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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):







United Kingdom

Whoops!  Somebody forgot an apostrophe:

United States


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.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth 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.


  1. David Ziegler says

    Hooray for Harry!

    I agree with your mother: always give special credit to the first in a series.

    You never made your own top ten? Did you conciously decide to forgo the exercise just to keep any hint of favoritism out of the poll?

    I have a picture of myself pushing the cart at King’s Cross Station at Platform 9 3/4. Nerdy yes, but resistance was futile!

    I love the variety of covers & especially like the Ukranian, Swedish & German ones.

  2. Jim (Teacherninja) says

    That Ukranian one looks suspiciously like they waited until the movie was cast, which would have been waaaay after 1997. I think all the people (myself included) who put #1 on the list just because it was the first should think about what a unique experience reading HP for the first time was. It wasn’t unique as in totally new, but in a fun new blending of familiar tropes (like Star Wars had been 20 years earlier). It wasn’t so much the plot as the whole delightful world she created.

    I’m sad to see this list coming to it’s end!

    It’ll be nice to read about Wrinkle & Charlotte, though.

    Thanks for all your amazing work!

    PS As for the movie, I love Maggie Smith as much as the next guy, but she’s too old for the part! It should have been Emma Thompson! Just saying…

    PPS did you mean to write “That’s partly because in a lot of cases a country will create their own verison of #2, then slip into reproducing the British or American jackets for the sequels”? Shouldn’t it be #1?

  3. Connie Rockman says

    Kathy J. is so right – I should have gone with HP1 instead of voting my heart on #3 … I’m now waiting to see if Wrinkle or Charlotte can beat out Harry on the total points for all the Harry votes …

    Jim – I totally disagree about Maggie Smith. She needs to be as old as Dumbledore – those two are buddies from way back – and she exudes tremendous energy when she’s on screen.

    More than just a “blending of familiar tropes,” I’ve always thought that the real genius of Rowling is her amazing genre-blending. This series has its fantasy elements, sure – but it’s the classic school story, classic friendship story, classic sports story, classic coming-of-age story as well … and the humor, oh the wonderful humor!

  4. rockinlibrarian says

    I was thinking yesterday, “much as I love Harry, since we already read five other posts about him, reading one about Sorceror’s Stone might be a dull waste of a countdown post.” And yet, even though I have a lot going on this morning, and my daughter keeps whining at me and hitting my keyboard and pulling the internet connection out, I sat here joyously reading nonetheless. Nice work finding something fresh to say about Harry every time! (Also, the quotes were very fun for this one. Also, the Icelandic Harry looks like he is being run down by the Hogwarts Express, which is mildly amusing).

    Jim/Teacherninja, I respect your opinion, but I for one pictured Maggie Smith as McGonnagle even BEFORE she was cast…

  5. I figured this was coming. I read the first book and thought it was “okay”, but nothing that made me want to rush out and get the other books (and certainly produced no desire to wait in line at midnight in a wizard costume to get the next volume). I made myself read the next 4 books, mainly so I could talk about them with my students, but I’ll admit that I still haven’t read the final two. I agree that Harry Potter should be treated as a series – if you love one, you’ll love them all. It’s all the same wizard world, wizard rules, and struggle against good versus evil. On the same token, if you think one is simply “okay”, you’ll likely think they all are okay (though the others are definitely better than this first volume).

  6. Jim (Teacherninja) says

    Ok, I did some brief internet research to try to back up my position on Professor McGonagall. Sorry to have miffed anyone!

    I love love love Maggie Smith and her portrayal of Professor McGonagall is spot on! When I saw the first movie, however, I was surprised because I pictured her as much younger due to the many references of her black, black hair (and Maggie Smith’s is decidedly grey).

    In interviews Rowling has said Dumbledore is 150 and McGonagall is “a spritely seventy” and that wizards far outlive humans, therefore a 70-yr-old wizard would look younger than a 70ish human (like Maggie Smith). But it’s not a big deal. I love Alan Rickman too, but have always thought the movie Snape isn’t anywhere and nasty as the book Snape. So there you go.

    From a Scholastic interview in 2000: “Question: How old is old in the wizarding world, and how old are Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall?
    J.K. Rowling responds: Dumbledore is a hundred and fifty, and Professor McGonagall is a sprightly seventy. Wizards have a much longer life expectancy than Muggles. (Harry hasn’t found out about that yet.)”

