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A Few Thoughts About Reading Harry Potter

I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan.

I talked about my family’s history with Harry Potter last year, when I wrote about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so I won’t rehash it here, but suffice it to say I love Harry Potter.

When to read harry potter

As a librarian, Harry Potter was always something of a sticky issue because it was so wildly popular, which meant all the little kids wanted to read it too, and these first graders who wanted to feel grown-up would beg to check them out, even though I knew for a fact they could hardly read, and they’d just carry those giant books around for a week without really being able to read them.

I didn’t want to be the librarian who forbade children to check out a book they really wanted to check out, but I also didn’t want them to have nothing they could actually read for the week.

I finally settled on the deeply unsatisfying method of suggesting they get something else and then letting them get Harry Potter if they insisted.

And, of course, the books get darker and more complex as they go along, which was perfect when you were growing up alongside the books, and less perfect when you start the first one at age six.

All of which is to say that when I frequently get asked what the right age to read Harry Potter is, I don’t have a great answer.

(I love Amy’s plan about reading aloud one book in the series every October, although I don’t know if that’s what we’ll do. I can’t argue, though, that October is the BEST time to read Harry Potter).

I wasn’t planning on reading Harry Potter to Ella until she was in about second grade, but then last year, we were going to Harry Potter world with my family and Bart suggested that Ella would enjoy it more if she knew at least the basic characters and settings.

We read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and she seemed to like it, but I could tell she was having a hard time keeping track of all the characters.

I was surprised that she was struggling a little, since I think of her as an advanced reader, but she insisted she wanted to read the second one together too.

But within about four or five chapters, she quietly asked if we could read something else instead, and we put it away.

I know lots of people who have kindergarteners or first graders who love Harry Potter, but since that didn’t seem to be the case in our family, I figured we’d try again next year, when she was in third grade.

Then, when we went to Utah a few weeks ago, I picked up Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from my in-laws bookshelf.

I had super happy memories of re-reading the entire series at my in-laws when Ella was a baby and I was nursing for hours each day, and I figured it was time to read some of the series again. f

Of course, I spent the next two weeks reading #5, #6, and #7 in any spare moment I had, including staying up way too late one night when Bart was gone to finish #7 and crying over the ending.

Probably swayed by my reading, Ella asked if, instead of reading The Witches as I’d planned, we could read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

I was pretty sure she didn’t remember the first one super well, so I suggested we re-read that one together. She was insistent that she DID remember it, but agreed to read it together.

We flew through it in less than a week, (I’d read a few chapters at night to her and then she’d read a few on her own) and last week, we spent about an hour with everyone curled up on the couch after school reading the last couple of chapters aloud.

When Snape turned out not to be trying to steal the sorcerer’s stone, Ella just about lost her mind with excitement (and let me know that I’d be right about her not really remembering it very well).

It was exactly the kind of magical Harry Potter reading moment I’d been waiting for.

When to read harry potter

Now we’ve jumped right into the second book, which I haven’t read in YEARS, and oh, I just love every moment of it.

There’s nothing quite like experiencing a favorite book again with your children.

(And now I’m dying to go back and read #3 and #4 because Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the series aside from maybe Half-Blood Prince).

I’d love to hear about how you’ve handled Harry Potter! And whenever I hear from someone that they never read them as a child but are reading them now, I’m just a tiny bit jealous of getting to experience them for the very first time.

Photos by Grace + Vine Studios

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  • Reply Kellie November 1, 2017 at 4:48 am

    My oldest is 4 so I know she’s way too young but I was wondering at what age to start with her. The idea of reading one a book a year makes perfect sense so that she can age with the books- that was definitely something I was questioning too!

    I adore these books and even though I was fully a teenager/adult when the series came out, it doesn’t matter. They are pure magic! And I cannot wait to share them with my children (but will wait so they don’t get nightmares, haha)

  • Reply Lisa November 1, 2017 at 7:38 am

    I am also a die hard fan, and I tried for years to get Tristan (now 12, 7th grade) to read them. He read the first two last year and then lost the desire, but something clicked for him this month, and he started over. He’s nearly done with 4 now, and Noah is racing up behind him in book 2. I’d really like to have finished MY reread (only 6&7 to go!) before they get to those hard scenes so I need to get on the ball. I AM LOVING IT.

