Working Potter's magic

January 27, 2000

The Harry Potter book-selling phenomenon has brought attention to one pleasant aspect of turn-of-the-century life: A rich abundance of children's literature, books so appealing that they even captivate adults.

Since J.K. Rowling's series about the young boy and his adventures at wizard school began storming the best-seller lists, the unsung heros of the book world -- children's librarians, teachers and booksellers -- have found themselves in the public spotlight.

What next? parents inquire. How do we keep our children's reading appetites whetted? At least until the next Harry Potter book comes along in July?

The question presents an interesting quandary to professional recommenders because Harry Potter appeals to readers on many reading levels as well as ages.

What follows are lists of books that children's book specialists -- and children themselves -- say lassooed readers before Harry Potter and can do just as well afterwards. Some of these books are devoted to fantasy, others are crafted from the realism of city streets. There are "classics" and recent award winners.

Favorite angles

Educator Kathy Isaacs has served on the selection committee for the Newbery and Margaret Edwards awards for children's literature and has been a teacher and librarian serving young adults in Baltimore and Washington.

Ms. Isaacs suggests asking a child what she most enjoyed most about Harry Potter. Was it adventure? Magic? Humor?

For humor, she recommends books by writer Roald Dahl -- especially "Matilda."

For magic and adventure: "The Lives of Christopher Chant," by Diana Wynne Jones, tells of a young wizard in training who battles sorcerers.

"The Secret of Platform 13" by Eva Ibbotson, is about a prince who is spirited away to a secret land, which can only be entered every nine years.

"The Book of Three," first in "Prydain Chronicle" series of fantasy books by Lloyd Alexander, blends the spirit of mythology and Welsh legend in adventurous tales of the development of a young hero.

"Boggart" by Susan Cooper, is about an ancient sprite from a Scottish castle who contends with modern-day technology after being shipped to Canada.

Ms. Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" fantasy series, tells of an 11-year-old seventh son of a seventh son who battles evil forces in the world.

For older readers, there's "The Hounds of the Morrigan" by Pat O'Shea, another battle of good vs. evil, which begins with a 10-year-old boy finding an old book of magic in a bookshop in Ireland.

No age limits

JoAnn Fruchtman, owner of The Children's Bookstore in Roland Park, has been promoting quality children's literature in Baltimore for more than 20 years.

Ms. Fruchtman recommends books to "certain readers" rather than readers of certain ages. Too often 13-year-olds have missed reading a novel they would have loved, she says, because the book was marked "ages 9-12."

For books accessible to beginning readers, "The Half Magic" series by Edward Eager, "charming, old-fashioned" books about boys and girls with coins that grant wishes and other kinds of magical things.

The Redwall fantasy series by Brian Jacques. Protagonists are animals and the action takes place in an unspecified time reminiscent of the Middle Ages.

Although the books are long, younger children can read them because the writing is very straightforward and chapters end on a suspenseful note.

The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife fantasy series by Philip Pullman. These books, about the relationship of good and evil, call for more sophisticated readers with such complicated ingredients as numerology. Humans are paired with animal "daemons," which function like their alter egos and have personalities of their own. In the first book, the 12-year-old heroine pursues kidnappers.

And as for the high-schoolers and adults who may have enjoyed Harry Potter, Fruchtman recommends "Whirligig" by Paul Fleischman: The parents of a girl who is killed in a drunken-driving accident charge the young driver to go to the four corners of the United States and build something that will make strangers happy.

Sampling the shelves

Deborah Taylor coordinates school and student services at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, a job in which she oversees reading programs and technology for young adults.

For fantasy, Ms. Taylor chooses "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis and the other books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. She also recommends the fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander and Philip Pullman.

For realism, she suggests "Last Summer with Maizon" by Jacqueline Woodson, a tale dealing with a friendship between two 11-year-old girls who live on the same street in Brooklyn. Another book in the "urban experience" genre is Walter Dean Myers' "Monster," the story of the trial of a 16-year-old accused of a fatal shooting.

For outdoor adventure, she chooses "Hatchet" and "The River" by Gary Paulsen, books which tell of a boy's struggles to survive by himself in the wilderness.

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