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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.

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 the first Harry Potter book again 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 been 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 when you feel is the right age for 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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52 Comments

  1. 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)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!).

  5. 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.

  6. 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 (http://www.momsradius.com/2016/04/wizarding-world-of-harry-potter-with.html). 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!).

  18. 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 🙂

  19. 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.

  20. 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 🙂

  21. 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 😀

    1. 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!

  22. Thank you for this post. My almost 6-year-old has become interested in Harry Potter, most likely from school or YouTube videos, as I have never mentioned the books to her. I would have thought they would be more for a tween aged kid. I think we will hold off for now after reading this post. 👍🏻

  23. Hi, was wondering what are your views on listening to the Harry Potter books on audible. It is narrated by Stephen Fry and is a great listen

  24. Thank you for this post, it’s got some good info, especially for those who haven’t read HP and don’t know what to expect. Both my husband and I were just a tad too old to have read Harry Potter when the books came out. I think I knew some people in high school who were fanatical about them and it turned me off to wanting to read them for quite a while. Now I’m kind of waiting to read them with my kids and experience them together. I had thought about maybe this fall, but my daughter is quite tender-hearted and gets scared very easily, so I think even though she’s in second grade I’ll wait at least a couple more years. Thanks for your insights!

  25. Love this!!
    I always told my kids they could not watch the movies until they read the books… and waited to see when they’d become interested. All the books have always been on their bookshelves. Honestly I agree when they were younger mine were not ready for the reading or the content.
    Last summer (they turned 7 and 9) and we drove from AZ to VA and back to AZ. They’ve loved podcasts (plus they fight less when they are focused on listening) so I decided books on audio would make our drive way more fun! I decided we’d tackle Harry Potter – hoping once we listened to the first one or two my oldest would want to devour the third on his own.
    Let me tell you audio books for long drives is the WAY TO GO! We listened to one and two from AZ to VA. My son (not an avid reader) had no interest in reading the third himself sadly. Listened to #3 from VA to AZ. (So we took a two month break in the middle) Then we took another break and just started #4, we’re maybe half way through.
    My 7 year old daughter (2nd grade) is WAY more of a potterhead than my 9 year old son. She was Hermione for Halloween (I was Professor McGonagal). Though he claims it’s just OK he hangs on every word. I love listening to it with them and hope one day they’ll pick up the books and read it again on their own!

  26. Since my daughter was in kindergarten, we have been progressing through the Harry Potter audio books. She’s in 2nd grade now and we decided to stop on book 5 for awhile. I listened ahead of her to refresh my memory about what’s in there. I think the audio books are helpful for kids because the narrator does such a good job of doing different voices for each character, it’s easier for kids to follow the story. We do have illustrated copies of the book up until 4. Now that her reading skills are getting up there she enjoys reading the books, too.

  27. Your email linked to this post was so timely! My 2.5 year old heard us talking about Harry Potter the other day, and asked me to tell him the story of “Fairy Potter” that night at bedtime. haha It’s been about a week now, and for every naptime and bedtime story after lights out he wants another bit of the story. Who knows what he is actually learning (& where Mom & Dad each leave off each day…) but he is having fun learning the characters and the gist of the wizarding world! We are excited to read it with him for real in a few years!

  28. I wanted to share our family’s experience for anyone interested. We started reading Harry Potter Sorceror’s Stone as a family read aloud about a week into quarantine in mid-March to our kids who are 10, 10, 8, 6. All four kids were immediately captivated by the story and reading aloud each day has been such an overwhelmingly joyful experience. The older kids went ahead and devoured the rest of the series on their own (one took a short break during Order of the Phoenix bc it was so dark – the solution for her was to read during the day, instead!). Three months later, i just this week finished reading aloud Deathly Hallows to my six-year-old son, who lived and breathed and dreamed Harry Potter through these unprecedented months. I was a tearful mess during the last three books, especially! I allowed the kids to watch the movies, one at a time, only after we had finished the book. I am so glad we chose to do it this way because there was anticipation and excitement, and helped prolong the excitement of the series. I am a little bummed for the kids who watch the movies without having read the book. The older kids are already rereading the series. This experience will be something I will always cherish and I know my six-year-old son does too. We look forward to traveling to Orlando to visit the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter when Covid19 is behind us.

  29. I love Harry Potter so much and can’t wait to begin sharing the series with my girls. We’re a bilingual family and have all the books in Italian as well. It’s was so confusing the first time I read them in Italian (as a VERY beginner speaker) because ALL of the names change! But they were so true to J.K. Rowling’s intent that characters’ names held a secret indicator for someone’s character. Dumbledore’s character is “Albus Silente” in Italian. It made me fall in love with the series even more.

  30. I started in 1999. I was a young teacher and my middle school reading buddies recommended them. I credit Harry with making all three of my late blooming boys into readers. I am on my third full read aloud of the entire series. We started with quarantine and should finish around Halloween. My child who is tuned into every page this time is 13. He has read them on his own, as my older two have at least twice. But everyone loves the read aloud: I do all the voices and my inner Hermione is just amazing. I’m going to be the coolest grandma one day.

