Harry Potter’s name is said reverence and excitement because Harry Potter is ‘The Boy Who Lived’. Yet ten-year-old Harry Potter has no idea how famousHarry Potter’s name is said reverence and excitement because Harry Potter is ‘The Boy Who Lived’. Yet ten-year-old Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is in the magical world his horrid aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, are determined to keep him ignorant of and no idea why attempts to contact him via a letter have the Dursleys in an uproar. On his eleventh birthday, a large man by the name of Hagrid arrives to inform him that Harry is a wizard. A rather famous one at that who has been accepted to the premiere wizarding school in the United Kingdom, Hogwarts.
Equal parts confused and excited, Harry travels to Hogwarts from Kings Cross Station’s Platform 9 ¾ quickly becoming friends with Ron Weasley, youngest son of the large Weasley family. He begins courses with his housemates, including the know-it-all Hermione Granger, and becomes entranced by the magic of this new world. Yet dark magic lingers at Hogwarts and within Harry, who learns he the only person to survive an attack by Voldemort (who is referred to in hushed whispers as ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’), and Harry and new friends embark upon a dangerous adventure to locate the Sorcerer’s Stone before it can fall into the wrong hands.
Confession: The first time I read this book, I read only a few chapters before I asked my third grade teacher if I could return it to the school library and choose another book. Witches and wizards held no interest for a little girl interested in history and the American Girl dolls, and I avoided the series until the first movie was released when suddenly everyone was reading and discussing the series.
At twenty-three, I still believe this book to be the weakest one in the series. I have always remembered the wait for Harry to receive his letter to Hogwarts to be a bit of, well, a slog, and rereading it now I can understand why my younger self asked for a different book. I was perpetually bugged by the incessant insistence that certain characters are good and others are bad without much explanation other than house-based prejudice. There is nothing truly remarkable about the main characters in the first few chapters – Hermione is a know it all, Harry is learning about this world at the same pace as the reader, Ron feels slighted by his family, and Draco is a bully – and I am assuming that is entirely the point.
The setting is supposed to be the truly remarkable thing; the characters merely the vehicles in which the reader can imagine themselves there. The magic comes when Harry and friends learn, well, magic; the excitement of the setting comes during a quidditch match and when the Golden Trio engages in a series of magical tests to find the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Unfortunately, this excitement is tempered by the way the final battle in this particular novel is interrupted for the reader. All my questions and interests in the world of Harry Potter were left unfairly suspended as Rowlings raced to wrap of the first year of Harry’s education. Fifteen years later, I was still unable to forge the fanatical connection others I know have with this particular book in the series hence my less than ecstatic review. (If memory serves me correctly, though, the darker the series gets, the more I enjoyed it.) ...more
Twelve-year-old Harry Potter is eager to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his second year and escape from the home of his dreaTwelve-year-old Harry Potter is eager to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his second year and escape from the home of his dreadful relatives, the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon has locked Harry’s school things — his books, broom, and cauldron — in the cupboard under the stairs despite the fact that Harry has homework and forbid Harry from contacting his friends or, “those people” as the Dursleys call magical people.
Right before the summer vacation can end and Harry can return to Hogwarts, a house elf named Dobby appears in Harry’s bedroom warning of grave danger should Harry return to the Hogwarts. Undaunted by the house elf’s warning, the Boy Who Lived refuses to let the bars Uncle Vernon places over his windows after Dobby’s visit or the closure of Platform 9 and 3/4 to prevent him from returning to school commandeering the Weasleys’ flying car with his best friend, Ron. The two barely make it back to Hogwarts alive thanks to an unfortunate encounter with the Whomping Willow, and both boys, most especially Ron, are disappointed to learn their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is the infamous Gilderoy Lockhart.
With looks and a trove of memoirs chronicling his adventures fighting the darker aspects of magic, Lockhart has managed to charm the female student body — including Hermione Granger — and most of the males, too. Yet he seems utterly unprepared to teach the students about anything he’s claim to have done and is far more focused on teaching Harry how to harness his “star power” than catching whomever — or whatever — is lurking through the castle petrifying students. And as the number of students attacked continues to rise, the student body grows more and more suspicious that Harry might have something to do with the opening of the Chamber of Secrets.
