Harry Potter to the Rescue

Like most, I’m a Harry Potter fan. More than what the books offer readers, which is a lot, I’m amazed by how the series changed the way kids read. This has been discussed for years already, and I can’t believe the last film has just been released!

I found this recent Wall Street Journal piece entertaining, and illuminating. The writer, Norman Lebrecht, shares some insider information about HP that I wasn’t aware of. For example, the first book was published on June 30, my wedding anniversary. And the first print run of the first edition was 500 copies, most of which went into libraries. 500 copies, of Harry Potter! And the book has been printed in more languages than any other book in history apart from the Bible. These are some staggering stats.

I knew Rowling got a small advance from the UK, and that Scholastic and Arthur Levine, whose middle name might as well be “Harry Potter” in book publishing circles, paid a hefty sum for the rights in the US. But I didn’t realize they paid $105,000, which he describes as a record advance for a children’s book. It’s funny to think that back then that was a record advance. In today’s market, there are authors writing for children who can generate seven figure advances, usually for a series, but still. The stakes have gone way higher, and much of it has to do with the unprecedented success of Harry Potter.

But beyond all the business-side stuff, which I love, the piece compares Harry’s escapades to other classic characters in literature, like Tom Sawyer and Oliver Twist, and it speaks to the public’s wide embrace of this fictionalized boy and his amazing adventures. In all our cynicism over the book industry and its woes, articles like this always remind me why I love what I do. Especially now that I have 4 little girls at home, girls who I hope will grow up to be big readers, and of course, big fans of books like Harry Potter.

Just curious, at what age do you think it’s appropriate to start reading HP? My oldest is 6, middle 4, and twins are 2. Judging from their active and sometimes fearful imaginations, I think we’ll need to wait a couple of years before we get started down that road. Somehow, I think they’ll still be in print by then.

8 Responses to Harry Potter to the Rescue

  1. To answer your question, I think that any age is fine to start reading HP, as long as the skill of reading has been absorbed. I learned to read at the age of 3, and there’s no reason I couldn’t have launched into HP early on. Well, there’s one reason…at the time I was 3, the availability of children’s books was relatively thin.

    Thank you for the information. The link you gave needs “online.was.com” changed to “wsj.com,” but otherwise it’s a great, great article. Interestingly, as I recall, HP didn’t gain a lot of traction here in the US until churches started burning it in mass quantities. “Whatcha burning?” the media asked. “Harry Potter, the evil books telling evil tales of evil witches and evil wizards and evil evil and other evil stuff,” the reply came. “Oh, sounds interesting,” the public said, and sales went poof! It kinda worked for Dan Brown, too…might be generalizable to a business model, in fact.

  2. My two older sons both had me read the first three books to them in 1st grade. My oldest, a little more fearful, decided to take a break for a while at book 4, but the intrepid second-born ploughed on to the end. (Nothing seems to faze that chap, and he loves playing the villain in plays. If the movies get remade 30 years hence, he’ll make a stellar Lord Voldemort.)

  3. Any child old enough to read the text of HP could get through the books, but I don’t think the maturity needed to deal with the plots is present until after age 9 or 10. Didn’t Rowling herself say they were never intended for younger children?

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have four boys, ages 11, 9, 6 & 4.

    Both of my boys read the first three books in when they were eight, then took a break. For me, the HP world takes a darker (and older) turn in book four, and the last four books of the series feel more YA than middle grade to me. But then at ten and nine, respectively, they devoured the last four (after re-reading the first three!) And then we talked about them (since I’d read all 7, natch).

    I loved the series, and they did too. Everything gets turned into a wand at our house, and we debate endlessly about which house we might be sorted into, and why.

    What an incredible gift J.K. Rowling gave to all of us. 😀 A world full of Severus Snape, chocolate frogs, wandlore, and brave Harry Potter (the boy who lived & who makes incredible choices).

    I know when you do share them with your kiddos, they will enjoy the ride. 😀 Happy HP reading!

  5. My oldest is 7yo and has asked about reading Harry Potter. Though he’s a great reader and is capable of reading it, he also has an active imagination (one episode of Scooby Doo gave him nightmares for a week.) I’m not worried about the first book, but since they get progressively darker, I’ll probably wait until he’s 8 or 9.

  6. Stacey says:

    I love all these great comments, thank you! I started describing the books to my 6yo last night, and she was really intrigued. Especially when I showed her with my fingers how thick the books are. We decided it would take us a year to get through book 1 :-)

  7. Well, I just ran this question by my 12 y.o. son. He said, “I don’t know, 7, 8, 9?” He was a bit older when he started reading the series, but he’s a diehard fan now.


  8. Julie Nilson says:

    My 7-year-old started reading the books this year. At first, she was upset to read that Harry’s parents were killed in a car wreck, but then felt better when it was revealed that they were killed through magical means (since car wrecks are real and magic isn’t, I assume). She plowed through books 1-4 in record time, and wasn’t all that disturbed by the death of Cedric (again, since magic isn’t real). But she started the 5th book and has put it aside for a few weeks, and I’m not sure why–the 5th book is not only darker but also denser than the previous books, so it could be for either of those reasons, but if she wants to pause for a bit, that’s fine with me.

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