I have to admit that I was skeptical of Potter at first. I watched Potter go viral. Then I watched (some) Christians jump up and down and yell about what a bad influence the books were. I finally decided that I’d better read the books before I made a judgment. I started reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone after Prisoner of Azkaban was out in paperback, but before Goblet of Fire was released in July of 2000. One morning I sat in a coffee shop reading Philosopher’s Stone and a girl (aged 10 maybe) at the next table told me that what I was reading was a very good book. I thanked her and said I was enjoying it so far. And it was true. I was enjoying it much more than I expected to.
J.K. Rowling can write! Her imaginary world is tightly woven, filled with interesting detail, and remarkably consistent from book to book. Little details from early in the series come back in a big way later in the books. This requires a lot of organization — and a careful author and careful early readers and editors. Oh that all writers were as careful.
I also like the theological ideas floating in the background of Potter. These become more obvious as the series progresses, and I don’t want to give anything away for anyone who is just beginning to read. Let’s just leave it at the distinctions between good and evil, and the fight between good and evil has strong theological overtones.
It is hard to pick a favourite Potter book because they all have their own distinctive flavour, and together they tell a bigger story. I think it would have to be Goblet of Fire if I was pressed to choose. Partly it’s the dragons, partly it is the interesting contests in the Tri-Wizard Cup. Most of all I like it because this is the book where the world shifts, and it becomes clear that Harry has to fight evil for keeps. It isn’t just little skirmishes any more. The real battle begins.
It is probably obvious that I think you should read Potter, and that you should let your kids read Potter. You might want to think about Harry’s age in the books when thinking about ages that kids can read them. Harry turns 11 at the start of the first book and 17 at the start of the 7th. He does age-appropriate things in all the books, so keep that in mind. Don’t be surprised when, in the fifth book, he acts like a 15-year-old boy. The movies are good (brilliantly cast), but the books are better and should be enjoyed first. When I want to revisit the world of Harry Potter I go back to the books not the movies. Though my reading is influenced by the movies. Professor McGonagall always looks and sounds like Maggie Smith in my head.