  • Reply Preethi November 1, 2017 at 8:02 am

    Oh this post makes me happy. Nat’s almost done with the third one and I’m very hesitant to let him read the 4th since it’s so much darker. I think we’ll hold off at least a year; I, too, love the idea of letting them age with the books. I just restarted them and mentioned it to him, and he suggested he’s like to read them aloud since we never have (he read the first on his own two summers ago, but I’m quite sure he doesn’t remember it well, and k’s never read them). So, we may be restarting them again this month.

  • Reply Stephanie November 1, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Our library has the illustrated copies as well and they are excellent for helping a younger reader’s comprehension (and bolstering an older reader’s affinity for the book, might I add!).

  • Reply Laura November 1, 2017 at 9:07 am

    I also love Harry Potter and waited eagerly until my kids were old enough. With my oldest, I read him a book a year starting when he was eleven. He is now 14 and a freshman in high school and we are halfway through book four, but moving very slow because it is hard to find the time to read together these days. I doubt we will ever finish the series. He enjoys it, but won’t read for pleasure. My next two are 8 and 10, and we read book 1 this year with the intention of doing the next one next year, but then went straight to book 2 because they couldn’t wait to see what would happen. We finished it quickly and are taking a break before book 3 so that the content doesn’t get ahead of their age. They have already listened to both the books on CD since we read them together. If we don’t make it through them together, I am sure they will read them on their own. There are four more kids after that, one of whom is named Neville after Mr. Longbottom himself, and I look forward to reading it to them in batches as they get old enough.

  • Reply Kate @ Mom's Radius November 1, 2017 at 9:18 am

    I had planned to introduce it slowly to my son too, but my husband and I couldn’t wait. We love Harry Potter and wanted to share that love with our son. We let him watch movie 1 when he was 5, and then we read the illustrated book when it came out in October 2015. But of course we couldn’t stop with just one movie, so over the next 6 months our son watched all the rest of the movies. And then we took him to Universal when he was almost 6 ( Since then we tried reading the illustrated book 2 when it came out last October, but it’s just not as good. And it was hard since he knew everything from watching the movie a bunch of times. When he’s a little older, I think he’ll be interested in reading the books to get the extra details, but right now he’s too young for that (now 7.5), but he is in a reading club at school that’s studying Harry Potter. We’ll see what that does to his interest.

  • Reply Ali November 1, 2017 at 9:24 am

    My oldest daughter had the same experience as your Ella. We read book 1 in 1st grade and after a few chapters in book 2 she asked if we could stop. She is also in second grade this year and you have me thinking about suggesting we read the illustrated version after the holidays.

  • Reply Grace November 1, 2017 at 9:57 am

    My concern for anyone coming to something like Harry Potter for the first time now is avoiding all the spoilers. Not quite the same as a book, but I remember watching Star Wars for the first time growing up and having that mind-blowing experience of discovering a new fictional world that I loved…only to have a friend accidentally reveal the big spoilers.

  • Reply Breanne November 1, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I love hearing about how and when parents introduce Harry to their children. I read it for the first time in my late twenties and loved it! I’ve since read the series a couple times and have just started reading them with my book club, we alternate between other titles every other meeting. It’s so fun! And we have some new to Harry readers which is just the best.
    For our children, we’re waiting until they are 11 to read the first one and then they can read them at their own pace. I like the idea of aging with Harry and I feel like they will be able to understand some of the themes better.

  • Reply Paige Flamm November 1, 2017 at 11:43 am

    I started reading Harry Potter for the first time right when Derek and I got married. And then I got to book 7 right in the middle of our stint in NC and I got halfway through and decided not to finish the book because finishing the book meant that it was all over. Which is total dumb logic, but I really want to start at book one again and go through and actually finish the series now. I also really want to purchase all the illustrated versions and read them with the kids as they get older.

