Best Books for Kids » Ages 9-12

The Best Illustrated Harry Potter Books

recommended by Our Children's Editor

Entering the magical world of Harry Potter is a wonderful gift for any child, and finding a beautiful edition can be an important part of the journey. Here, our Children's Editor selects personal favourites among the most beautiful Harry Potter books and recommends the best gift editions.

When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out (having famously first been rejected by a dozen publishers), the children’s book publishing industry was in decline, as was the adult fantasy book market. The publishing sensation that followed is credited with getting children back into reading. Even excluding Harry Potter, sales of children’s books started to grow as publishers invested more in new writers and in crossover books read by both children and adults. Soon there was a trend in book-to-film franchises for children and young adults.

Those in industries such as tourism and merchandising happily go with the lucrative flow, but others have sometimes wondered what all the fuss is about. After all, Harry Potter was not the first book about a young wizard or life at a magical boarding school. For example, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (1973) features a boy who on his eleventh birthday discovers that he has magical powers, and as the last guardian of the Light must vanquish the terrifying evil of the Dark. In A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968) a boy is sent to a wizard school where he meets an aristocratic rival. Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13 (1994) features a forgotten door at King’s Cross station which is the entrance to a magical kingdom, and a protagonist being raised in the normal world by a family that doesn’t treat him well. There are also The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy (1974-2018), Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci series (1977-2006), Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (1983-2015) and Anthony Horowitz’s Groosham Grange (1988).

Although all these books are much loved, in terms of sales the Harry Potter series has no rival. (The only series that comes close is the manga One Piece, first published in 1997.) It is clear that the world which J.K. Rowling built around Hogwarts continues to fascinate new generations of readers who get immersed in Harry’s journey from downtrodden orphan to schoolboy surrounded by magic, friends and mentors, and finally to wizard in an increasingly dark war against evil. There are now YouTube stars who have grown out of Harry Potter fandom, and authors such as the bestselling Cassandra Clare who initially made their names through Potter fanfiction. There are even quidditch teams all over the world.

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Here at Five Books, diverse interviewees have picked Harry Potter among their five books. In one of our ‘kids recommend books for kids’ interviews, 10-year-old Izzy spoke about the addictive quality of the series, the fun contributed by twins Fred and George, and how everything comes together at the end “like pieces of a jigsaw.” Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series for children, told us she was a big fan of Hermione Granger’s character: “The books are about Harry Potter, of course, and so Ron and Hermione are his sidekicks, but I’ve always felt that Hermione was unjustly side-lined,” she said. “She’s clearly the most intelligent member of those three… she knows the facts, and she has the great ideas.” And Shami Chakrabarti, the human rights activist, highlighted to us how Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix illustrates the use of intrusive surveillance, torture and kangaroo commissions without due legal process, but also “solidarity and resistance and great human virtues.” Harry Potter clearly represents different things to different people.

But what version should you read? With the profusion of editions now available it can be difficult to know which books you might want to buy or gift unless you have already spent some time shopping around. Below, our Children’s Editor surveys the options and makes a personal selection of the most beautiful editions.

In addition to the books listed below, there are J.K. Rowling’s screenplays; plenty of books relating to the films, such as The Case of Beasts by Mark Salisbury; and some short reads based on Hogwarts and the extended Potter universe. In terms of the seven main books, the ebooks are a convenient and inexpensive option for those on the move. If you prefer to listen, the UK audiobook version is beautifully read by British actor Stephen Fry.

The first two Harry Potter books, exquisitely illustrated by MinaLima

In print, for older children who know to be careful with the interactive elements, for collectors, or for anyone who gets joy from an exquisitely produced book, the MinaLima editions are truly special. So far Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets have been released. MinaLima is a collaboration between Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, the designers who created the graphic style of the Harry Potter films. Their books reimagine the stories afresh, with scenes and characters that have not been illustrated elsewhere, and beautiful details that bring out the magic.

Harry Potter Hogwarts House Editions, illustrated by Levi Pinfold

 

If you are looking for a gift for a Harry Potter fan who already identifies with one of the four houses at Hogwarts but who doesn’t yet have the books, the house edition would be perfect. These books are sparsely illustrated and may therefore seem a surprising pick, but they are thoughtfully designed volumes in either hardcover or paperback. They are printed in the various house colours and black. Levi Pinfold has designed intricate house crests inspired by medieval heraldry, using very fine line drawing and a little ink.

For a special gift you might go for a box set, in red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, green for Slytherin or yellow for Hufflepuff. Pay attention if you are buying the box set online as some sets don’t include all seven books.

