JULY 31:

  • Happy birthday Muriel Feelings (Jambo Means Hello), Robert Kimmel Smith (The War With Grandpa), J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter series), and Lynne Reid Banks (The Indian in the Cupboard).
  • In 1790, the first U.S. patent was granted. Read So You Want to Be an Inventor by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small.
  • Shredded Wheat, now considered a breakfast cereal, was invented by Henry Perky in 1893. Read Quirky, Jerky, Extra Perky by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Brian Gable, and A Plump and Perky Turkey by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Jeff Shelly.
  • It’s Mutt’s Day. Read Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle by Major Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson, and Mary Nethery and Help Me, Mr. Mutt by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel.

Today marks the birthday of the world’s best-known literary character. He has taken his place along with Sherlock Holmes and Winnie the Pooh as a household name. And he’s only been around since 1998. If you guessed that his name is Harry Potter, you are correct.

Harry emerged in the mind of his creator J. K. Rowling on a train trip. Today, everyone wants to be like J. K. Rowling. Celebrities by the score, writers of adult books, and people who never thought of writing a children’s book are all enticed by her wealth and notoriety. I doubt that many would choose her early path as a novelist. Almost every publisher in England rejected the manuscript of Harry Potter; she had to persevere for years with a story that seemed to be only of interest to her. Finally, she found an editor new to the field in a small publishing house: Barry Cunningham of Bloomsbury Press was willing to take a chance on her book. For around $1,000 dollars he acquired the rights to publish the first book about Harry Potter, and when he called her in for an editorial meeting, he told her that she needed to get a job, because “Nobody, absolutely nobody, ever makes any money in children’s books.”

Why does Harry intrigue so many people? His saga combines an orphan story, a school story, magic, adventure, intrigue, and page-turning drama. Certainly the seven books about him are among the most child-friendly volumes of the last two decades. Not only does Harry have loyal and wonderful friends like Ron and Hermione, but he also encounters intriguing adults—Albus Dumbledore and Professor Snape for instance. After I read Harry Potter, I had a new life goal—some day I want to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Millions of other readers have projected themselves into the stories in entirely different roles.

In very short order, after the publication of the first book, the world became wild about Harry Potter. Now there are more than four hundred million copies of Harry Potter books in print. So happy birthday, Harry.  Since 1998 you have fought and won a battle against “You-Know-Who” and also convinced millions of young children, who thought they didn’t like to read, that books can be exciting. Also, happy birthday to J. K. Rowling; by some strange coincidence she shares this birthday with her most famous literary character.

Here’s a passage from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

The storm raged more and more ferociously as the night went on. Harry couldn’t sleep. He shivered and turned over, trying to get comfortable, his stomach rumbling with hunger. Dudley’s snores were drowned by the low rolls of thunder that started near midnight. The lighted dial of Dudley’s watch, which was dangling over the edge of the sofa on his fat wrist, told Harry he’d be eleven in ten minutes’ time. He lay and watched his birthday tick nearer, wondering if the Dursleys would remember at all, wondering where the letter writer was now.

Five minutes to go. Harry heard something creak outside. He hoped the roof wasn’t going to fall in, although he might be warmer if it did. Four minutes to go. Maybe the house on Privet Drive would be so full of letters when they got back that he’d be able to steal one somehow.

Three minutes to go. Was that the sea, slapping hard on the rock like that? And (two minutes to go) what was that funny crunching noise? Was the rock crumbling into the sea?

One minute to go and he’d be eleven. Thirty seconds… twenty… ten… nine—maybe he’d wake Dudley up, just to annoy him—three… two… one…


The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.


Originally posted July 31, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Friendship, Magic
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


  1. Dan says:

    For a variety of reasons, I’ve never read the Harry Potter books. For me, it is the right book at the right time. I am going to start today. I have the recorded version ready to go. (Jim Dale is always wonderful.) I’m just glad to know I’m starting on Harry’s and the author’s birthday. Maybe I’ll be done with all of them by their next birthday.

  2. G.Perry says:

    I remember the morning I heard about Harry Potter on NPR. I was having a coffee and surveying the early morning sky, when in the background, I vaguely heard an interesting story about a newly discovered British author. J. K. Rowling. I made note, and before the day was out, I was reading today’s book.

