Here’s the most comprehensive Harry Potter reading level guide that your family can use to decide when to start reading the Harry Potter books.
Whether you are a die-hard Potterhead or an ignorant Muggle who doesn’t even know their Hogwarts house (gasp), we can pretty much guarantee that at some point, your children will express an interest in or at least mention Harry Potter.
This reading level guide is designed to inform parents and caretakers about the Harry Potter series and provide guidance on how to decide when to allow children to read the books, as well as provide supplemental information about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
So grab yourself a Butterbeer and settle in! There’s a lot to learn.
You’re a Wizard, Harry (Introduction to the Fandom) 🧙
“He’ll be famous—a legend—I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in the future—there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!”
-Professor Minerva McGonagall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
If you are unfamiliar with Harry Potter- well, where have you been?! The first book of the infamous children’s book series was published by Joanne Kathleen Rowling in 1997, long before anyone could know just how famous this series would become. Now, after over 20 years of a growing and shifting fanbase, seven bestselling books, and eight international blockbuster movies, Harry Potter is more than just a household name- the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has become an integral part of pop culture.
Everyone from the Millenials of the “Harry Potter generation” to elementary school children today are able to identify their Hogwarts house and carry on regular conversations about niche topics regarding magical currency and government, fantastic beasts (and where to find them), and even the history of magic.
Needless to say, there is something special about this series that sets it apart from much of children’s literature. The immersive world-building, relatable characters, and intriguing plot have a way of drawing readers in, offering a respite from the troubles of the Muggle (non-magical) world and creating a sense of belonging amongst “Potterheads” as the fans of the franchise are known.
The rest of this article won’t make much sense if you haven’t at least watched the movies (though of course, the books are far superior!). Therefore, this is an incredibly abbreviated version of the plot of the Harry Potter books. Beware, there are some spoilers ahead.
Harry Potter is a young boy who we meet as a baby in the first part of Sorcerer’s Stone as a baby. Professor Dumbledore, soon revealed to be the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, leaves baby Harry on his aunt and uncle’s doorstep at their home in Surrey, with only a letter by way of explanation. Over the course of the first book, readers learn that Harry’s parents were killed as they tried to stand against Lord Voldemort, the powerful Dark wizard who was obsessed with blood purity in magical families and set out to take control of the wizarding world, expose magic to the Muggle world (this putting non-magical people in their “rightful place” as slaves to wizarding kind), and planned to exterminate those witches and wizards who were sympathetic towards Muggles.
To make an incredibly long story short, Voldemort heard a prophecy and discovered that Harry could be a potential threat. When Voldemort attempted to kill Harry, Harry’s mother threw herself in front of Voldemort’s wand, blocking the spell that would have killed her son. For reasons discussed later in the books, the killing curse Voldemort cast rebounded onto him, causing the dark wizard to disappear. (Many thought he died, but this is later proven to be false).
Dumbledore brought Harry to his next of kin (the Dursleys), in order to allow him a “normal” upbringing away from the fame awaiting him in the wizarding world. His aunt and uncle are intolerant and fearful of magic, and conceal Harry’s true nature until Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts School, is sent to bring Harry to school and begin his magical training at age 11.
The rest of the series details his years at Hogwarts, where he befriends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and their eventual mission to destroy Voldemort, who continues to plague the wizarding world and eventually attempts to rise to power once more.
When to Read Harry Potter to your Children 📕
In my day, you had to read the Harry Potter books on your own, in the original heavy hardcover books with tiny font and no handy pronunciation guide. To be fair, I was one of the lucky “Harry Potter generation” who started reading Sorcerer’s Stone at age 11 (like Harry in the first book) and got to read along as the last books were published, which was very exciting.
For kids today, they might not be able to experience the anticipation of a new Harry Potter release, but there are some exciting new ways to experience these books that I wish I had access to as a kid!
For very young children, you can start out by reading the books to them. Reading to your children is incredibly beneficial for a number of reasons, and has been proven to improve vocabulary, reading comprehension, literacy, social skills, and much more. It’s a great way to bond with your kids and help them unwind and prepare for bed at the end of the day.
The newly published illustrated editions of Harry Potter (which are still being published) are exquisitely designed and practically beg for parents to read them to their children at bedtime. The big, beautiful pages make it easy for witches and wizards of all ages to follow along and envision the creatures and characters of the Wizarding World. So far, only Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire have been published as illustrated editions, but more are on the way!
Another great option is listening to the audiobooks, which makes reading Harry Potter accessible for younger children, and can be a fun way to read the series in smaller segments. You could listen to a chapter on the way to school, or while cooking dinner as a family. Based on the content of the series, we would recommend ages 7-9 as the youngest age to begin reading the series as a family. This could include reading to your children or encouraging them to practice reading aloud. Sorcerer’s Stone is a great book to start with, as the subject matter isn’t as dark as later books. Why not make it an immersive experience by making some butterbeer or Harry Potter crafts as a whole family.
When Can Your Child Read Harry Potter? 📗
Since we’ve mentioned that some of the later books get pretty dark…when should you allow your child to read them?
I’m not one for censoring books, but it is understandable that you may not want to expose your children to certain concepts of life, death, morality, evil, grief, even witchcraft, and magic, etc. until they are a bit older.
These guidelines are fairly general, but based on reading comprehension levels and potential triggers for sensitive readers, here are the breakdowns for each book:
- Recommended reading age: 7-9.
- Lexile Rank: 880L.
- Content warnings: magical creatures (three-headed dog, vicious hooded figure over a dead unicorn, dim-witted but violent troll), mentions of blood, mention of drunkenness
- Recommended reading age: 7-9.
