Have you ever wondered just when to introduce Harry Potter to young readers?
When J.K. Rowling stashed a small boy with a scar under a staircase on Privet Drive, magic happened. And not just in her books. Magic happened for readers everywhere. People everywhere waited excitedly for the next installment and the next. Now, the next generation has been introduced to Harry Potter and he is every bit as popular as he ever was. Rowling’s ability to create a magical world that captivates and tantalizes is unquestionable. The only question is, when should children be introduced to Harry Potter.
The truth is, there’s no one right answer. It’s important to make sure your child is ready to understand the stories of course, but it’s also really critical to determine if they are emotionally ready for the content.
Here’s my full coverage of the series in one place to make decision making a little bit easier.
Information about Reading Comprehension Skills:
How Hard is Too Hard – Information that will help you gauge if a book is too difficult for a reader.
Starting with a Summary – How to talking about what is happening can help you tell if a reader is understanding the book.
Thinking About Content
From the Mouths of Babes – A talk with actual fourth graders about content and whether they want help from grownups when deciding if a book is appropriate.
Can a Book Really Upset a Child – A school psychologist weighs in.
Signs a Child is Struggling with a Book’s Content – A school psychologist give you things to look out for when your child is reading a book with potentially upsetting content.
Recommended for Grades 3 & Up
The first book in the series is neither terribly complex nor terribly violent. It is full of charm and excitement and will captivate readers and listeners alike. It reads as a magical boarding school adventure, with plenty of hijinks and not a lot of evil foreboding.
Full content review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Recommended for Grades 4/5 & up
The second book has the feel of a mystery. With plenty of suspicious goings on, our beloved characters cannot resist the urge to investigate. In this book two ideas which could be harmful to kids are introduced: the idea that adults are untrustworthy and the idea that children should try to handle dangerous problems without adult help. The first of these is less concerning as some adults actually are untrustworthy. It’s a good thing to talk about with your children. The second could lead to bad situations if applied in real life.
Full content review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Recommended for Grades 5/6 & up
In part because of the nightmarish dementors and in part because part of the story involves Harry repeatedly hearing his mother’s screams as she was murdered, I’ve marked this for a slightly older audience. This is definitely a time when it helps to know your reader and their comfort level with scary content.
Full content review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Recommended for Grades 6 & up
The revival of the thoroughly dangerous Triwizard Tournament promises a great deal of excitement for readers. By now there is a general sense of foreboding as you read and the climax is actually quite scary. I suggest flipping through the last few chapters (starting with 32) before you decide if readers would be okay with how scary it is. Goblet of Fire is also substantially longer and more complex than it’s predecessors, introducing many more characters, requiring higher level reading skills like inference.
Full content review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
There is certainly a continuation of the violence that began in the prior book. And like Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix is complicated. There continue to be many characters and plot twists and readers are asked to make predictions and do a great deal of inferring. Also, at 870 pages long it challenges readers to keep things straight for a considerable length of time. Even strong readers will need large chunks of time in order to finish this one!
Full content review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Things continue to get scarier, with some horror level scenes involving corpses raised from the dead. And Rowling, who has never protected your favorite characters quite as much as you might like kills off someone who is sure to break reader’s hearts. In between fighting evil, the teens of Hogwarts have time for a little romance and more smooching than you might remember. With a lot of vocabulary specifically invented for this series, subplots and flashbacks galore, this requires a lot of focus if younger readers are going to understand what is happening.
Full content review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Recommended for Grades 8 & up
The final book in the series is essentially quests and battles. And as in a real war, many will fall, including those who are near and dear to the reader. I have an accounting of these in the full review. There’s no doubt that this is page turning and exciting, but it is also going to involve tears for many readers (which is not always a bad thing!) Things have certainly been dark prior to this book, but I do think the irrevocable losses will upset some readers. I marked this as Grade 8 due to that, but also because of some of the innuendo and the presence of the word berk, which if you look it up (an easy feat on an e-reader) means c-nt.
Full content review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows