collins. Gregor and his little sister find an underground world beneath New York City where humans battle giant cockroaches. A strange prophecy, a quest, and a revelation about their father make for a compelling adventure series. Ages nine and up.
“The Hungry City Quartet
” by Philip Reeve. A darkly imagined future world where mechanized cities chase down smaller cities and devour them, this features a pair of outcasts who must make their way in the land beyond the cities. A prequel, “Fever Crumb
,” published this year, fills in the backstory about the rise of the cities. Ages twelve and up.
“The Bartimaeus Trilogy
” by Jonathan Stroud. Bartimaeus, the snarky narrator of this series, is a five thousand year-old djinni summoned to contemporary London by a boastful young magician’s apprentice to steal the Amulet of Samarkand. Ages 12 and up.
” by Catherine Fisher. Finn is a prisoner in the sentient prison known as Incarceron, while Claudia is the warden’s daughter. Their lives intersect in unexpected ways in this dark, sometimes brutal fantasy. The sequel, “Sapphique,” will be published next month. Ages twelve and up.
” by Cornelia Funke. Meggie’s father has the ability to read characters from books into life, but his gift backfires when the evil Capricorn escapes from a book into their living room. Ages 9 and up.
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians
” by Rick Riordan. Twelve-year-old Percy discovers that his father is a Greek god and that Mt. Olympus can now be found on the 600th
floor of the Empire State Building. Riordan’s new series involving Egyptian gods, “The Kane Chronicles,” launched this year with “The Red Pyramid.
” Ages ten and up.
First published in the Free Lance-Star on November 15, 2010.