If you are a Millennial parent of a certain age, there’s likely one milestone you’ve eagerly anticipated: reading Harry Potter with your children.
Of course, as an avid reader, there are MANY books I’ve eagerly anticipated sharing with my children, but Harry Potter is in a class of its own. It’s just so rich of a world; so dense with virtues like loyalty, courage, and love; so intertwined with memories from my own childhood; so close to my heart, that the idea of introducing my own children to Hogwarts has always felt tender and thrilling.
Recently, June and I completed the first book in this best-selling series of all time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I couldn’t wait to discuss…
How did we know this was the right age to read Harry Potter?
Like many of you, I grew up reading the Harry Potter books – and alongside Harry, himself. The first book was published in the US in 1998, when I was 11. I believe I read it about a year later, because I read the first and second books back-to-back. From there, I eagerly read each as they arrived to bookstores around the world, even attending a midnight launch for the final volume.
As a parent with all seven books on the shelf in front of me, the question of how I might guide my children through the series was a weighted one, and foreign to my adolescent self (because I was at the mercy of the publishing schedule). This is probably unsurprising, but I thought about it extensively – years before I was pregnant :)
For some reason, I had it in my mind that age 8 was the right age to introduce our kids to the wizarding world. June had no opinion – she had heard the words “Harry Potter” but had almost no conception of what they meant. John, however, thought she was ready, noting that she had already read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with us and on her own. Knowing that we’d plan to read just one book a year (more on that below), I agreed to dive in, and we gave her the illustrated copy of the first book for her 7th birthday.
Why did we choose the illustrated Harry Potter over the original version?
I’ll admit I was somewhat biased against the illustrated versions, for no good reason beyond that it wasn’t the version I grew up with – ha! But I will gladly admit the error of my ways, because the illustrated versions are GORGEOUS. They’re larger than the traditional books, and so somewhat unwieldy to read, but the read-aloud experience makes up for it.
The illustrated versions are unabridged, just with the addition of illustrations throughout. Especially for a younger reader, the illustrations – sometimes just a single icon on the page, other times a full riot of color stretching across the almost two-foot span of the open book – add even more delight to the reading experience. I’m very glad we went with the illustrated version.
What did our seven-year-old think about Harry Potter?
From the first chapter, she was all in.
And this muggle let out a sigh of happiness :) I don’t know if it was my and John’s evident excitement or simply the magic of J.K. Rowling’s world working its way into her heart, but she loved the story practically from the first page. I read one chapter a night, and both of us were eager to climb into bed each evening.
June is a strong reader and regularly reads chapter books on her own, but the Sorcerer’s Stone was definitely a notch in difficulty above what she is used to – for a few reasons. First, Rowling drops you into a new world, and there is a LOT to learn (and not a lot of it is explicitly explained). As re-readers, it’s easy to forget how foreign the wizarding world is, but not only did June need to follow the plot, she had to learn the rules of how things worked in a new place and keep track of lots of funny-sounding names.
Rowling’s writing is also richer and more complex than her usual fare. Occasionally, she’d ask me to read a little slower, and I learned to pause a beat when I imagined she might need a moment to synthesize what we’d just read.
Something else that I think helped with her comprehension: she retold every chapter in great detail to John the next morning. He does most of the morning routine, and she’d fill him in on exactly what had happened the night before over breakfast :)
What is our plan for reading the rest of the books?
The plan is to gift her the next book on her birthday each year, and read them aloud together – yes, even when she’s 13 and we’re reading the final book in the series. (Sob.) This will create what I hope will be a magical, memorable reading experience folded into the fabric of her childhood, and will allow her to mature alongside the book’s themes as they become darker and more complex.
She of course wanted to read the second book right away, but acquiesced when we told her the plan. We also reminded her she could read the first book as many times as she wanted between now and then – and then she promptly read the entire thing again, on her own, in under 36 hours (!). I imagine it will not be the last time before her 8th birthday.
What is our plan for reading Harry Potter with our other children?
The plan is the same, allowing that one or both of them might not be ready to read the first book at age 7 – in which case, we’d use our judgment to make sure they have a great start to the series. Yes, this means at some point I’ll be reading three volumes of Harry Potter each year, but you won’t hear me complaining :)
What about the Harry Potter movies?
We plan to watch each movie after we complete the book! We already watched the first movie, which June loved. It was delightfully sweet and childish – just as it should be for the first book. Just John and I watched with June after the others had gone to bed, not on a family movie night.
What was the most magical part of reading Harry Potter with our children?
For a lover of books, introducing a favorite to a fellow reader is always magical and often freighted, but even more so when the fellow reader is your child. It was a joy to see June fall in love with the characters I love, and a joy to re-read (again) J.K. Rowling’s absorbing, delightful writing.
Re-reading the earlier books in the series never fails to impress me – there are so many tiny details and seemingly offhand comments that become major plot points later in the series. But what struck me most in this reading – I teared up – was Dumbledore’s description of the powerful force of Lily’s love for Harry:
“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.”
Also, at the beginning, June was constantly calling things the wrong names, and it was the absolute cutest: particular favorites were Huffypuff, Ravenhopper, and Albatross Dumbledore :)
Friends, I hope this gave you a few practical thoughts on when to read Harry Potter with your own children, or simply provided a welcome walk down memory lane from your own childhood! :) And if you have read Harry Potter with your family, I’d love to hear how it went.
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