Although this book is the second in the series, it has always been first in my mind: the first one I enjoyed from start to finish, the first one where I felt kinship with the characters, the first one where Voldemort (or, He Who Must Not Be Named) and dark magic became a serious threat. (Maybe due to my intense ophiophobia?) I have been known to, erroneously, list this book as the first one in the series simply because it is, far and away, better than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
One of the aspects about this particular book that I enjoy is the integration of Hogwart’s history with the current mystery, which affords the reader more background information about a multitude of characters and provides a deeper understanding about the origins of the good versus evil conflict that permeates the series. Why does Hagrid use his umbrella to give Dudley a pig tail in the first book? Why are the teachers so horrified to see “the chamber is open” scrawled on the wall? Why does “Moaning Myrtle” haunt, moan and, occasionally, flood the girls’ bathroom?
Questions are answered at a pace matching that which Harry, as a complete outsider raised in the Muggle world, would experience and learn adding to the suspense and magic of the tale. And Voldemort becomes are far more complex villain than previously presenting allowing the reader to understand how he became the person (if you can still call him a person) he is and why some people are drawn to his message.
This is also the first time in the series when Harry is viewed with suspicion and marginalized by nearly the entire school not just by Draco Malfoy and his minions. Even the teachers seem suspicious of Harry, and he spends quite a bit of his time worried about what they, especially Dumbledore, might think of him. It makes the ending all the more poignant.
To be perfectly honest, though, I think this novel far more than the first in the series because, to be frank, Hermione Granger kicks ass. Hermione is the one who comes up with idea to impersonate Crabb and Goyle in order to determine Malfoy’s innocence or guilt, and she brews the polyjuice potion all on her own after stealing the necessary ingredients from Snape’s private storeroom. Hermione is the one who cons Lockhart into giving her access to the restricted section of the library and does all the research on what exactly the Chamber of Secrets is. Hermione is the one who saves her classmates when Lockhart’s lesson goes awry, the one who befriends Myrtle, and the one who manages to solve nearly the whole mystery on a single, tiny scrap of paper despite being petrified. And after all of that, she still wants to take her exams and excel at school. What better heroine could a young reader wish for?...more
Convinced their grandfather hates them, the Alden children run away following the death of their parents so they cannot be forced to live with their gConvinced their grandfather hates them, the Alden children run away following the death of their parents so they cannot be forced to live with their grandfather and stumble across an abandoned boxcar. The children work hard to set up the boxcar as their new home with Jessie and Violet keeping house and a watchful eye on their little brother, Benny, and Watch the watchdog while older brother, Henry, performs odd jobs for the doctor in the next town over.
I was recently reminded by Warner’s series, although I cannot recall exactly how or why now. The Boxcar Children, the first book in the series, was one of those novels that sparked my imagination as a child. I turned my bedroom into a boxcar casting my dog as Watch and gathering provisions in a box in my room. Milk in a water bottle packed amongst ice pack still spoils, if you were wondering.
Having now reread the first book in the series, I’m amazed at how clearly I remember every event and detail — the visit to the dump where Benny finds his pink cup, the mean woman at the bakery, the foot race, and the ending, of course. I’m not sure I could say the same of other childhood favorites, and I enjoyed my returned to the boxcar. Almost makes me want to revisit more in the series (my public library has three shelves full!), although I cannot recall if I ever read more than the first book in the series so it may not be a return by rather an introduction....more
Fifteen-year-old Laura manages to earn her teaching certificate even though teachers must be sixteen in the Dakota territories and is sent to teach atFifteen-year-old Laura manages to earn her teaching certificate even though teachers must be sixteen in the Dakota territories and is sent to teach at a claim shanty twelve miles from the Ingalls family home. Feeling completely out of her element both as a teacher and a border in a local family’s home, Laura desperately wants to go home toughing it out only because her family needs her wages to pay for Mary’s tuition at the college for the blind. And, thankfully, Almanzo Wilder arrives every Friday with his sleigh to drive her home for the weekend no matter what the weather holds.
Judging by the torn spine, this was probably my favorite book in the series as a child. I’m not sure I would go as far to make that claim now, particularly because of how aghast I was at Laura’s attitude towards Almanzo. I wouldn’t dare to suggest a woman owes a man a date in thanks for driving her home, but she acts pretty resentful towards him for the intrusion into her life. Laura was told not to expect that her father would bring her home every weekend, but I do think she anticipated that he would and resented Almanzo for usurping Pa’s role as the hero.
