Here’s an August 31, 1998 child_lit post of mine:
I am curious about J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I saw it prominently displayed in bookstores during my recent trip to England and dismissed it as some sort of series a la the Hardy Boys. Returning to New York I read a review of it in the NYTimes, bought a copy, and just finished reading it. While I enjoyed it I’m not sure I would agree that Harry should “assume the same near-legendary status as Roald Dahl’s Charlie, of chocolate factory fame.” (Quote on US edition’s back cover from the Guardian’s review.)
The very British public school setting was fun for me having just spent a week at Christ Church College in Oxford enjoying the traditional rituals there. Rowling’s book is full of the particulars of British boarding schools (houses, prefects, common rooms, etc.) taken to a magical level.
The reviewer in the NYTimes (I believe it was Jane Yolen) questioned if this would appeal to an American audience. Still, it is a fun read and reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones’ “Witch Week.”*
There was no response about the book to my post (although Nina did comment about America’s perceived skittishness for non-American books). In fact, the book received very little attention on that list for several months.
In my classroom the book was passed from one fantasy reader to the next (a small group of boys who graduated high school a few weeks ago!). Eager to read the next one (that book I had so stupidly ignored while in England), a parent picked it up for us while in London. At that time it still seemed a small delicacy, something the larger adult world was not particularly interested in.
*I finally figured out that the item I saw was by Barbara Ensor (not Jane Yolen — even though, for a while, I kept insisting it was her and she kept insisting it wasn’t:) in New York Magazine (not a review in the New York Times). And also, keep in mind this was August 1998 — if you asked me now about who is more legendary, Charlie or Harry, my response might be quite different. And also the book I saw on display in England was the second book, not the first one.