Thursday 15 October 2015

When is the best time to introduce your child to the Harry Potter universe? A ReadItDaddy Editorial

As the scales begin to tip firmly in the favour of chapter books for Charlotte, it's almost inevitable that there'll be a crossover point where she will spot books on our shelves and want to read them herself or have them read to her.

The Harry Potter series is one such set of books, which have held Charlotte's interest after watching one or two bits of the early movies (and only the early ones, mind you - the later ones really need to wait a few more years before I'll let her loose on them). She wanted to know more about the books and so recently we started to read them at bedtimes.

Charlotte is 7 - and really this editorial sneakingly broaches a subject that absolutely bakes my noodle. The subject of age ratings on books, which quite often make no sense to us whatsoever. "Here's a great picture book series for ages 5-8" a press release will proclaim. When we dive into the book we very quickly realise that the age group 5-8 is one hell of a long time and possibly the time in a child's life where their reading ability rapidly changes and develops the most.

Age ratings seem to be used to describe reading ability, and again I take issue with anything that tries to neatly pigeonhole a child's ability to fully engage or soak up a book's content, or to struggle with it not through non-recognition of the words or intent that make up the story, but purely because it's really not for them. I've seen Charlotte (who I believe has a very good level of reading ability and skill) struggle with a book that she should be breezing through - only for me to take a closer look at the book and find it the most turgid load of tummy rubbish imaginable. No fault of the child's reading ability, but entirely the fault of the editor or publisher that let it loose in the first place (I would say author but the assumption for a commercially published book is that an editor would have correctly gauged a book's suitability for publication if it was aimed at a specific reader level).

Age groupings on books for children (groupings rather than ratings) that follow the national curriculum recommendations or perhaps a reading scheme's framework can be frustrating to follow for readers with ability, yet they are structured to ensure that the gradual process of learning to read and learning to cope with the complexities of the English language are appropriately tested and matched. We don't often see this happen in books that children read for fun, so it makes me wonder why books below a certain threshold have any sort of age groupings at all?

How old should a child be before they're let loose on J.K. Rowling's works? The real answer is "When they're emotionally well equipped enough to deal with the story's content" - which for Charlotte is certainly at her age for the early books, and maybe 5-6 years for the last 3 or 4.

Having the chance to revisit the books through her eyes (having read them many many times myself independently) it has been a hell of a buzz to experience the sheer joy of getting to know a set of book characters who have (in no small part) been responsible for a colossal upsurge of interest in learning to read for sheer pleasure amongst children and teens. Rowling got the balance so absolutely right, ensuring that the Harry Potter books contained plenty to engage children across all genders, classes and races. Her characters are not perfect in any way, they have human frailties and flaws. Her good guys and gals are good but not beyond breaking the rules when they feel they need to. Her bad guys and gals are thoroughly rotten, but there's always the faint hope that underneath their dark exteriors they've got an unshakeable faith that they're doing the right thing. Her truly bad guys and gals make you understand that sometimes evil serves no greater purpose than being the measure of darkness that a story requires to set the baseline against.

You know you're doing something right as a parent when your child can spend an entire Saturday carrying around a twig they've found on the ground, pausing momentarily to shake it at a tree shouting "Expelliarmus" or "Expecto Patronum" but you really know you've done the right thing as a parent when another person (in this case an adult) can walk up to them and say "Is that your wand?"

In answer to the question posed in the header of this editorial, the right time is when you as a parent think your child is ready to deal with the highs and lows of a true rollercoaster of a story, not when an age rating tells you otherwise.

Edit: There's an absolutely brilliant book-by-book guide to the Harry Potter series and their suitability for school grades on Mrs N's highly educational and fantastically written blog. Go check it out!