On 4 Privet Drive, Surrey, a baby was delivered to the most unmagical family that ever lived. He was famous in the wizarding world for being the only “boy who lived” after facing the most wicked wizard of all time. Harry Potter is raised by an unkind aunt and uncle who make him sleep in the cupboard under the stairs, wearing their spoiled son’s old clothes. But on Harry’s eleventh birthday, his first-ever letter arrives inviting him to Hogwarts, the most most famous school of wizardry, signed by the headmaster himself. Harry’s oddball friends, eccentric professors, and conniving enemies educate him about magic, friendship, and a world beyond our dreams.
Similar Recommended Readings:
The next book in the Harry Potter series is The Chamber of Secrets, which teaches about prejudice, even in the magic world, through mudbloods and a new friend, an elf named Dobby, who warns Harry about the danger of returning to Hogwarts this year.
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis is also a magical world of strange creatures and supernaturally powerful villains. The two best books to begin with are The Magician’s Nephew, in which a boy discovers his uncle’s magic rings which can transport you to other worlds, or to the wood between worlds. The other one you can also start with is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which 4 children walk through the back of a magic wardrobe into the land of Narnia, where animals talk and think, and it is always winter and never Christmas, because of an evil Queen.
The Hobbit is about a magical creature named Bilbo who had a very comfortable life with no adventures, until a wizard invited 13 dwarves over to search for their leader’s lost treasure, held captive by a dragon in lands they’d only heard legends of. Bilbo is very inexperienced and unsure of his abilities, much like Harry, but discovers courage and friendship in very unlikely places.
Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip is about a baby named Nepenthe who is delivered to the librarians on a seaside castle, where she learns to translate between the magic languages in her land. She becomes friends with a boy in the nearby floating magician’s school, who brings her a very old manuscript written in the language of thorns, and tells the legend of the greatest king of their world and his mage, and how they conquered the world.
Matilda is a book written by the same author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl. It’s about a brilliant little girl whose family treats her terribly, but she discovers the world of books and its escapes and lessons, even of revenge on enemies.
Pumpkin Pasties are something Harry tries for the first time on the train to Hogwarts (it’s actually the first item he bites into), and shares with poor Ron, who only had a mushy sandwich from his pocket. They eat them again during one of the Hogwarts dinner feasts, and on Halloween morning, the students wake “to the delicious smell of baking pumpkin wafting through the corridors.”
Buttery Pumpkin Pasty Cupcakes with Pumpkin Spice Frosting
- 2 cups (4 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed down
- 1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup of canned 100% pure pumpkin puree, divided
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp, plus 2 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice, divided, (I made homemade pumpkin pie spice – see below for recipe)
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 4 Tbsp milk
Pumpkin Pie Spice:
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/8 tsp ginger
Begin by creaming together 2 sticks (one cup) of butter in a stand mixer on medium-low speed (2 or 4), along with the brown sugar. Once combined, add 1/2 cup of pumpkin, one tsp of vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, combine 1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice, the baking soda, powder, and flour. To the wet mix now on the lowest setting, add the dry in 3 installments, stopping the mixer to scrape down the insides with a rubber spatula. Place batter in cupcake liners, about two thirds full inside a cupcake tin, or spray and flour the tins. Bake at 350° for 20-22 minutes, or until you can insert a toothpick in the center, and it comes out clean of raw batter, with only a few crumbs attached. Note that this recipe will take a little longer to bake (about 2-3 minutes) than a typical cupcake recipe because of the extra liquid from the pumpkin.
For the frosting:
In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, whip two sticks of softened, salted butter for about 2 minutes. Once they are fluffy, drop the mixer to medium-low and add 2 1/4 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice and canned pumpkin. When those are mixed in, drop the speed to low and slowly add two of the four cups of powdered sugar, only one cup at a time. After two cups are mixed in (you may need to stop the mixer to scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula), add the 4 tablespoons of milk. When that is mixed in, add the remaining two cups of powdered sugar. Pipe onto cupcakes that have cooled at least ten minutes. I used a rose tip to make them look more like little pies.
- How is it possible that even at the age of eleven Harry Potter had never been anywhere but “school, his cupboard, or Miss Figg’s cabbage-smelling living room”? How did that affect his emotions about going to the zoo on Dudley’s birthday? What might that limited social interaction and experience do to a person long-term? What might Harry have been like if he’d never been invited to Hogwarts?
- Why did Harry’s magic manifest when he was scared or angry? If there were other occurrences, how had he never noticed the coincidence before?
- Why wasn’t Hagrid, or students like Harry, allowed to do magic outside of Hogwarts?
- Hagrid and Harry bought his books at Flourish and Blotts. “Hagrid almost had to drag Harry away from Curses and Counter-curses (Bewitch Your friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-tying and Much, Much More).” Which curse do you think Harry would most have liked to perform on Dudley, or on Vernon? Feel free to google more curses from Harry Potter.
- Harry’s wand was “holly and phoenix feather-an unusual combination, eleven inches, nice and supple.” What does the wand being made of holly symbolize or prognosticate for or about Harry? What else was special about Harry’s wand? Find out more about the types of woods on pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/wand-woods
- Which one of the desserts on the train cart do you think Harry enjoyed most: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, or Licorice Wands? What about Ron? Which would you most like to try?
- Which of Harry’s classes was he looking forward to most: Astronomy, Herbology, History of Magic, Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, or Transfiguration? Did that class meet his expectations? Which class was probably the most important for a young wizard like Harry? Which would you most like to take?
- Why does Harry believe that Professor Snape hates him, and what things does Snape do to perpetuate this?
- What professor seemed to favor Harry a bit, allowing him to join the Quidditch team as the seeker, instead of punishing him for being up on a broom around the castle unsupervised? Why did the professor do that, and what other gift did they give him?
- What wild creature appeared in the castle on Halloween, and how did Ron’s spell actually help save them?
- What does the Mirror of Erised show? What did Harry see in it the first time? What did Ron see? What did Harry see the second time, and why did it change? What did Dumbledore claim to see? Do you think he lied, and if so, why, and who or what might it have showed? Is there anyone in this book who would have seen nothing? What would each of the other main characters have possibly seen, such as Hermione and Hagrid? What do you think you would see?
- What did Ron say he’d have done with the gold created by the Sorcerer’s Stone if he’d been able to keep it? What do you think Harry would have done? Does gold have the same appeal to Harry as it does to Ron, and why? What do you think Hermione would have done with limitless gold? What would you purchase?
- How did each of the challenges to get to the Sorcerer’s Stone showcase each professor’s particular skills, and each of the three young Gryffindor’s skills? Which challenges were altered or left out of the film?
- Why is it that “a lot of the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic”? How could you be a great wizard without it? Is that possibly true of some of the greatest muggle minds as well, and can you think of any examples?
- Why did Quirrell try to convince Harry that “there is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it”? Is it common for villains to make statements like this, and if so, why? Does it have to do with justifying their actions? Why is power so appealing, especially for someone like Quirrel? What is usually the final price of power obtained from someone who is selfish or evil?
- Why was Harry amazed that Nicolas Flamel and his wife chose to die? Why did Dumbledore say to him that, “to one as young as you, I’m sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure”? Do you think Dumbledore could relate to them as well? What makes young people typically averse to death, while those who’ve lived long lives sometimes yearn for it?
- Dumbledore told Harry that the Stone “was really not such a wonderful thing.” What reason did he give for that? Why do “humans have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them”? What does this say about our perspectives, or about what things are actually best for us, and what we should be pursuing?