1."Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
Harry Potter first arrived in the United States in 1998 in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." (The wonkier sounding original title "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was chaged for a US audience.)
He first appeared with his Aunt and Uncle Dursley and son Dudley, whom, Monitor reviewer Yvonne Zipp noted, are "about as awful as their name." But on his 11th birthday he was whisked away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As a baby, it turns out, Harry somehow survived an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort that killed both his parents. "Harry, it seems," Zipp notes, "is a wizard - or will be once he's trained - and a pretty powerful one at that."
At Hogwarts, Harry learned to play Quidditch and became aware of a mystery involving a sorcerer's stone. He realized that it was his task – along with friends Ron and Hermione – to uncover the evil stalking their school.
In her review of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" Zipp complained of "a too-abrupt ending that doesn't completely satisfy." However, she added, "that may be partly due to a reader's unwillingness to put down the tale. A sequel is due in September. If it's half as charming as the original, all is forgiven."
The 2001 movie version of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was mostly well received. Roger Ebert gave the movie four stars and called it a classic. CNN critic Paul Tatara, however, felt the movie was perhaps too faithful to the book. The directors, he says, were "so careful to avoid offending anyone by excising a passage from the book" that "the so-called narrative is more like a jamboree inside Rowling's head."
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
"This time around," wrote Monitor reviewer Yvonne Zipp, "Harry manages to get into trouble even before the school year begins and winds up a prisoner in his own home. His friend Ron Weasley has to rescue him in a flying Ford Anglia - which they subsequently crash-land on school grounds."
Once back at Hogwarts, it appears that something is stalking the students – and Harry finds himself suspected of the crimes.
Zipp praised the book, writing that "Rowling's sense of humor keeps things from getting too scary for smaller readers – you've got to love a battle where the hero literally pulls victory out of a hat."
Many critics praised the 2002 movie version of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," calling it deeper, darker, and more dramatic than "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." Some others, however, found it to be too long and in the Los Angeles Times Kenneth Turan called the movie a cliché.
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
By the time Book No. 3 – "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" – came along, Monitor reviewer Yvonne Zipp noted that "J.K. Rowling's books about a young wizard-in-training have become so popular that reviewing them is almost beside the point."
This time, as Harry returns to school, he is pursued by Sirius Black, a murderous escaped prisoner. The plot pushes the reader deeper into the story of Harry's father's past.
In her review, Zipp says that "Rowling continues to delight – and fool – the reader within her strict schedule. This third book improves on its predecessors, adding a layer of symbolism to an adventure so nonstop that I sat up until 3 a.m. frantically turning pages."
The 2004 film version of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" earned a 90% "Certified Fresh" approval rating and also a 90% "Top Critics" ranking at Rotten Tomatoes. Writing for Rolling Stone magazine, Peter Travers called the third "Harry Potter" movie "by far the best and most thrilling" of the series films. Rex Reed, however, writing for The New York Observer, found it to be "the silliest, as well as the most contrived – and confusing – of them all."
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
Monitor reviewer Yvonne Zipp began her 2000 review of Book No. 4 – "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" – with a confession. "I expected this review to be titled 'Harry Potter and the Curse of the Bestseller List,'" she wrote. "Potter-mania has reached such absurd proportions, there seemed to be no way the book (despite its Hagridesque dimensions) could equal expectations. I was wrong."
She noted that within this book "the World Quidditch Cup is far more exhilarating than any Super Bowl game, and the triwizard championship offers plenty of soaring fantasy – and a chance for Harry and the readers to learn about the other schools of wizardry."
However, she added, the book is "just too scary for kids under 12." Since, realistically, "there's no way kids are going to put the books down for a year or two," Zipp suggested that "parents read the last 100 pages with anyone under 5 feet."
Reviews of the 2005 movie version of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" were largely positive. The New York Daily News gave a thumbs up to both its humor and its dark tone.
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
Book No. 5 is full of drama.
"The man who killed [Harry's] parents is back and amassing his troops. Hogwarts has been invaded by the poisonous bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge (picture a toad in a fluffy pink cardigan). And everyone thinks [Harry is] either nuts or a pathological liar, thanks to a smear campaign by the Daily Prophet. Oh, and his best friend made prefect and he didn't," summarizes Monitor critic Yvonne Zipp in her 2003 review of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
"Harry may be grousing," Zipp notes, "but there's plenty for fans to cheer. Book 5 isn't spattered with the gore that marred Book 4." The "emotional layering," she wrote, "isn't as rich as in Book 3" (her admitted favorite of the series).
She was also conscious of a bit of "flatness" at the ending, although, she added, that "may also stem from the knowledge that once you hit the last page, there's going to be a long wait until Book 6."
The 2007 film version of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" took the series' shortest book and turned it into the longest movie. Several critics, including Colin Bertram of the New York Daily News, called it the best of the "Harry Potter" movies yet.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
"His (admittedly justifiable) sullen anger from 'Order of the Phoenix' is gone," she noted, "and in its place is a determination to enjoy life."
"The first two-thirds of the novel focus mostly on life at Hogwarts," Zipp summarizes. "After the battle at the Ministry of Magic that ended 'Order of the Phoenix,' Harry, Ron, and Hermione try to resume lives as ordinary teenage wizards, albeit amid heightened security and a seemingly never-ending series of tragic headlines in the Daily Prophet.... It's hard to focus on Quidditch when you're convinced that there's at least one Death Eater among the student body."
Again, she warns, adults might want to be cautious about handing this one to very young readers."Several of the scenes are pretty tough going, and one of the characters killed is dearly loved," Zipp writes. "Parents might find it helpful to read the book first and make sure that their young reader can handle the material. (They'll also need to provide hugs at the end.)"
The film version of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" generally received positive reviews. Perhaps the most heartening for the film's director came from the author herself. J.K. Rowling said that "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was her "favourite one" of the six film adaptations.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"
"When last we saw our hero, it was at Professor Dumbledore's funeral, vowing to go on a quest to find and destroy the remaining sources of Voldemort's immortality, seven objects in which he had deposited pieces of his soul," Monitor critic Yvonne Zipp summarized in her 2007 review of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
Zipp resists adding any spoilers but does note that "Book 7 is also ready for its Hollywood close-up – with set pieces so cinematic, you almost don't need a camera. For folks craving action, there's plenty of it, and for fans hankering after closure, you'll get that, too."
It all bodes well for the upcoming movie, which, of course, will only tell half the story of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." For the rest, we'll just have to wait for Film No. 8.