  • Reply Chelsea November 1, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    My oldest read the series when she was 8. We gave her the whole set when she turned 8 and let her pick the pace. Of course she finished in a few months. We got the movie box set the following year for Christmas and my 2nd was having a hard time getting motivated to read anything. At age 6 we knew he was an advanced reader but lacked motivation to try anything at his actual level. So we bribed him to read HP1 with the promise of watching the movie and an extra $5. He slogged through it and I didn’t expect him to be excited about it. But slowly he caught on and after Book 2 it really picked up. Now he is 8 and on Book 6. We talk about it in the car on our way to school and discuss anything that he doesn’t understand or that he feel sorry uncomfortable with. He’s not being bribed anymore and is free to stop whenever he wants but so far he keeps plugging on, sometimes with a graphic novel between reading spurts.

  • Reply Catherine November 1, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Love me some HP. My husband and I actually ordered 2 copies of book 7, (and picked them up at midnight release day!) just so we wouldn’t have to share. 😉
    We’ve been waititng and waiting for signs our oldest (9) was ready for the series. We watched the first movie a couple years ago and he was scared and said he didn’t want to read the books. He’s expressed interest this year but never really asked to read them so we kept waiting. We are listening to Land of Stories on audiobook as a family (good series, check it out!!) and the end of book 2 had him in tears (me too) and we knew then that he was ready for HP. We both feel that we want the kids to really understand the book, not just read it to say they read it. My husband and I are going to re-read book 1 before our son so we can talk about it better with him if he has questions, it’s been a long time since we read #1! I usually start with #4 (my absolute favorite book- least favorite movie) whenever I re-read the series.

  • Reply Carike November 1, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Did you read the original or new illustrated books? I’m thinking of doing them first with my little one (she’s 4) next year before I do the original books.

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw November 1, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      We read the illustrated books, but they’re not abridged – they’re exactly the same as the original books, just with a lot more illustrations!

  • Reply Janelle November 1, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    I love, love, love me some HP, and am bringing up my children in the way they should go. 🙂 Sadly, my husband just doesn’t “get” it. He was older when the books came out originally and has zero time for pleasure reading now. He enjoys he movies, but just doesn’t get the obsession. Oh well.

    As for the kids, it has been so different with each. I read the first to my older two when they were probably 5 and 7, and we read the whole series aloud together (which about drove them batty!). It took us several years, (they are 10 and 12 now) whereas they would each have finished them over the course of a few months if I had allowed them to. My Ella has reread all of them multiple times.

    I started with my third child when she was probably 7, and we just started the third book. After a false start last year with my twins, they are finally understanding and enjoying book one at age 7, but I can tell they’re not as engaged as the others were, but they’re definitely enjoying it.

  • Reply Caroline November 1, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    I’m so glad there are other people who have considered this question as seriously as I have. The books came out as I grew up, and I was almost exactly Harry’s age when I read each of them for the first time. I think that’s part of why I love them so much- the characters feel like friends that I grew up with. My daughter is two months old, but I’d love for her to experience them the same way I did, growing up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

  • Reply Sydney Lindsey November 1, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    I have a strict rule that my kids aren’t allowed to watch the movies until they’ve read the books. I was in 4th grade when my teacher read the first book aloud to the class and I was hooked! I went to every midnight release from there on out. I think I will start my kids around that age, or maybe a bit earlier if I feel they are ready. Love the idea of them aging with the books, but if they are anything like me they will forget everything in between.

  • Reply Cassi Esh November 1, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    I would classify myself as a pretty hardcore HP fan. I started reading my senior year of high school, when the first six books were out. I was totally hooked and ended up going to the midnight book release for Deathly Hallows! I’ve read them multiple times over the last decade, including listening to the audiobooks and getting the illustrated editions. SOOOOOOO good! I don’t have kids, but love talking to kids (or, let’s be real, adults) about the series. One of my friends once described HP as a literary experience that transcends all other fiction, and I totally agree (and we are both very avid readers!).