Harry Potter Box Set in epic style, with illustrations by Mary GrandPré and cover art by Kazu Kibuishi


In the USA, Scholastic published a 15th anniversary box set with cover art by Kazu Kibuishi, retaining Mary GrandPré’s iconic chapter illustrations. The style is quite epic and if you like to have beautiful book spines that form a picture when lined up it is an excellent choice. Kibuishi wrote about this project: “As an author myself, I tried to answer the question, ‘If I were the author of the books—and they were like my own children—how would I want them to be seen years from now?’ When illustrating the covers, I tried to think of classic perennial paperback editions of famous novels and how those illustrations tend to feel. In a way, the project became a tribute to both Harry Potter and the literary classics.” But buyers beware: reviews suggest some sets sold online are pirated low quality editions. Alternatively, editions with Mary GrandPré’s covers are widely available individually or as a box set.

Juniper Books has designed a variety of high-end ornamental dust jackets to be used with the Scholastic hardcover books. They also provide a cardboard box shaped as a travelling trunk. (It is possible to buy the books with the special dust jackets, or just the covers without the books.)

In the UK there are simple paperback volumes published by Bloomsbury with cover art by Jonny Duddle; they are available as the Children’s Complete Collection box set. There is also a box set marketed specifically for adults with cover art by woodcut artist Andrew Davidson.

Harry Potter for younger readers, four titles (so far) illustrated by Jim Kay


If you are looking for an alternative children’s edition, Jim Kay has so far illustrated the first four titles in the series, with the fifth coming out in 2022. These are relatively large books with plenty of colour illustrations, available both in hardcover and paperback. These editions are perfect for the youngest generation of readers, who are just old enough to enjoy the story but still have a preference for picture books.

Beyond the Original Books: Harry Potter Companion Volumes

In 2001, J.K. Rowling wrote two companion volumes which appear as the titles of Harry’s school books within the novels: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. Royalties from sales of these books are split between Comic Relief and Lumos, an international charity founded by J.K. Rowling in 2005 to promote family-based care alternatives to the institutionalisation of children. You can buy these books individually or in a set with a third companion volume, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was first published in 2008 in aid of Lumos. These three slim volumes are illustrated with black line drawings by Tomislav Tomic and cover art by Jonny Duddle. They are available as hardcover or paperback books individually or as a Hogwarts Library box set.

Each of the three companion volumes is also available in a larger, richly illustrated format. Fantastic Beasts has been illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill, using a variety of techniques including traditional copperplate etching. Emily Gravett has illustrated Quidditch through the Ages with imaginative use of a variety of materials and photoshop. The UK edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard is by Chris Riddell in his characteristic cartoonesque style with bold lines and strong colours. Evidently this style doesn’t appeal to everyone, as the US edition is instead illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger who is known for her more understated watercolour illustrations of fairy tales and children’s classics. Scholastic has published a box set of the Gill, Gravett and Zwerger editions as Hogwarts Library: The Illustrated Collection.

Books from the Hogwarts Library, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill, Emily Gravett, and Lisbeth Zwerger

                  

Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature, the catalogue from an exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, is a lovely spin-off from Fantastic Beasts. The exhibition is on until 3 January 2022. The original book was ostensibly written by magizoologist Newt Scamander as a guide to the magical beasts of the wizarding world. The exhibition highlights parallels between the film and animals in real life, which can be every bit as magical. The catalogue contains a foreword by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and chapters by various experts in aspects of natural history, animal behaviour and biodiversity. In terms of visuals, there are illustrations by, among others, Olivia Lomenech Gill (who has authored one of the chapters as well), and wildlife photographs. Delightfully, there is a reproduction of the intriguing Olaus Magnus marine map from 1539. A perfect gift book, it is available in either hardcover or paperback and – like the exhibition – is something that adults and children can enjoy together.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is also an exhibition catalogue and a fascinating coffee table book, available both in hardcover and paperback. The British Library exhibition, which marked the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, encouraged visitors to think about the magical traditions that underpin the Harry Potter world. Confusingly, there is another book accompanying the same exhibition called Harry Potter: A Journey through a History of Magic.

Both books are themed around the curriculum at Hogwarts, such as potions, herbology, astronomy, divination and defence against the dark arts. Both contain photos and information about the exhibits, illustrations by Jim Kay, and drafts and sketches from J.K. Rowling’s archives. The difference seems to be that A Journey through a History of Magic is more focused on Harry Potter and Hogwarts and seems chiefly aimed at children, whereas A History of Magic should appeal to anyone interested in history. This book has all sorts of captivating (or perhaps I should say bewitching) detail about alchemy, fortune-telling, invisibility spells, oracle bones, witches’ cauldrons and early illustrated herbals. Again, a very nice gift book for the whole family, with plenty of colour illustrations.

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at editor@fivebooks.com

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Our Children's Editor

Our Children's Editor

Our children's editor is in charge of all the kids' books recommendations on Five Books. As well as interviews with authors and experts, the best kids' books of 2021 and the best teen books of 2021 are handpicked to bring you the very best books for kids as they are published.

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Our Children's Editor

Our Children's Editor

Our children's editor is in charge of all the kids' books recommendations on Five Books. As well as interviews with authors and experts, the best kids' books of 2021 and the best teen books of 2021 are handpicked to bring you the very best books for kids as they are published.