Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Illustrated Edition
Author: J.K. Rowling
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Original Story Published in 1997
This Edition Published in 2015
It's rather daunting to try to summarize one of the most popular books in the history of children's literature, but the gist is this: an eleven-year-old boy named Harry, being raised by an aunt and uncle he despises and who despise him, discovers that he's a wizard and gets an invite to a hidden boarding school called Hogwarts. He embarks on a magical journey, meets new friends Ron and Hermione, and has some fantastical adventures. It is quite possibly the biggest children's series of the past twenty-plus years, largely due to author Rowling's ability to build a cohesive, immersive world and her amazing pacing and plot. It is also, in short, one the best read-aloud books ever written.
The chapters in this book are relatively long for a read-aloud book at an average of 4560 words per chapter. Given this, depending on the attention spans of your little ones, you might want to break some chapters up into multiple nights, particularly in the early going. However, Rowling's writing style works against this, as many chapters (more than half) end on some type of cliffhanger.
If you can do any kind of British accent, the voices in this book are absolutely hilarious, particarly Professor McGonagall (clipped, proper British; think Maggie Smith as a stern librarian) and Draco Malfoy (a slow drawl which makes his words have more vowels than they otherwise should). If you need any assistance figuring out what voices to use, you can imitate the voices used by the actors in the movie series.
This was the first chapter book I read aloud to my kids (after having read them picture books since they were born) and it took them a couple of chapters to get into it. B was the first one to get it, right around Chapter 3, when Harry gets a series of letters that pour into his aunt and uncle's house from all directions, despite his Uncle Vernon's best efforts to the contrary. Shortly thereafter, A started to get into it, and K followed, though for her it really picked up once Harry's friend Hermione was introduced, despite how annoying Harry and his best friend Ron find her to be in the beginning.
The illustrations in this edition of the book helped tremendously with the transition from shorter books to chapter books, and that's largely due to Jim Kay's artistic skill. Every page has some kind of illustration, from simple patterns to huge full-color spreads depicting Harry riding his broom, or character portraits that do an amazing job translating Rowling's descriptions to something my kids could actually see with their own eyes.
In fact, at the moment we are waiting for the third book in this series to be published, which won't happen until October 2017, and I have on several occasions asked the kids if they wanted to read the next book; they unanimously think we should wait for the "picture version".
There is a particular scene late in this book which may be too scary for some little ones. Harry is lost in a deep, dark forest with only his rival Draco and a scaredy-cat dog for companionship, and together they encounter a creature, for lack of a better word, which has apparently killed a unicorn and is drinking its blood. This creature then moves to attack Harry, who is frozen with fear, before being driven off. This is not illustrated directly, but is explicitly described in the text, and then-4-year-old K was NOT OKAY with this scene when I read it to her and her brothers (unicorns being one of her favorite animals, she broke into tears). Fortunately the more gory details can be glossed over, but the scene is difficult to skip entirely, as the motivation for why the creature is doing this is important to a later chapter.
There's no bad language to speak of, but there are some specifically-British terms that may need to be explained (e.g. "git", "loo", "mental", etc.).
"It's my favorite book we've ever read. I love the magic, and the pictures."
"I like it, especially the part with the flying balls."
He means Quidditch, a fictional sport involving a set of magical balls.
"I like Hermione, but I did NOT like it when the unicorn died. That made me sad."
Full disclosure: I absolutely LOVE the Harry Potter series of books. I read them all when I was younger, and getting to read them again with my kids is a special kind of treat. In short, I'm totally friggin biased, so take my opinions for what you will.
That said, this book is quite possibly the perfect read-aloud book. Sure, the chapters are relatively long, but Rowling's pacing is legendary and each chapter is engaging and exciting without being longwinded. It's imaginative without being too detail-oriented, and most of all it's load of fun to read aloud!
If you're looking for a chapter book to start your own Read-Aloud Corner with your kids, I can unequivocally say that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Illustrated Edition, is the one you want.
Recommended Age: 5 and up