That said, I do love how slowly Laura falls in love with Almanzo. It’s rather refreshing after the plethora of love-at-first-sight novels that saturate the market as of late. And I admired Laura’s determination to stick it out in her teaching job, although I would have thrown in the towel and walked the twelve miles home when the woman I’m living with pulls a knife and tells her husband to make me leave right now. Given the bleakness of such an event, I think the happy note on which the novel (and thus the original series) ends is probably why I loved the book so much as a child....more
After surviving the long winter, the town of De Smet experiences a building boom and Charles’ experience as a carpenter is in great demand. Still notAfter surviving the long winter, the town of De Smet experiences a building boom and Charles’ experience as a carpenter is in great demand. Still not old enough to teach but desperate to help raise money to send Mary to college for the blind, Laura takes a job sewing shirts consigning this former tomboy to sit still for hours on end engaged in an activity she hates.
The lightness of the seventh book in the series is a nice reprieve following the bleakness of the previous book, and the whole town seems to be celebrating the change in the weather with a series of parties and extravagant spending. (Yes, what we now call business cards were extravagant expenses at 25 cents!) Almanzo also beings courting Laura in this book asking to walk her home after church much to the chagrin of her mother because Laura is, after all, only fifteen and Almanzo is ten years older. I forgot how large the age gap really was, and I can better understand how Laura was so confused about Almanzo’s attention towards her. I would be, too, and I’m far closer in age to him than Laura was.
The racist attitudes of the Ingalls family continue in this book with Ma stating that her daughters will never work in the fields because they are Americans and only foreigners do that. And the blackface minstrel show Charles participates in gave me great pause as an adult reader, but I, for one, am glad neither moment has been removed from the book as I think it is important to remind readers of the truth about American history.
Like the previous novel in the series, this book shows how human the Ingalls are as people. The evil Nellie Olsen returns as a poor country girl, which she used to taunt Laura about being, and Laura has a series of run-ins with the new teacher, Miss Wilder, which she paints as petty actions on the part of Almanzo’s sister. But it is also obvious through Laura’s actions towards her teacher and her glee over Nellie’s change in circumstances that Laura herself can be very petty showing that the Ingalls are not as perfect as people make them out to be. And, thankfully, Mary’s haughtiness and constant good behavior is finally explained as a very human need to show off in this book allowing me to (kind of) let go of my dislike of her. ...more
A series of terrible blizzards hit the town of De Smet in the Dakota Territories where the Ingalls family now resides from October until April. FiguriA series of terrible blizzards hit the town of De Smet in the Dakota Territories where the Ingalls family now resides from October until April. Figuring his family will be safer in town than in the roughly built shanty on his claim, Charles moves the family and their provisions of food and coal into town and Caroline decides the proximity means the Laura and her younger sister, Carrie, can attend school all winter-long. Conditions deteriorate as snow pills up blocking the train tracks and preventing the supply train from traveling to De Smet, and the Ingalls family are forced to ration their provisions as winter drags on and they wait for Almanzo Wilder and his brother, Royal, to return from their desperate journey into the cold to save the town.
The sixth book in the series is undoubtedly the bleakest in the series with the ever constant threat of starvation hanging over the family’s head. One wrong turn in the blizzard could have cost all of the school children, including Laura and Carrie, their lives; one more refusal on the part of Almanzo to sell his seed wheat could have meant the Ingalls family starved to death. One more day without school or human interaction could have caused the family to go crazy.
Charles and the rest of the men in town forced Loftus, the storekeeper, to “see reason” and sell his dwindling storeroom of goods are a risible price. It is never explained exactly how the mob managed to make Loftus see reason, but it was probably more heavy-handed than the way Charles persuaded Almanzo to “sell” his seed wheat – bringing his bucket to Almanzo’s house, pounding on the walls until he found the false wall behind which the seed was stored, and taking some whilst telling Almanzo to set his price. And, at one point, Charles and members of the community rob an emigrant train traveling through the community.
The desperate is certainly understandable and goes to show how human the Ingalls were. Much of Wilder’s series is spent extolling the virtues of the family, particularly Charles, but this book shows that the family was facing a desperate time and, therefore, were desperate in their actions. It is not the romanticized portrayal of life as an American pioneer that permeates the rest of the series.
That said, the ingenuity of the Ingalls family as American pioneers still remains at the forefront of the novel. Who else but the Ingalls would have thought to twist wheat stalks into “logs” in order to create a fuel source? Or, would use the coffee grinder to turn seed wheat into flour?...more
Previously published as And This Our Life, which I have already read. Do not know if it's a good thing (due to editing) or a bad thing that I did notPreviously published as And This Our Life, which I have already read. Do not know if it's a good thing (due to editing) or a bad thing that I did not recognize the story until working on my review.