Saturday, June 13, 2009

Harry Potter at Five

Age five that is. Or maybe six. That's the standard used to prove that your kid is a brilliant reader. He or she read Harry Potter at five. To which people reply 'but what about picture books', or 'don't force a child to read above their level just for parental bragging rights.'


Except the thing is my kids did read Harry Potter at five and six. So maybe I feel a little defensive when I hear this or maybe it's just that I can provide a different perspective on it all.

I started thinking about this after reading Jen Robinson's post about an article in Babble and then Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy weighed in on the topic. Now it's my turn.

Okay here's the story of those "advanced reading kids" from a parent's perspective.

My kids always loved being read to, and we had reading as an established part of bedtime starting when they were very young (didn't read to them in utero though as far as I can remember).

When my daughter (now 12) was two she saw my boxed set of Little House on the Prairie books on the shelf and asked about them. I told her they were for when she was older. "Read now!" she insisted (in that way that two year olds have). So that night at bedtime we read her a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods. She loved it. And every night would demand "chapter Laura" as her bedtime story. We read through Little House in the Big Woods and Little House in the Prairie this way. We did not read the whole series - some of it was too advanced for a pre-schooler.

When she was four she learned to read using old primers that had been my mom's in the fifties. Yes, she learned to read using "Dick and Jane" - only they were the Catholic version - so instead of Dick and Jane and Sally it was John and Jean and Judy... Spot stayed the same. She was so proud of herself and every night she would read to me. And of course I would read to her.

She was still about four years old when she discovered the American Girl dolls. And of course, she wanted one. I looked at the price tag and at my four year old daughter and thought 'not yet'. What I told her was that the dolls came with stories. And when she could read one of those books on her own, she could have a doll. She was still reading "John, Jean and Judy," I figured I'd bought myself a good year and a half.

Six months later she had read through American Girl book about Molly. Granted, I helped her with some words - but if I was to keep my bargain, she truly had earned her doll. She was in pre-school.

At this point her little brother was two and so there were lots of picture books in the house to be read to the both of them. But at the library she whipped through the easy readers - making short shrift of the Biscuit books and Henry and Mudge and the like and before long she wanted more. (Please note - she wanted more... I would have been happy to stay on the easy reader shelf for more time).

I discovered the Pixie Tricks series which she absolutely devoured. She discovered Junie B. Jones. She loved the My America series and would happily tell people that she "loved history". And she started kindergarten. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to have a school librarian that could help guide her to books that she could read and would enjoy. (I hadn't discovered the kidlitosphere on the internet yet). Instead the librarian would not allow her to take out Junie B. Jones or any other chapter book. Those were for second graders and above.

So I had them test her reading level. I figured, any parent can say "my kid can read". They did and in November of kindergarten they determined that she could read at a late second grade, early third grade level. But she still couldn't take out Junie B. Jones. Those were for second graders.

In the meantime the librarians at the public library got to know her and would order books that they knew she would like. That was how she got into the Fairy Realm series.

She was either in kindergarten or first grade when Judy Blume came to our local B&N. In preparation my daughter read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. At one point when she was getting ready for bed I checked the book to see where she was in it. Reading the next page I saw the characters were talking about there not being a Santa Claus. Eek! I wasn't ready for her to see that yet. I told her to skip to the next chapter because there was something in this one she didn't want to read (luckily she was biddable this way.)

People rightly worry about their third grader reading about sex or other topics that are too mature - but when it comes right down to it books written for 3rd and 4th graders may not be completely appropriate for 1st graders either. The thing is that the books written for first graders were not ones she had any interest in at that point.

She is now finishing 6th grade, she has read Twilight (only the first book) and I pretty much let her read any Middle Grade book she wants. YA or above, she asks approval - for instance she sees Wicked on the shelf and keeps asking "When will I be old enough to read that". I'm not sure - I just know - not yet.

Now for my son. When he learned that his sister had started reading at four you can bet he decided he had to do the same thing (competitive much). And he did. He spent more time in the early readers at the library though - for which I was glad. And then one day he told me he was bored with those. Wanted something else (and naturally all of the books I'd discovered for his sister were not books he was interested in). We discovered Magic Tree House and by the middle of kindergarten he had read them all (in order). His sister was reading James and the Giant Peach for school. He asked if he could read it. I figured it was above him, but I wasn't going to limit him and said sure. He read it in a week. And he read Harry Potter.

I wasn't convinced he was really 'getting' the story. Sure, he was reading the words, but was he really understanding what they said? I shoudln't have worried. After he read the book, they were watching the DVD of the movie. Right away I hear him say. "That's not what he said in the book" "that's not how that scene went in the book". So I figured that comprehension wasn't a problem for him.

He's in third grade now and the only problem I have with keeping him in books is that he is very picky. If he finds a book (or preferably a series) he likes he'll rip through them, but if he isn't interested he won't finish the book. He reads what he likes. Right now he's decided he likes Goosebumps.

So he read Harry Potter at five and Goosebumps at nine. Nothing wrong with that.


  1. Hear, hear! I was always getting in trouble in elementary school because I was reading books above my grade level. I never had a librarian deny me a book, but my mother told me that the librarian never believed that I actually read them--she thought that I just checked them out to look smart. My mom worked in the school,though, so after school, she would lock me in the book closet while she worked as a teacher assistant. By third grade, I'd read every literature textbook up to the sixth grade level--which drove my teachers mad for the next three years, since I'd already read all the stories!!

  2. Isn't it ridiculous that kids are discouraged from reading above their grade level? The best way to encourage a love of reading is to encourage kids to read what they love. Sometimes that will be a big thick book, and sometimes an Archie comic book.

    Your mom locked you in the book closet?

  3. I love when parents take an interest in their kid's reading and try to understand what they are reading and why.

    And Beth, that is too funny about the book closet :)

  4. PJ - I think it's so important to help foster a love of reading.