This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 17, 1999

March 17, 1999 - Harry Potter

About a month ago I was doing something I don't do as often as I used to. I was reading my 11 year old daughter to sleep. These days, Maddy reads just fine, and fairly quickly, all by herself. But reading to your kids isn't just about books. It's about spending some extra time together. It's comforting.

I had chosen a book recommended to me by a friend. It was called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling, a female author from Great Britain.

In retrospect, it was not a wise choice to lull a child into slumber.

I got two chapters into the book before, basically, Maddy tore it out of my hands. Over the next two days, she stole every available moment to finish it herself. Then, before I could get it back, my wife, Suzanne, grabbed it. She, too, read it more or less non-stop.

And the women of the family agreed with each other. To quote them both, "It was great."

Here's how it starts. Harry is a young lad being raised by his aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley. The Dursleys also have a spoiled and bullying son, Dudley. Harry has a pretty dismal life. For instance, his relatives make him sleep under the stairs.

Then, one day, he gets a message. It comes by owl, of course. He has been accepted into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry discovers that in another world, he is as famous and cherished as he is ignored and despised by the Dursleys. It seems that as an infant, Harry and his parents were attacked by the most powerful evil wizard of the time. While his parents were indeed slain, Harry was not. A livid lightning scar on his forehead is the only mark of the encounter. The evil magician vanished.

Harry's discovery that there is more than the world of "Muggles" (the words wizards use to describe non-magical people) is both thrilling and charming. He goes off to Hogwarts -- a boarding school -- and begins serious study.

Along the way he makes friends, enemies, and participates in the most astonishing escapades, alternately hilarious and pulse-pounding.

After we all read the book, we heard that Ms. Rowling had written a sequel. But we also heard that it was not available in the United States. It seems that the American publisher was revising it, "Americanizing" it.

At the same time we learned that in England, the first book was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Why a publisher thought that the word "philosopher" was beyond the grasp of American children is a mystery to me.

Well, my wife managed to buy the next book -- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets over the Internet. It came to us straight from England. We all loved this one, too. And for the record, Maddy didn't have the slightest difficulty following the story. Sometimes publishers don't seem to understand their own markets.

I'm encouraged that the phenomenal international success of this book doesn't owe itself to marketing hype. Rather, it's based on lively, intelligent writing that respects the smarts of young people.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets doesn't have the usual blurbs on the dust cover. It has testimonials from 8, 9, and 10 year olds. And although I doubt I'll make it to the next cover, it also has the unqualified endorsement of a grown-up. Me.

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