A dear friend of mine just asked me for advice on what age group is ready to read/watch Harry Potter, as I love giving parental advice and have read/seen all the Harry Potter stories. For some quick background, her nearly 5 year-old expressed strong interest in reading suspenseful stories when her grandfather was recently visiting. This sweet girl is very precocious and the parents have done a fabulous job helping her to develop an early love of reading. They have already read the first 2 books together and seen the corresponding movies. Before embarking further down the Harry Potter path, mom wanted to check with me because she had heard the later stories are geared toward an older audience and was worried that she may have introduced the series too soon.
The short answer is yes, it’s too early for Harry Potter, even for an advanced reader with an interest in thrilling stories. The series becomes markedly more mature in books 3 and 4 and is really quite intense in books 5, 6, and 7 – lots of tension and sorrow. I suggested to my friend that they might read book 3 if they’re not ready to take a break yet but to definitely wait to watch the movie. Dementors are the stuff that nightmares are made of. A Harry Potter lover will definitely want to read the entire series at once, so plan ahead with your kids and suggest the first book only when they’re old enough to read the seventh book. That probably means around age 10 or 11. That may seem ridiculously old if you think of this as a children’s book but remember that Harry is 11 years old when he first goes to Hogwarts and he ages 7 years during the series so if you wait to introduce your child to the character until he’s closer to that age, he’ll probably enjoy the series even more.
How can you possibly know what books are appropriate for your kids without having read them all previously? I rely on commonsensemedia.org as a reference tool for age appropriate media. Having objective data is really helpful when your kids want to watch a movie that you think is too mature; I just check this website with them and show them the age recommendations and they understand that they have to wait. Common Sense Media has a whole page on the Harry Potter series: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/harry-potter-age-by-age-guide
The good news I offered my friend is there are so many other amazing series for her daughter to read now. The book Some of My Best Friends are Books by Judith Wynn Halstead is an excellent resource for advanced readers which provides all sorts of good book ideas. Librarians at your child’s school and public library will likely have great ideas for your child’s age range, in addition their teachers. My kids loved The Chronicles of Narnia; there are a few scary elements but it’s more of a fantasy world (the beloved humans all turn out fine). Boys in particular love the Warriors series about rival cat clans. My girl loves the Thea Stilton adventure series (companion to the Geronimo Stilton series). That one is neat because it has these wild fonts interspersed throughout the text so it’s fun for parents to read and have early readers jump in to read the fun font words without being overwhelmed by reading the entire page. The Percy Jackson series is really entertaining and has two books called Greek Gods and Greek Heroes that were quite educational and we all enjoyed. There are some gruesome elements but it has a lighthearted tone and again is fantasy with gods and goddesses, being set in the past so it’s more removed for the kids, but there is some mature language. The A to Z Mysteries and Milo & Jazz Mysteries series have been big hits here and are very benign for younger children. So far nobody in my family has loved Nancy Drew but that’s an option along with Hardy Boys. So, I told my friend to blame it on her psychologist friend and objective data from Common Sense Media but that Harry Potter should wait while one of these other series will have her daughter captured in no time!
On a side note, I strongly believe that the Harry Potter books, and all books for that matter, should be read before any movies based on the books are watched. Especially for children who are endlessly creative, let them envision the characters in their own unique way for the entire lifespan of the story, then superimpose Hollywood’s version of the characters by watching all the films together. It’s fun to ask the kids how the actors and actresses differed from or were similar to their own image of the storybook characters. Happy reading!