    Reading about an abused orphan living under a stairwell was something I identified with instantly, so I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that day, and never looked back. I have to say, this first book in the series is still my favorite.(Oh. And I was in Edinburgh and saw Nicholson’s before it disappeared.)

    In a graduation address at Harvard in 2008, Rowling said ” Rock bottom became the solid foundation I built my life on.” When asked in one interview how her wealth had effected her most, she replied that she no longer had to worry about her utility bills.

    The only dark spirits I believe in walk around on two feet, and these books help enormously to put good versus evil in perspective. That, can enhance resilience in someone needing it. Writing the first book actually gave her nightmares, but her experience at Amnesty International gave her added foundation is human goodness.

    “Poverty is not an ennobling experience”.And added “..but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools”

    “Identify with the powerful, and the powerless too..” (That author owns a place in this heart now.)

    Happy birthday you amazing wonderful girl!, And, if you start a new school of magic, PLEASE send an owl to my address. But, I won’t come without Anita.

  3. suzi w. says:

    I remember visiting with people in 2001, grandparents of children my sister babysat for. And at that point, Harry had been on the cover of news magazines. And these people raved and raved about Harry. And I thought, oh puh-leeze. I was always the person that thought, if everybody likes it, then it can’t be that good.

    I didn’t start reading Harry until 2002. I had worked at Barnes & Noble when the books came out, but by the time they had started doing midnight parties, I was no longer working in Children’s. People were crazy for the Potter boy, but I just didn’t get it. I started book 1 and didn’t really get into it. My sister loved the books, so she and I went to the first two movies together. (Another theory about what kept me from reading them is that my sister liked them, so they were “hers.”)

    I had started work as a Children’s Librarian in 2002, and really saw how popular the books were, felt guilty that as a professional, I hadn’t read them. So I took out the first book in audio. Jim Dale’s voice pulled me in and I was hooked. So by the time the 5th book came out, in 2003, I was ready.

    My favorite books are book 2 and book 5. Book 7 was too dark for my taste. I never fully digested it, and it’s the only one I didn’t listen to on audio–21 discs? I knew I didn’t want to listen to something that dark for 3 weeks to and from work. I never was a midnight book person or movie person…but that’s okay. I eventually got to them all.

    Thank you for this special essay. I hadn’t taken the time until now to collate my memories about these books. And yes, in case people are wondering, yes, people are still checking out the books, all the time. Whenever a movie comes out, the shelves are empty, at least at our library. And people had such memories, that they will want to pass them on to the young people in their lives. I know I will.

  4. Star says:

    Rowling and her books have had such an impact on my life. I began reading them in 1999, during a very dark time in my own life. Harry Potter gave me something else to think about…something other than severe health problems, my own depression, and lots of sadness in my life. As I healed, the books entertained me. Once I was better, I would re-read each of the previous books just before the next one got released. I was there at the bookstore at midnight multiple times to get my hands on a copy, and missed many hours of sleep staying up all night reading the newest books! I got my husband addicted to the books during the first year of our marriage, and now our girls, ages 4 and 2, LOVE it when we tell the stories to them or read potions of the books to them. We are so excited for the day they can read them on their own and experience the joy of this series!

    I have a B.A. and an M.A. in Literature, in addition to my library degree. I don’t go anywhere without a book in my bag to read in my spare moments. I have read more books in my 34 years than most people read in 100 years, yet I can honestly say that only two authors have written books that take on lives of their own for me…Charles Dickens and J.K. Rowling. Rowling is a genius and I feel so fortunate to have lived during the time when she wrote these books!

    I grew up with these books, but not during my childhood. The first one was published just before my senior year of college. The last one was published two weeks after my first child was born. During those years, I became an adult, overcame great personal challenges, discovered my own strengths, married my great love, and started a family of my own…a very happy one, at that. I feel such an affinity for Harry and his friends.

    Oh, Snape…your truths revealed in the final book… this was the saddest yet sweetest surprise in my life. Thank you Ms. Rowling. You are a treasure to the world.