    Thanks for keeping me on my toes!

  7. Jim, good catch. I corrected the line.

    You know, for a second there they were going to cast Tim Roth as Snape. He was the right age (a bit younger than Rickman) and would have been a little more forthright in his nastiness. However, he opted instead to do a part in Tim Burton’s version of “Planet of the Apes”. Silly silly man.

  8. Connie,
    It would be an incredible feat for the charlotte or wrinkle to earn more points than all 6 HPs. The series has amassed an astonishing 1135 points from 178 votes, 25 of which were 1st place votes. Rowling’s books received more than two times the points Roald Dahl’s 5 titles earned (538).

    It would be interesting to know how many of the 178 votes were from unique voters as opposed to double or triple dippers who couldn’t bring themselves to choose just one Harry title.

  9. My Boaz's Ruth says

    I disagree that Harry Potter started the idea of online fandom. It may have opened it up to a lot more people, but I have been involved in online fandom for Star Trek as long as I’ve been on the net — since 1991. And for Pern since 1992–including a huge number of MUSHes (games where people get on to tell mutual stories together). Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series also has a huge following online, and has since before Rowling thought of Harry Potter. Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series would have had a greater online following if there had not been so much confusion whether or not it was allowed early on.

    Other things that had a great online following before I discovered Harry Potter anyway: Xena and Buffy/Angel.

    (All of the above included folks writing their own fan fiction in those various worlds, and then spinning off and writing their own fiction in their own worlds. Two of the people in my Pern group are now published authors in their own right–and not because they wrote up books about their own involvement in Pern fandom, but rather they have invented their own worlds and gotten folk to purchase them! Deby Fredericks and Angela Korra’ti)

  10. Mandaladreamer says

    Angela, I’m with you. I didn’t think the first one was all that well-written, so I’ve ignored the rest. I did enjoy it, just didn’t think it was superb. Gotta give it credit for getting the kids to read long books, though. Grown-ups, too. It certainly was imaginative. I wonder how Narnia would have fared in popularity if it had been written in more recent times. I was comparing the writing by C.S.Lewis to Rowling’s when I read it.
    GO Wrinkle!

  11. Love. That’s all I have to say. Much, much love.

  12. I absolutely agree with My Boaz’s Ruth – online fandom has been around WAY longer than Harry Potter. I was part of Buffy, General Hospital, Jane Austen and several others pre-1997. It might have become more known in the mainstream, but that’s about it.

    Also, in book one, wasn’t McGonagall described as 70 looking 35, or something along those lines? She and the Marauders were cast far too old, but I love them anyway. Maybe in the next round of movies, 30-40 years down the line, they’ll get it right. *g*

    Happy to see Harry as #3!! I remember reading this fall of 1999, my freshman year in college, when it was just starting to take off with book 3. Of course, I’m one of the few who actually loved #6 and am bummed it didn’t show up at all.

  13. I’m glad you went with Philosopher’s Stone. That change has always bugged me.

  14. Connie Rockman says

    You’re way ahead of me. I’ve been keeping my own little excel file, just for kicks, but not in the detail you have and hadn’t gotten around to counting up those Harry numbers yet – Wahoo! Harry rules here, no matter what comes out on top.

    And isn’t it interesting that while 6 out of 7 HP titles showed up in the poll, only 1 out of 7 Narnia books did. Folks love them some Narnia, but folks get passionate about various Potter plots, characters, and complications. What a trip this has been!

  15. My Boaz's Ruth says

    Honestly, Connie? I blame the fact there are 6 HP titles on because they are VERY recent and the movies are coming out. They are the “big” thing right now. Narnia is old and faded. Give it 30 years and I don’t think you’ll see the same results.

  16. I was tempted to write “online children’s literary fandom” but HP seemed such a bigger phenomenon since that. Obviously other online fandoms have been around longer, but in terms of literature for kids, this was the first of its kind to get quite so huge.

  17. Mandaladreamer says

    I was just wishing I could have seen a list like this from about 30 years ago. I’ll bet Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island would still have been on it. But it would be great seeing a vote every ten years or so just to observe what effect the movies really are having on the popularity of specific books. (I’d hate to see that next poll including young kids who haven’t had time to become really well-rounded readers though. I think that definitely skewed this one.)

