First published in England in 1997 as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the book quickly became wildly popular. The next year saw its publication in the United States, this time titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, receiving critical acclaim and several awards. I would rate this book 9 on a scale of 10. Both the Carnegie Medal and the Newberry Medal awards consider plot and character development when judging books. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone clearly meets those criteria. As the novel unfolds, the reader discovers the information about the wizarding world along with Harry.
Characters grow and become more than flat stereotypes – Hermione’s change from bossy know-it-all to genuine friend and partner-in-crime is just one example. The dialogue between characters is believable and Harry’s inner thoughts serve as further exposition without slowing down the action. The novel is long in getting started, which makes sense because the author has to set up a story that will continue over six more books. New readers just have to make sure they keep reading and not quit out of boredom. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are good for prompting the reader’s imagination.
I would have liked to have seen a few more scenes with illustrations, however. Among them would be a drawing of the Sorting Hat, perhaps as it sat on Harry’s head; an illustration of the dead unicorn in the forest with the frightening creature drinking the blood; and a picture of at least one of the scenes of the children getting past the spells guarding the stone. The chess game would have made an interesting illustration. Besides Mary Grandpre, I think Ludwig Bemelmans, who wrote and illustrated the Madeline books, would have done a good job with Harry Potter.
His style of pen and ink drawings are simple yet contain a lot of detail and would fit the tone of J. K. Rowling’s books. The first Harry Potter book as well as all the subsequent books were huge best-sellers. In fact, it was this series that prompted the New York Times to create a separate list for children’s books since Harry Potter monopolized space on the existing top-ten list. But beyond popularity, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a classic children’s book because of its story.
The book incorporates a common theme of good vs. evil with humor, fast-paced action and relatable characters. Fantasy and magic also resonate with children, and Rowling’s books will surely join those of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein as favorites for generations of children. This book makes reference to numerous other works. Dumbledore is a member of the Order of Merlin, an allusion to the King Arthur myth. Goblins and trolls populate the folk and fairy tales of many cultures. The vampire that Professor Quirrell comes from Dracula and werewolves go all the way back to Ovid.
Fluffy, the three-headed dog is based upon Cerberus in Greek mythology. The mirror of Erised is similar to the magic mirror in Snow White or the titular looking-glass that Alice stumbles through. Finally, of course, is the medieval legend of the philosopher’s stone and the French alchemist, Nicolas Flamel. Although the U. S. publisher changed the name of the book thinking that American readers would be unfamiliar with the philosopher’s stone, the book kept most of its English-ness.
Foremost is the concept of boarding school, which is much less common in the U. S. Along with that, Hogwarts has houses, prefects and Head Boys, all similar to Eton College and other British public schools. The robes that Harry and his friends wear are like the robes worn at Oxford and Cambridge. But what makes Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone quintessentially British is the lack of teenage drama found in most American books for children and young adults. Harry and his friends face challenges from , but they never have to deal with underage drinking, teen pregnancy, drugs or gangs.