  5. McCourt says:

    I was hoping we’d be celebrating Harry today (and J.K. Rowling)! I also came to the books late, just within the last couple of years, and listened to them on audio. I listened to the UK version by Stephen Fry which is fabulous. My older two daughters devoured the books, but for my third daughter – my reluctant reader- the audio books have been perfect. I love watching how big her eyes get when she’s listening! I’m looking forward to sharing the books with my youngest when he gets old enough. My favorite thing is the Weasley house – the Burrow – which reminds me of our home (minus the magic sadly) but filled with love, laughter and lots of kids!

  6. Kathleen T. says:

    The first book in the Harry Potter series was truly the beginning of a wonderful adventure. The enchantment and mystery woven throughout the story was fabulously fun and amusing as the world of the muggles collided with the world of magic and sorcery. And the best part of it all was following Harry through his realization that he was indeed “special and famous.” I was also fascinated to watch as young readers happily stretched their abilities to new levels as they read the book cover to cover.

    Thank you Anita!

  7. Chana Martel says:

    I too had a similar story to Suzi. I was in high school when this story first came out and everyone was ranting and raving about it. I was honestly annoyed by all of its publicity and never really enjoyed reading fantasy books. Honestly my friends and I used to make fun of it and never wanted to pick it up to see what it was really about. We would certainly not have been friends with Harry at Hogwarts – we weren’t very nice to him. Poor guy.

    Then my brother started reading it, and he really doesn’t read books, so I figured that I should sit down and check it out. While we were at my brothers baseball game, always a dull moment when they are in Little League, I figured I would pick it up. After the first couple of chapters I was hooked. No, I wasn’t the person standing outside of Barnes and Nobles at 4:00 in the morning but I was on the waitlist ready for the new books to arrive.

    Rowling is truly a genius in how she makes the story link and circle back to her orginial stories. She made me want to go back and read the previous books to find the hidden connections. She is brillant and I can’t believe it took her so long to get her story published. It really is magical!!!

  8. Sue says:

    Harry Potter has a special place in my heart. I have two sons, now in their early twenties. We started reading HP aloud to them when they first came out (on a tip from a very wise Borders employee before the first book was on the radar here.) As both Harry and my boys grew, they read them on their own, too impatient to wait for a read aloud! I have a particularly vivid image of my then 7 year old sprawled on my dad’s hospital room floor totally engrossed. We attended midnight release parties as a family, and listened to th always wonderful Jim Dale on family trips. I am currently revisiting some of the books and loving them still! Long live Harry Potter!

  9. Kathy Quimby says:

    My favorite Harry Potter moment came shortly after Book 1 appeared in the U.S. I was driving my daughter and a fellow avid reader on a Girl Scout field trip. The two of them were talking about the book, exchanging favorite moments, and then my daughter asked her friend who her favorite character was. “Hermy-One,” said her friend. So then we talked about Greek names.

    My second-favorite moment was when I realized that the musty smell I noticed in a corner of the living room came from _The Sorcerer’s Stone_. My daughter loves long hot baths with a book, and this one had been read so many times, it had gotten damp. A replacement copy was soon purchased, one that survives to this day.

    My daughter and her friend were the perfect age for this series, because they literally grew up along with Harry. The final book came out a month after they graduated from college.

  10. Kathy Quimby says:

    Make that “Graduated from high school.” Time has flown.

  11. VermontMomster says:

    I started reading Harry Potter aloud to my two pre-teen sons soon after the first book came out. But that is as far as I got: “started reading.” I couldn’t get into the read-aloud. It just didn’t click with me. But for my sons, it did. My younger son ended up reading all of the books. He started reading the books from the library, but his grandmother decided to purchase them for him as each new title came out; she would “devour” the book in days before she mailed it to him! My older son listened to each book as it came out in digital form. The movies were popular with both boys. So, we have Harry Potter fans in the family, just not me.

  12. ann thomas says:

    My daughter just started re-reading the Harry Potter books. Now that my summer class is about to end, I will have time to join her! Reading these books is a great way to escape and have an adventure… pick up a Harry Potter book and get swept away~

  13. Bobbi Miller says:

    I’ve read the series, and even taught the series in summer intensives. After reading this wonderful tribute, I feel the need to read them again. Thank you for this wonderful discussion!

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.