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Not long ago, my seven-year-old daughter and I completed a milestone: we finished reading the entire Harry Potter series aloud.
Google tells me that we read roughly 4,101 pages, though the actual page count varies by publisher and edition.
Toward the end of our journey through the books, I figured I could read about 25 pages aloud in an hour. Which means that we spent at least 164 hours reading–but I estimate that it was probably about twice that.
We started reading the books when she was five. Admittedly, this was maybe a little early. We read those first couple of books very slowly. My reading pace was slower, she asked more questions, we took more breaks.
As she got older and became a true Potterhead, we picked up the pace. With the last couple of books, we were reading as fast as we could–not truly wanting the experience to end, but wanting to find out what happened.
And of course, the hours discussing the books (and movies) mean that we have been immersed in the world of Harry Potter for over two years now. We’re now planning to start a mother-daughter book journal, where we can both share our thoughts on the books we read together.
I designed this book journal with her input and she can’t wait to get started! She’ll have a place to reflect on what she reads, draw her favorite characters and scenes, and rate the books she reads. Get your own copy to share with your kids, and please let me know what you think!
Kids and parents can use the reading journal and book log to track the books they read together. The journal encourages kids and parents to reflect on and discuss what they read. Kids can use the spaces to record:
- What happened in the book
- Favorite parts of the book
- Favorite characters
- News words
- Feelings prompted by the book
- Favorite quotes
- 1-5 star ratings
The journal pages prompt reflection but are open-ended so kids can choose whether to write or draw their responses, making this journal perfect for kids of all ages--whether they can write yet or not. Parents also have space to record their thoughts and their ratings.More info →
Since Harry Potter has become such a huge part of our lives, I thought I’d share some lessons we learned, as well as some reflections on what it meant for us to read Harry Potter aloud together.
The Age to Start Reading Harry Potter
The right age to start reading Harry Potter was a big question before we began. I was one of the few people around who had not read the series, so I didn’t know just how dark it would get. Would it be too scary for my daughter?
What I knew was that our current read-aloud selection–The Magic Treehouse series–wasn’t holding her attention. The series is wonderful and she still enjoys reading them to herself, but she was ready for something more when we read together.
I still wasn’t sure, but since the illustrated versions had just started being released, I went ahead and bought one. We spent some time paging through the book, looking at the illustrations, and talking about the general arc of the story (or what I knew about it).
The book is so beautiful, it was hard for her to resist. She wanted to dive in. Again, she was five and in kindergarten.
From the start, I was surprised by the complexity of J.K. Rowling’s writing. She doesn’t talk down to her readers, she doesn’t simplify her language, and she doesn’t sugarcoat the world she’s building. She also implies meaning and says things indirectly–things that easily sail over a young child’s head.
I quickly saw that my daughter had a little trouble following the story.
So we slowed down. WAY down.
I read slowly. I changed some of the British words or other unfamiliar phrases to ones she would recognize (or I explained them to her). We spent time looking at each illustration, pointing out the characters and what they were doing, and discussing the other elements in the illustration.
If you’re starting with a young child, the illustrated versions are the way to go.
Still, it was work for her. The story doesn’t start quickly. It’s not immediately clear what’s happening. (And honestly, in each subsequent book, she was impatient with how slowly they began. Just get to Hogwarts, already!)
We took nights off, sometimes entire weeks off. But, she always maintained enough interest to try again.
Soon, she recognized the main characters. She adored Hermione. She was terrified of Voldemort (more on that below). She spent ages trying to decide which house she would be sorted into (she’s landed on Ravenclaw and Slytherin). And she became invested in the story–very invested.
I debated whether to wait to start reading the third book, having some inkling that everything was going to get darker, but she insisted on continuing (and The Prisoner of Azkaban ended up being one of her favorites).
Managing the Scary Parts of Harry Potter
There’s no denying that Harry Potter is scary.
Hogwarts and the wizarding world at times feel full of whimsy and imagination–and they are–but they are also full of darkness.
Family members die. Creatures suck out souls. Enormous spiders and snakes (the stuff of anyone’s nightmares) creep in the shadows and walls. Adults are cruel to children. Evil lurks in those you think you can trust.
It’s… a lot.
But it’s also balanced by that whimsy, and by characters who truly work for good. Characters who are loyal to one another, no matter the danger. Characters who share their wisdom and look out for each other.
As I mentioned above, my daughter was truly terrified of Voldemort. Some of the other elements were scary to her, but none topped him. I thought the dementors would be a problem, but she hardly mentioned them.
