One Mom's Opinion on When to Read Harry Potter
Sep 20, 2016
A couple of weeks ago, the boys and I started Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Last September, we read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And next September, we'll read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Are you picking up on the pattern?
I'm a planner by nature, and Harry Potter is one of those things I've thought long and hard about. I'm not exactly sure why deciding how and when to present this particular series has caused me so much grief. I never finished the series when I was a teenager (I made it to book three), and although I liked the books I read well enough, I definitely never caught HP fever.
So with that kind of apathetic attitude, you would have thought I would have had very little opinion about when and how (or even if!) my kids read the series. But I think seeing the way Harry Potter has become such an iconic figure in the literary world and also such a part of childhood made me realize that I couldn't ignore it. And if I couldn't ignore it, I might as well embrace it . . . and have some control over it.
I was talking to a few friends at the park a couple of weeks ago, and Harry Potter came up. I mentioned that we had just started the second book and that we were just going to read one each year until we finished the series. One of my friends incredulously asked, "So you're not going to read the last book until Aaron is thirteen years old?!" I have to admit that up to that point, I'd never really done the math. I mean, it should have been fairly obvious (there are seven books, and if you start when Aaron's seven years old and only read one each year . . . ), but it wasn't until someone else said it that I realized just how long this plan would take us.
And to be honest, it made me rethink it a little. Was I really going to make Aaron wait until he was in eighth grade to finish a series all of his friends read when they were in first?
But actually, getting older was one of my main reasons for doing the one-per-year plan, so after I got over the shock of thinking about Aaron being so old, thirteen actually sounded just about right. So right now, I'm sticking with my plan, and these are the reasons why:
1. My kids can grow up with Harry.
When the series begins, Harry is eleven; when the series ends, he is seventeen. It's a simple fact that eleven-year-old boys (and their friends) are not thinking about, talking about, or participating in the same things as seventeen-year-old boys (and their friends). And quite frankly, I'm not all that anxious for my seven-year-old to encounter some of those more mature themes. And then of course, the books deal with some really dark, scary, frightening things. No matter how mature a child might be, some wisdom can only be gained by growing up. Reading just one book a year lets that growing up happen in a natural way.
2. Fall is the best time to read Harry Potter.
You all know how much I love seasonal reading, and I'm convinced that Harry Potter was meant to be read in the fall. It just feels right to be reading about the beginning of a new school year, Quidditch matches, and Halloween when we're doing those same things in our own Muggle-lives. Not to mention that the whole book is filled with witches and wizards, which definitely gets us in the mood for October. I love traditions, and I like the thought that these books will always be linked to this season for my kids.
3. Reading these books as a family is beyond enjoyable.
Even if I'm not a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I have to admit that these are some of the most fun books we've ever read aloud. And even though I could just hand them to Aaron and let him read them on his own, I wouldn't want to. This is reading aloud at its finest . . . a completely magical experience. We all huddle together, sometimes physically, sometimes just figuratively, and hang onto every word--tensing up when something scary happens, cheering when something good happens, reliving favorite parts, and predicting what will happen next. Plus, I love doing all the voices (even though I'm not very good at them).
4. There are so many other good books to read.
Since we've loved the first two books so much, I would just hate to feel burned out with Harry Potter. But I'm pretty sure if we read straight through the series, that's what would happen (at least for me). I have so many books on our to-readaloud list. My kids aren't going to outgrow Harry Potter for a long, long time, but they will outgrow some of the other books on my list. I'm not going to devote an entire year to reading Harry Potter and by so doing miss the chance to read some other fantastic books. I'm sure this is partly my own issue since I don't enjoy reading book after book in the same series without a break between, but I also like interspersing our fantasy with other genres.
5. We get to anticipate the next book.
Readers from my generation will remember what it was like before a new Harry Potter book came out: the weeks leading up to it were spent talking about it, rereading all the books that had already come out, and making plans for the book-release party. It was as exciting as Christmas. Personally, I didn't really participate in all the festivities because I wasn't all that interested, but I knew plenty of people who did. If I had to wait for one book each year and grow up a little and read other things in between, what would be so wrong about having my kids read them the same way? After we've read the book together, I'm fine with my kids reading it as many times as they want to by themselves, and I think rereading will only increase the anticipation of the next book. Isn't it so fun to have things to look forward to?
As great as my plan is, we're already running into little snags. For example, Bradley didn't listen to the first one last fall, but he's listening to the second one this year. He's still quite young (he'll turn five in a few days), and if he continues to listen with us, he's going to get to the more mature books before I'm ready. So I'm not sure what to do. Maybe next year, Mike can backtrack and read the first one to him, and then they can go on from there. And then what about Clark? The timing with the younger ones is just as tricky as with the older ones.
Also, I should probably mention that so far, my kids have been completely fine with this plan. They haven't begged to go onto the next book or continue with the series on their own. If they were chomping at the bit for the rest of the series, it would certainly make things more complicated (and I'm curious to know how those of you with voracious, fantasy-loving kids handle this).
Of course, reading the books in this long, drawn-out way means that certain key plot twists will almost certainly be spoiled for the boys before we get there ourselves. But I'm pretty sure we crossed that bridge long ago, when Aaron was in first grade and all of his friends were reading the series on their own. Six-year-olds don't really know how to give the"spoiler-free version."
I'm very curious to hear your opinions on this modern parenting dilemma. When did you let your kids read Harry Potter, and what were your thoughts and reasoning behind it?