Lockerbie, Catherine. "Spell of Best-seller Magic," The Scotsman, November 28, 1998

POSSIBLY the single most astonishing success story in children's writing in 1998 has once again been that of the boy wizard, Harry Potter, and his creator, JK Rowling.

When Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone was first published last year, the papers were bursting at the seams with stories of how a single mother scribbling in an Edinburgh cafe had created one of the most compelling children's books for years.

This year has seen a further unstoppable rise: the publication of the second novel, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, at least as wise, fresh, funny and exciting as the first; the sale of the film rights for a six-figure sum; and the conquering of America by brave young Potter.

(There, touchingly, the title of the first book has been changed to Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, presumably because American children might take fright at the strange term "philosopher".)

All the clichés have been trotted out: rags to riches, fairytale success, and for once they are all true. For once, too the hype is firmly grounded in something of real and exhilarating worth: these really are books of remarkable storytelling elan, narrative skill and nifty characterisation.

These are books which grown-ups can also delight in. This year also saw the marketing of a "black-and-white" edition designed to appeal to adults embarrassed at sneaking the gaudier version out of bookshops for their own personal pleasure.

Primary schoolchildren, and much older ones, have adopted a whole new vocabulary: of Muggles, or non-wizards; of Quidditch, the terrifying airborne game played on broomsticks by our heroes; of Hogwarts, the gothically haunted school where young witches and wizards must study; of Albus Dumbledore, the benign and eccentric wizardly headmaster and Voldemort, the evil one who killed Harry's parents and left him with a distinctive lightning flash on his forehead. (Check under your child's fringe for the latest use of the indelible markers.)

It would be wise for parents and carers to study these esoteric references: with a film in the offing and five more books already commissioned, Harry Potter will be breezily whizzing into young minds and conversations for many years to come.

Copyright 1998 The Scotsman Publications Ltd.