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Top 100 Children’s Novels #3: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

#3 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)
287 points

Oh, our family got hours and hours and hours of enjoyment out of these books. We read all of the first five out loud as a family, with no reading ahead. (Or as little reading ahead as we could stand.) Her imaginative details are unsurpassed, and she’s knows how to leaven her writing with plenty of humor. – Sondra Eklund

Sometimes hype is just hype, but when it came to the anticipation surrounding the release of each Harry, the substance of what was hoped for met the expectation. Beyond Block-buster movies and Lego sets, beat the heart of true heroism. By the end of the seven book saga every character on the side of right had a moment to shine. From Mrs. Weasley, to Neville, all the way down to Dudley and his cup of tea. Rowling stands alongside Jane Austen in her ability to allow her characters to open their mouths and prove themselves a fool. Rowling also created, hands down, the most evil villain in all of Children’s lit. No, I’m not looking at you Tom Riddle. Delores Umbridge wears that vile crown. Voldemort never put on airs that he was anything other than a power mad megalomaniac, whereas Umbridge coated her pious bigotry in pink virtue and creepy kittens. There lies a cautionary tale. – DaNae Leu

There’s a boy who lives in a cupboard under the stair, and he has an unusual scar on his forehead… Harry Potter is no doubt the most famous wizard since Gandalf, but what makes him and his friends at Hogwarts so compelling that half the world seemed to be reading the series at some point? I would say that Rowling showed us the power of writing about friendship and writing with originality. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are easy to root for, and things like quidditch and every-flavor jelly beans are the freshest details in children’s fiction since Cinderella showed up in a pumpkin coach wearing glass slippers. – Kate Coombs

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 first book is one of the most generic in a series that becomes increasingly (and rewardingly) complex in it’s study of human nature, but it’s an essential beginning, and still a great one. Seeing Hogwarts for the first time is as satisfying in rereads as it was the first time around. Harry Potter is a pleasure that, once having, you never want to give up. – Nicole Johnston Wroblewski

I love this series not only for its fantasy, imagination, love, courage, and loyalty shown in the book; there are also a lot of situations, characters, that can be used as discussion materials with students from third grade up. This series will become a new classic. – Dudee Chiang

Turned the tide of children’s literature. – Cheryl Phillips

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 instead 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 version of #1, then reproduce the British or American jackets for the sequels.

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. But surely the remake should be a mini (maxi) series, right?

    And now I’m scared to death. Two slots left, and I assume one is Charlotte’s Web. So, maybe I missed a day? Because there’s no was that The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland could have been left off, right? Right?

  2. The wizard on that first cover might well have been Chrestomanci. Of course, the great magic-maker realized he was in the wrong series and decamped.

  3. The Secret Garden is in for sure. I’m pretty confident that ALICE is also in. But I’m not sure about THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. Unfortunately, going back to check is extremely difficult and time-consuming.

  4. Alice and Secret Garden have already had their day in the list. Tomorrow will be A WRINKLE IN TIME. Leaving Mr. Toad bottoms up in a ditch along side the road.

  5. The wizard on the back of the first edition HPPS is actually a printing error. It is Dumbledore (as he is seen in the Pensieve in the later books). He was not meant to be printed like this, and there are a limited number of books with him printed like this on them. It is worth a lot of money.


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