So we talked about the things that scared her. About the people who helped and supported Harry when he faced danger–he was almost never alone. And how bravery isn’t about not being scared, but about facing your fears even when you are scared.
We also talked about how the different people around Harry supported him in different ways. This was one of my favorite outcomes of our discussions, because she started telling me which characteristics she loved about different characters. She found the things that made them special, and they weren’t all the same.
Talking about the stories and characters and going through the books slowly seemed to encourage her to think deeply about all of them. She pictured herself in that world and imagined who she would be in those situations, and who she would want to be friends with.
Some days (when she was feeling contrary), she would say that she liked an evil character or she would do something that wasn’t particularly noble. Sometimes it seemed that she was just trying it out and sometimes it seemed that she was testing my reaction.
This was easy enough to roll with, and it allowed her to express whatever rebellious things she was feeling without repercussions–after all, it came through the filter of a fictional world.
Marking the Progress
One of the great things about reading Harry Potter twenty years on is that everything is complete. The books are there, waiting to be read, and the movies are there, waiting to be watched.
After completing each book, we watched each movie.
Now, movie nights are not unusual on the weekends at our house–they usually involve some bickering before settling on a movie we’ve already seen, and sometimes the kids getting antsy before the movie is done.
But watching a Harry Potter movie for the first time was an Event–at least for my oldest daughter and me. We’d find our spots, make popcorn, snuggle under blankets, and watch it from start to finish.
Watching the movie was always an incentive for her to keep reading the book–especially in the beginning when she found them a little tough to follow. Like the illustrations, the movies gave her a visual for the significant places and characters in the books.
They also reinforced the story, and helped her understand the major plot points before we moved on to the next book.
The first two books took us a long time–maybe as long as the rest put together. But we persisted through them, and she was soon drawn into Rowling’s world completely.
Supporting the Fandom
For a while, Harry Potter was just something she and I enjoyed at home in the evenings. Most of her friends weren’t yet familiar with it, and she was still sorting it all out herself.
Once second grade hit, though, so did the fandom.
Some of her friends started reading the series, and then it was all Harry, all the time.
They played Harry Potter at school. Each chose a character (and in some cases, they made up new characters). They discussed it at home. They debated whether their school was actually Hogwarts in disguise. They made art projects. They had duels.
At home, we went to a Harry Potter Halloween event. We went to a Harry Potter-themed day at the museum. Harry Potter summer camp? Yep, coming up.
And the merchandising! Great Hall LEGO set? Check. Robes and wands? Check. Funko Harry, Ron, and Hermione figures? On display. Harry Potter Trivia? Has made her an expert (but fair warning for anyone else who hasn’t read the books: we got this before we finished and it spoiled some major events). Wand coding kit for iPad? Yup.
Some of this we’ve indulged, and some of it has been gifts. She adores it all.
And–right or not–I must admit to a greater willingness to indulge these desires because they are attached to a book series.
Moving On and What’s Next
I think actually finishing the series was bittersweet for both of us. Toward the end, we really looked forward to it every night and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. We were reading for up to an hour at a time (and once or twice, two full hours when we were close to finishing a book–definitely my upper limit for reading aloud!).
We went on to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child after finishing the regular series. It was nice to have some continuation of the story, but I’m not sure either of us loved the script format.
We also watched one of the Fantastic Beasts movies (though we didn’t read the books). I didn’t follow it very well–maybe it would have helped to read the books first.
She watches all of the movies regularly–especially if she’s home sick.
Her younger sister, who is now five and has long found Harry Potter to be too scary, has now requested to start reading them as well. Dad is reading them this time–slowly, like we did–so soon the whole family will be immersed in Harry Potter.
As for my oldest, she and I still read aloud every night. We are now on the fourth book in the Little House on the Prairie series. The discussion topics are different and the pace is slower, but she’s enjoying them. I think the slower pace is a good thing–not all books are filled with magic and wizards and dragons, and that’s okay.
We’ll need some other books to read soon, and I hope to dive into more of the middle grade books I’ve been eyeing.
She is also reading the Harry Potter series again, on her own this time. I would not be surprised if Harry Potter becomes a comfort read for her, like it has for so many others.
The Harry Potter games at school have tapered off just a bit, after several furious months of them–I expect them to pick up again over the summer when camp starts, and maybe again when my youngest gets further into the series.
For now, we are both proud of ourselves for having completed the whole thing. I love that Harry Potter has made her a reader and that I got to share it with her, every step of the way.
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Have you read the Harry Potter series with your kids? I’d love to hear about your experience!