Hey Julie – Question – when do you think it’s OK to start reading Harry Potter? Somehow I never read the series myself and I was thinking of making my mom read it first to see if it was OK for my son, who is 7 and in first grade. He would love all the themes – the magic, the wizards, etc. but some have said it’s a bit too scary. I haven’t even seen the movies yet so I am at a loss. He is ‘average’ on the scare-o-meter, but we are a pretty ‘innocent’ house in that he hasn’t seen a lot of movies, isn’t into Star Wars (which has a lot of scarier, adult themes), etc… We did just read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and he LOVED it.
Really appreciate your opinion!
Great question! When I started teaching 2nd grade, I was shocked that a co-worker chose to read the first Harry Potter to her class. It was 1999, around the time the book was becoming controversial in schools. I was concerned for her: will the parents disapprove? Will they want their kids to wait and read it by themselves? I also defended my read-aloud choices: teacher read-alouds are supposed to focus on books the kids won’t find in the library or book store on their own. They’re supposed to help kids hunt-down new books to read. She was far more liberal than I, and blew off my questions, except for my last one, to which she replied, “teacher read alouds are supposed to inspire kids to get lost in a book. Period.”
She’s a smart woman.
So, when Carson was in 1st grade, I remembered the conversation with Page and decided that I wanted to be the one to read HP with the kids before someone else did. I started reading to Carson and Wes (ages 7 and 5.) Unfortunately, by the time I was on Chapter 5, Carson was on Chapter 7. He couldn’t wait for me to read the books and had run to the library at school (where, luckily, Mrs. S\, his first grade teacher had convinced Mrs. C, the librarian, that there were a few 1st graders who should be permitted to move into the chapter books area of the library.)
I couldn’t keep up. Carson raced through the first book. He begged to read the second. I let him. And I let him read the third. And then I stopped. I explained to him that after the third book (really, during the third book), the stories become darker. I wanted him to wait a bit before reading the next book. So, we came to an agreement that he would be receive one book on his birthday each year. That worked, until fourth grade when, as we were driving home from the Harry Potter exhibit in New York, and he reminded me that he hadn’t finished the series… I made Steve get off the turnpike at the nearest Barnes and Noble so that Carson could read the book on the way home. I think it was then that Wes, who was in 2nd grade, started reading the series on his own.
So, in a far more direct answer to your questions: Start reading now to gauge his interest. His friends will soon play LEGO Harry Potter on the Wii and watch some of the movies, so you want him to be introduced to the series before he starts viewing them in other forms of media. YES, they get dark. In fact, I didn’t like the 7th book! But the first 2-3 are very light, very much about developing friendship, trust, and focusing on using your personal skills to help your own society.
When you read it as an adult, pay special attention to the more minor characters (example, Neville and Luna) for great examples of how those who are considered to be not as strong not only use their strengths quietly but also become heroes — everyone has the ability to become a hero.
Be aware that as you’re reading the series, it can become real. These books are VERY hard to put down and they envelope you. There were many nights that I woke up in the middle of a dream that I was in Hogwarts. This can happen to your kids, too.
Enjoy them. Enjoy your time reading them — whether your kids wait for you to read them together or if they race ahead, make sure you read the series. It’s pretty rare someone doesn’t enjoy Harry Potter.
Whenever you’re ready, start with the first book in the series: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
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