- Lexile Rank: 940L.
- Content warnings: dangerous situations, underage driving, giant spiders, giant serpent, coma-like states, blood, snake bite/venom, near-death experience
- Recommended reading age: 9-11
- Lexile Rank: 880L.
- Content warnings: scary magical creatures known as Dementors (hooded, flying nightmarish creatures that cause dread and can kill), stalking, menacing, being “marked for death”, discussion of a potential serial killer
- Recommended reading age: 10-12
- Lexile Rank: 880L.
- Content warnings: death of a teenage character, blood, torture, severed hand, possession, imprisonment, minor drinking
- Recommended reading age: 10-12
- Lexile Rank: 950L.
- Content warnings: death of a loved one, torture, targeting of teens by adults who want them dead, attack by large snake, violence, minor drinking, minor swearing
- Recommended reading age: 11-13
- Lexile Rank: 1030L.
- Content warnings: death of a loved one/major character, discussions of murder and disappearances, zombie-like creatures, blood, violence
- Recommended reading age: 12-14
- Lexile Rank: 980L.
- Content warnings: major and minor deaths, violence, blood, murder, death of a pet
A note- though of course there are dark parts to each book, the lighter aspects of the books are what makes them so poignant and valuable to young readers. Powerful themes of friendship, bravery, love, ethics and morals, and humor serve to balance the darker aspects of the books and maintain the overall positive messages.
Books vs. Movies 📘
First, you must know that the books of the Harry Potter series must be read in order of publication. as they build on each other. The order of the books is as follows:
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher in the UK)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
These were also adapted into eight movies that correspond to the books, with the last book being so dense it had to be split into two movies; Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2.
Despite the movies being fairly accurate representations of the books, there are definitely many differences. To avoid writing a full thesis detailing the differences, we’ll avoid going into too much detail here.
A very brief summary: the movies, especially later in the series, tend to cut out a great deal of relevant information and even entire characters in order to condense the plot into a brief enough script to make a movie out of. If you really want to understand the full story (and want to avoid giant plot holes and incorrect re-tellings of events from the books), you’ll read the series first!
Of course, the movies have their value too, and they are a great way to get kids interested in the series. But, as the majority of the fandom will inform you, the books are better!
Other Harry Potter Books 📙
Outside of the main series of seven novels, there are actually other “official” books that J.K. Rowling published that are mentioned in the main books and provide additional information on the Wizarding World.
One of the first of these publications was her trio of Hogwarts Library “textbooks”, which includes the following books:
A magical compendium that identifies creatures unique to the Wizarding World.
A detailed history of the magical sport, and the rules of the game.
Collection of Wizarding Fairytales and bedtime stories that have gained popularity among Muggle children as well.
There are also a number of unofficial books that provide information on the Wizarding World, such as the Ultimate Harry Potter Spellbook that lists every single spell uttered, incanted, or mentioned in the books as well as Harry Potter movies, video games, and card games!
A Note on Controversy ⚠️
Like so many of the best things in this world, there is controversy surrounding a few aspects of the Harry Potter series. When the books were first released, the biggest controversy revolved around the elements of fantasy and witchcraft in Harry Potter. Of course, the witchcraft is no secret- Harry Potter is a wizard, after all. And in the early books, the majority of the magic is innocent and fairly vague.
The later books in the series admittedly are a bit darker and tend to handle more discussion of “dark arts”, especially when talking about Voldemort’s acts, and the acts of his followers. There is discussion of murder as well. So, for several reasons, Harry Potter is listed as a banned book by many schools and organizations.
But this definitely doesn’t mean that it is inappropriate for all children, and ultimately the decision to allow your children to read the books lies with you and your comfort level surrounding topics of magic, witchcraft, and later, concepts of good vs. evil and morality.
More recent controversy surrounding the series has revolved less around the content and characters of the books, but rather on the personal views and biases of series author J.K. Rowling.
In response to a recent series of social media posts by the author, she has been labeled a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) due to mocking comments she made regarding trans-positive language and transgender rights.
Each individual must process this information and draw their own conclusions. For some Potterheads, this is an unforgivable transgression and they feel they are unable to separate the writings of the author from the author herself.
However, we will note that none of these trans-discriminatory issues arise in the Harry Potter series, and when considered in isolation, the books actually impart many positive messages for children on everything from processing grief to handling bullying to racism and exclusion. You must decide for yourself whether separating the books from the person who wrote them is something you can or are willing to do.
Ways to Make Reading Harry Potter Fun 🪄
For many children, teens, and young adults, Harry Potter is cited as the series that made them “fall in love” with reading. But some children just aren’t as inclined to read as others, and they may need some other immersive, engaging activities to get them interested in reading the books. Here are some ideas to help turn your kids into readers!
- Start a Harry Potter book club. Invite your child’s friends along with their parents to read the books along with you. Try to “assign” a couple of chapters each week or two, and meet up (in person or virtually) to discuss your thoughts. You can ask trivia questions, play games, or include fun activities like taking a sorting house test.
- Whip up some delicious Wizarding recipes. Whether it be for the book club or just for a fun surprise, try recreating a recipe from the books with your kids. There are plenty of unofficial Harry Potter cookbooks and recipes out there. Here’s a chocolate frog recipe to get you started!
- Have a (video) game night- Harry Potter style. If you have an Xbox, Playstation, Switch, or another compatible gaming system, offer to play Lego Harry Potter with your children. You’ll be surprised at how much fun the game is! If video games aren’t your idea of a good time, there are also Harry Potter versions of Clue, Uno, and more.
Finally, don’t stop at reading just the Potter series make sure you expose the kids to books like Harry Potter.