Top 100 Children’s Novels (#3)
#3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1) (#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1) (#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2) (#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2) (#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3) (#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#4) (#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4) (#4)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5) (#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6) (#6)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8) (#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#9) (#9)(#10)(#10)(#10)(#10) (#10)(#10)(#10)(#10) – 533 points
Dammit, it’s the whole series – it’s not seven books, it’s one phenomenon. But if we can’t do that, the vote ought to go for the first one (even though Order of the Phoenix is my favorite,) because if it hadn’t been a success there wouldn’t have been any of the others. – Susan Ramsey
OK, another game-changer in that it made fantasy cool again (and funny). I know Diana Wynne Jones was already writing funny fantasy, but I think the opening chapters of this novel really are brilliant. Roald Dahl meets Dickens meets Cinderella, or something. – Libby Gruner
I would like to say I was the first person I knew personally to read this book, which is a very braggy thing to say, but it also means that I had to wait through 6 release dates. I’m horribly jealous of my little students who are plowing through the series for the first time and don’t need wait any longer than it takes to run over to the shelf to start the next book. .. Harry made the entire world sit up and take notice of Fantasy fiction and Children’s literature at large, what more important phenomena could there be in a list about top Middle-grade fiction. Not to mention that it is quite an excellent yarn in every way. – DaNae (The Librariest)
As groundbreaking a book there never was. Although not necessarily the best in the series, this was really a ground-breaking book. I love the way that the reader is drawn into the story. Harry is an “everyman” character, not knowing any more about magic and the wizarding world than we do, and so we learn along with him. I think Rowling is very respectful of the young reader in this book, not over-explaining things like the Cerberus and the “mirror of erised,” but rather giving the reader the opportunity to make discoveries. – Sarah Flowers
The beginning and wonder of it all. Do you remember reading it for the first time? I do, March 1999, I flew myself to Florida and read this on the beach. – Sharon, The Head Chick in Charge (Reading Chick)
First glimpse into Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, etc. Crack for the middle grade fiction lover. – Stephanie Howell, Lower School Librarian, Carolina Day School, Asheville, NC
Harry Potter is like Justin Timberlake: it’s so popular that I always want to think it’s junk, and then it constantly surprises me with how brilliant it is. – Jacqui Robbins
It wasn’t from my childhood, but it gave me a second chance at having one. I read these like I read when I was a kid: lost to the real world. This was first, so it gets the hat-tip. – Madelyn Rosenberg
Well, maybe a couple of the others have been better, but there’s nothing like the first time. – Kathy Jarombek, Head of Youth Services, Perrot Memorial Library, Old Greenwich, CT
Yes, I am a nerdy purist who insists on writing out the title that the book was originally published under because, quite frankly, it makes WAY more sense than the term "Sorcerer’s Stone" (sorry, Arthur).
The description from the publisher reads, "Orphaned as a baby, Harry Potter has spent 11 awful years living with his mean aunt, uncle, and cousin Dudley. But everything changes for Harry when an owl delivers a mysterious letter inviting him to attend a school for wizards. At this special school, Harry finds friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, as well as a great destiny that’s been waiting for him…if Harry can survive the encounter."
The general story behind the book’s creation says that Rowling was a welfare mom when she wrote the book, though there have been conflicting reports about precisely how destitute she was. Because it makes for a better story people want to say that she was living on breadcrumbs with her daughter, scribbling the book out on napkins in coffee shops. Hardly. But it is certain that she was a single mom who wasn’t exactly flush with cash when she typed the book out the first time. Harry himself came to her while she was riding a train in 1990. Later she got an agent and, according to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, "Although nine English houses rejected Harry Potter, the agent sent it to a small British publisher, Bloomsbury, and Barry Cunningham took on the project." Arthur A. Levine purchased the American rights to the book in April of 1997 because he is canny as they come. He also paid a whopping $100,000 in auction on a first-time author. Risky, but worth it.
The advantage of conducting a poll of this sort is that I don’t have to participate in it myself. A confession? I never made a top ten list of my own favorite top ten children’s books. If I did, I’d have a hard time deciding which Harry Potter to place there. There is no doubt that one of them would make an appearance, but which? #3 is my favorite. #2 turned me into a librarian. But as mom points out, if the first hadn’t been a success we would never have gotten to see any of the others. Odds are I’d include it.
I own an edition of the first book in its original British paperback state. It’s a 25th printing of the paperback so I don’t keep it out of anything but affection. Still, I remember always being puzzled by the wizard pictured on the back.
Who is that dude? My husband suggested Dumbledore but even a cursory look at Dumbledore’s description sort of cancels that idea right out. He is rather Mr. Random Wizard. However, a couple years after I purchased my copy, someone on the British side of things must have noticed that this simply would not do. That wizard should be a recognizable character. Hence the change:
What I love about this is that they kept the yellow striped pants for the final Dumbledore. I don’t know why, but they did, and it’s a tiny detail I’ve always appreciated.
To a large degree Harry Potter began the notion of online children’s literary fandom. At least in the literary sphere. The Leaky Cauldron was the site that was clever enough to jump on board with that idea and they’ve been doing mighty well ever since.
I rather love that at the real King’s Cross Station there’s a faux Platform 9 3/4 and that there’s a luggage trolley poised halfway through, as if entering on its own. Or maybe someone’s pulling it in from the other side.
The Sunday Times said of it, "This is a story full of surprises and jokes; coparisons with Dah are, this time, justified."
Said The Scotsman, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has all the makings of a classic… Rowling uses classic narrative devices with flair and originality and delivers a complex and demanding plot in the form of a hugely entertaining thriller. She is a first-rate writer for children."
And The Guardian agreed with, "A richly textured first novel given lift-off by an inventive wit."
You’ll see a lot of new countries showing up when I show you these international HP covers. That’s partly because in a lot of cases a country will create their own verison of #1, then reproduce the British or American jackets for the sequels.
(I’ve never been able to tell if they are giving away a huge plot point from a future book with this cover, or they just really wanted to work in a giant rat in some way):
Whoops! Somebody forgot an apostrophe:
One cannot help but watch this trailer and wonder . . after they make the last two films of the final Harry Potter book, how long until they remake this movie? I’m giving it ten years. Tops.
Filed under: Top 100 Children's Novels (2010)
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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