  • Reply Marieke Mills November 2, 2017 at 8:45 am

    What a lovely post! I completely understand you love Harry Potter so much. Growing up with those books and getting invested in a story is absolutely wonderful.

  • Reply Diana November 2, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    I am SO looking forward to sharing Harry Potter with my son, although he’s only 4 so we have some years to go!

  • Reply Amanda @ OrganicGlory November 2, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    My big secret in life is that I’ve never read Harry Potter…and I worked as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble for YEARS, including when these books were coming out and I could have bought them for nearly free and attended all the cool book store parties knowing what the fuss was about! I’m 35 and I have a four year old, and … I think it’s time 🙂

  • Reply Jane E November 2, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    I started my daughter at 6 when she was in first grade. I have the whole set plus the companion ones on a book shelf in the playroom and she was begging to start them. I got her the new illustrated versions of books #1 and #2. She’s an extraordinarily advanced reader but I wanted to read the books to her – partly to gauge if she was emotionally ready but mostly because I wanted to experience the magic with her! I read the first two to her (and then she re-read them several times by herself) and then we watched the first two movies. I’m making her wait until she’s 8 before we read the next one, because I think it’s darker than the first two. She wants to read it immediately but I explained that I had to wait between books and it built anticipation! She got the Harry Potter cookbook for her 7th birthday so she has been content reading through that and cooking the recipes.

  • Reply Beth November 5, 2017 at 1:34 am

    I read them aloud to my sons, who were probably in lower elementary school? Young enough that they were baffled by the flirting and dating in Goblets of Fire. The younger one liked them, and the older one (2 years older) adored them. I let him start grabbing them and reading ahead in the one where Harry’s 15 (Order of the Phoenix?) because it was a very annoying read-aloud, with Harry storming about being an emo teenager and taking hundred of pages to even get to Hogwarts. I remember encouraging the boys to read a lot between evening sessions again for the last one, because the endless camping was another fun read but dull read-aloud. I am still amazed by parents who manage to get through the whole thing word by word as family read-alouds 🙂

  • Reply Stevi November 14, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    My kiddo is 4.5, and I NEVER expected to be reading Harry Potter to him at this age. I thought he was still a long way from being ready/interested in chapter books and this would be a very fleeting experiment.

    We were still reading mostly short picture books, and he’d get distracted when there was too much text per page. But he asked me about my “big books” and asked if I would read one to him. I figured we’d get through a few pages, and it would go back on the shelf for a few years.

    But he’s really into it! We started September 6, and now in the middle of November, we’re on chapter 14. We did get the illustrated version from the library, and I think that helps. He asks good (and sometimes surprising) questions and seems to follow the plot fairly well. He does need reminding of some things, especially when it’s been a few days between chapters. And I know a lot of it goes over his head.

    I’m debating on moving on to the next book right away once we’ve finished this one. I kind of want to take it slow. We can probably reread book one a few times before moving on. He’ll get more out of it as he grows. But it’s super fun getting his very 4-year-old observations 😀

    • Reply Julia October 31, 2018 at 11:38 am

      This is exactly how I started reading the Hobbit to my 4.5 year old because he asked about it and begged me to read to him! He tracked with the story surprisingly well for about 1/2 the book and then seemed kind of bored. But that made me think he was ready for really listening to chapter books, so we started with Narnia and have read all 7 of those books and now I am always looking for others to read before bed, but nothing too scary. We just finished “The Tale of Desperaux” which I had never read but I love the movie. The book was a little darker than the movie, and I edited some things while reading aloud! haha.
      I think we will wait a while for HP- I grew up with Harry too so it will be such a joy to share with my kids once they are ready! 🙂

      Thanks for this great post, Janssen!

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  • Reply Caroline May 17, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    I’m so glad there are other people who take this question as seriously as I do…

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