  18. My Boaz''''s Ruth says

    Having had no access to the Network when I was a kid (not even BBS that were around in my teen years)… I don’t know about this. I know the HP fandom places I hung out were 90%+ adult (and that is giving the benefit of the doubt that there were a bunch of children who wrote so well they seemed adult), so I’m not even that aware of children’s online fandom for Harry Potter.

  19. KHazelrigg says

    Some of those covers are truly horrific. Blast-ended-skrewt-horrific. I think Iceland’s artist got Harry mixed up with a zombie. And some are just downright BORING. A train? Really? Just a train?

  20. I was shocked a few weeks ago when it dawned on me that Peter Pan wasn’t going to turn up on the list. Not making the top ten is kinda sad, but… not even cracking the top 100???

    Is everyone so familiar with the deluge of ‘meh’ adaptations from over the years that people don’t bother checking out the amazing original Barrie book, I wonder? Or am I just odd for loving it so? Or maybe it doesn’t hold as much female appeal as some of these other titles?

    (side note… It’s probably impossible, but I’d love to see how the list tallied by just counting male entries. Might be a helpful resource for reluctant reader boys…)

  21. My Boaz's Ruth says

    Z_dad, Hrms. I’ve never read the Peter Pan book. Seen the movie, seen the play. But never read the book.

  22. Eric thanks for the stats. I was sure there would be a fair amount of vote spliting to nudge PS out of the top 5, but it would seem there is plenty of love to go around.

    When I read the books the only character to look like his corresponding actor in my head is Snape. I think my inner eye saw Rickman in role long befor filming began.

    I didn’t love Peter Pan. Barre wrote the play first and the novel years later. He tended to wander off the narrative quite often.

  23. Genevieve says

    In the Czech cover, why is the Sorting Hat topped with Rocky Horror Picture Show lips?

    On a more serious note, I like that the Portuguese cover has the shower of envelopes, as that was such a magical and original part of the story.

  24. Brooke Shirts says

    I second the motion on Peter Pan, DaNae — although I thought it interesting that Mary Poppins or didn’t make the list, either. Perhaps these are instances where film/stage adaptations have trumped the novels, in terms of cultural influence?

  25. Oh boy. Before Harry Potter, the best book for a school-for-witches obsessed kid was Mary Stuart’s The Little Broomstick. Then this book came along. I remember thinking –wow, this world of magic feels so REAL! Any horrible things that happen have an audience to comment on them. I realized later what I loved about it was that the magic had a whole society that made it feel important and legitimate and adult! Such satisfaction.

    I’ve been waiting and waiting for Peter Pan, and I’m kind of crushed to realize it probably won’t appear. Does no one else read it??! And DaNae, J.M. Barrie wandering off the narrative was not something I ever noticed or was bothered by, even as a nine-year old. I think half of what I loved about it was the atmosphere of Neverland, so I guess the descriptive parts were like feasts (I distinctly remember the chapter in which all the inhabitants of the island are tracking each other, and we get to see them all sneak by in a procession…). And the humour! Captain Hook and the poisoned cake! As a kid I read it over and over again –and not just the action bits –the whole thing. No other setting tingles with the same potent magic as those woods, and Peter is such a mixture of fun and tragedy. Plus the sword fights were.. well, epic.

    Also, Mary Poppins was the book that taught me to read! šŸ™

  26. Did anyone else notice that on the cover at the very top, Harry seems to be walking into the path of the Hogwarts Express? How does he even make it to book 2, let alone 7?

    BTW, I too was wondering if Peter Pan would show up. Is this an example of Disney skewing our perceptions of the original for better or worse? I’m a big fan of the Barry and Pearson books. I think it’s great that they sit on our shelves right next to the original.

    Lastly, does anyone still read Diana Wynne Jones and the Chrestomanci books?
    I read one awhile back and found it unappealing for some reason I still can’t figure out.

  27. For the record, if you only come to the Barrie book as an adult, there are some aspects that feel kind of … squelchy. Like that kiss in the corner of Mrs. Darling’s mouth that the children can never get but that Peter gets without trying. Or, more straightforwardly, Pan’s comment about Tink that “There’s something she wants to be to me, but it isn’t my mother.” (To her credit, Tink replies “You silly ass.”)

    Ah, but those screwed-up Victorian/Edwardians sure did get good books out of their emotional stews.


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