    My rule of thumb is that your kid is old enough for the book when they are old enough for you to discuss the major themes. The series we struggled with was Hunger Games. We started that too early for my oldest. I knew I’d made a mistake with how enthusiastic his rooting for her to win became. He clearly was too young. The themes get darker and more complex as you in HP. Just be ready to talk about them!!!

  31. It honestly depends on the child. I have been reading novels aloud to my boys for 3 years. last year my husband read to my boys (5yo & 7y0) 1-4 and finished the rest on audio during quaratine. And then come November they boys asked me to start them over again! So we just finished The Goblet of Fire, after 1-3, haha! My boys can’t get enough.

      1. This is very true. We leave in a small housing compound with two little girls a year older than my daughter. Of the 3, she (a very precocious reader with good comprehension and maturity) she is the only one to have read them herself (she started at 6.5 and just finished the 7th at 7.5). But all 3 girls adore Harry Potter (one through movies, on through audiobooks, one through reading). They inhabit this hyperrich fantasy world (I think because hey are so young). So that may be an advantage of introducing it younger..the intense experience they can have of it. I don’t find HO any more violent or tragic than the scripture we study, so the maturity of the themes didn’t bother me. For my 5 year old son I doubt he’ll be reading these til he’s 10-11 but he is utterly involved in the HP fantasies of his older sister. It’s a joy!

  32. I started my girl when she was 8, getting her the first big illustrated edition for Christmas. Then I got her the second for her august birthday, then 3rd at Christmas and 4th for her 9 3/4 birthday in May 😆 the fifth one comes out soon so she’ll get that at Christmas and THEN idk what to do! It’ll be years before the 6th one is out (btw also 3 and 6 are my faves too!) and then years more until the 7th. I had to wait years to read the fourth book on, but they’d literally not been written yet. And they get so dark. I just don’t know what the right move is, it’s so hard! She’s only 10 right now. But when her friends are finishing the series that’s hard.

  33. Your email today came at a great time. I haven’t read the books, but enjoyed all the movies. The books have been on my TBR and I figured eventually just read with kiddos. My oldest turns 8 today and has heard about HP through school and has been interested. Today he will get the first illustrated HP book. He is a pretty sensitive kiddo and easily frightened but we’ve been working through the Dragon Master series and he seems to do better with subject matter that is more fantastical (wizards, spells, dragons, etc). All that being said, if he isn’t into it, I’ll at least finally read the first one 🙂

  34. I’m a big Harry Potter fan and originally got into it to connect with my younger siblings. I was insistent that my kids not watch the movies until they read the books. When my daughter was in 4th grade (age 10), she read the entire series in about 3 months, including watching each movie with me after she finished each book. I re-read them at the same time (we used the full-length non-illustrated books) to refresh myself on the details and we spent lots of time just reading silently together (we call it snuggle reading) while my younger daughter, who couldn’t read yet, would flip through her books and I’d read some with her. It was a fun opportunity to celebrate a shared love of reading and encouraging my youngest to engage in books as well. Plus, when she turned 11 a few months later, we had a big HP party…the significance of that age was not lost on us, of course.

  35. I went to library school when book #4 came out, and my jr high ELA students informed me that I could not pursue a library career without first joining them in Harry Potter. They lent me their bootlegged audio books (I know, wrong, I feel shame), and they made bets on which one would be my favorite (the answer is #3 and later #6, like the author). By the time I finished Goblet, I had to wait in the pre-order lines with my Millenial, HP mentors. I miss them.

    As a now 20-year librarian veteran of middle and high schoolers and a mom of an 18-year-old college freshman, I can say that it is always best to invite young readers in and watch for their level of excitement. If it is not there, or if they drift or lose interest in the characters (all of those amazing details and personalities), they are too young or they are a different kind of reader. I personally feel that books 1-4 are best appreciated between 4th-6th grade and that books 5-7 are best appreciated between 7th-9th. 5-7 feel very much more YA and 1-4 more J. There is a lot of relationship and identity stuff going on in those later books with politics, media, fascists, indentured elves, generational wealth, sports, and teen angst, sometimes in ALL CAPS. I think that a smart 3rd grader can read them, but I found my students who came to middle school who said “meh” read them too soon. My own son? We read them aloud whenever he voiced interest in my ask, and then we watched the movie after. I think we started in 1st grade, restarted in 3rd, paused, and finished in 7th.

    The passion that my first students had for the series, who first encountered Harry when they, themselves were sixth graders, has never been matched. More kids struggle with feature length films and longer books these days, but my high school readers still pick them up and enjoy, and we still sometimes sort ourselves into houses (Ravenclaw – maybe Slythern for me). It might be time for me to bring back some Harry Potter trivia or a reading challenge and see if I can rekindle another group of fans.

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