When should I let my child pick her own books if I disagree with them?
December 12, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

When should I let my child read Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid??

She is 7 years old and likes books like Nancy Drew (the younger age series), Magic Treehouse, Junie B., Babymouse, Black Lagoon series, American Girl, etc.

But recently, she has been asking me if she can read Harry Potter books and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I think she can handle the books as far as "reading" them, since she is in second grade but reads around a third grade level. My concern is the content. I know Harry Potter has some violence in it, and I've looked over the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book and I saw words like "moron" and "sissy". Words that are not even in my daughter's vocabulary.

I know all about sitting with my child and explaining right from wrong, but I just don't know if I want to expose her to this content at age 7. However I don't want to hold her back and not let her be excited about books. I mean, if she really wants these books, should I just step aside and let her read them?

Your thoughts??
posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Education (60 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My cousin started reading Harry Potter when he was in kindergarten. He’s now a very bright teenager at the top of his class.

So, yeah, my vote is yes, let your daughter read ALL THE THINGS. If she goes to public school, she has definitely heard moron and sissy plenty before.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:45 PM on December 12, 2011 [38 favorites]

Magic Treehouse and Junie B. books are chapter books...which are a significant step from the Harry Potter books (font size is a good gauge for these...the font in the chapter books is going to be significantly larger). The other trouble is that where the Harry Potter books might have been appropriate for younger children when they were coming out incrementally and the kids were pretty much "growing up" with the series, now that they're all available, your daughter might manage to get through the first book, but won't be able to continue the series--which would be frustrating.

My suggestion would be to visit your local bookstore and talk to the Children's Lead. They are very knowledgeable about which series are appropriate for which ages, which series are "alike" in terms of content and reading level, and they can certainly give you some guidance about when to transition from chapter books to young readers.
posted by litnerd at 12:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I pointed my sister in law to this post (by a children's bookstore person, whose recommendations have never ever steered me wrong) when she asked me a similar question. I think her point is sort of "sure they CAN read it, but let them wait until they can read it and love it because there are lots of other books that are more appropriate for that age. I think that's especially true if they are fast readers, because the books get darker as they go, and if they read fast before you know it they're on the last book, and "should my kids read the last book" is a different question. When they came out and you had to wait and age with the books, it sort of worked nicely. Now kids are going to want to devour the whole series in a row.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Echoing roomthreeseventeen - my friend's (very bright) son was finished with Harry Potter before he turned nine.

I read lots of things growing up that were probably inappropriate for me at various times (Clan of the Cave Bear at age 12?) - but nothing about doing that harmed me in any way.
posted by something something at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let her read what she wants, when she wants. Tell her if she has questions about something in a book - be it social, violence, sex, whatever - to come talk to you, that you are always willing to explain things to her.

That's how my parents were, and its one of the few things I thank them for still.
posted by strixus at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2011 [12 favorites]

You should let her read it as soon as she is able to read it.

The violence in the harry potter books is minimal - especially compared to the daily violence that she is exposed to on TV. Many cartoons are more violent.

I say let her read.
posted by Flood at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I read Jurassic Park, with all the shits and fucks and damns and implied dinosaur sex, when I was in 3rd grade. I was not scarred for life, nor did I start saying shit or fuck or damn or performing genetic experiments on anyone. (On the contrary, I thought it was really cool and took an early interest in science, which served me well later on in life.)

One of the best things my parents ever did for me was not restrict the things I read (or watched or listened to, but that's another matter). It made me grow up seeing reading as a privilege and a joy, rather than a chore. Awesome.

Let your kid read Harry Potter whenever she wants. This isn't particularly subversive stuff we're talking about here.
posted by phunniemee at 12:52 PM on December 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

My vote is that you should let a kid read a book as soon as they want to, with the exception of obviously-adult-themed stuff. I *really* dislike folks acting as gatekeepers or censors..... let 'em read what they want!
posted by easily confused at 12:52 PM on December 12, 2011

My parents let me read anything I could get my mitts on and I did the same with my kids. Yes, much of Forever Amber pretty much evaded my 4th grade self, but I don't think I was scarred by the experience. My kids read Harry Potter as the books came out. They were too old for Wimpy Kid by the time the series was published. And if moron and sissy are worrisome, you can always explain to her if you let her read the books to you aloud.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:53 PM on December 12, 2011

I read Harry Potter to my 6yo. While I like him to read on his own, I felt this content warranted reading together - and that was fun for us. I didn't have a problem with the violence - we talked about what was going on and about conflict resolution. But I did swap out a lot of the mild swear words and even stuff like "stupid". I felt there were a lot of unnecessary insults.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:53 PM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you "Flood" for your reply..............but I probably should explain, that one of the reasons I'm asking this question is because...............we don't expose our daughter to a lot of violence. She only watches PBS and that is only once in a while.
posted by lynnie-the-pooh at 12:54 PM on December 12, 2011

One of the greatest things my mom ever did was to never restrict my reading, and to explain things or talk to me about what I was reading. The only time she ever took a book away from me was when she found it really poorly written (I think that happened twice).
posted by rtha at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

It was my experience that if I read a book I was too young for, I just either got bored with it or flat-out ignored the "adult" parts because they didn't make sense in my head. I'd say let her go for it - if they're too far above her, she'll lose interest before she gets to the end. If she stays with them, just make sure you're familiar with them and there to talk with her about the dark parts.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

OP, if your daughter goes to public school, she already has access.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I read Stephen King's It when I was 10. I think your child can survive Harry Potter.

But having Harry Potter read to me (and I was about 25) was one of the most awesome experiences. So... you could always do that.

It's not a book where Harry eviscerates his enemies. He casts a disarming spell 99% of the time, and only evil people use the bad spells. The books are made to get tougher and more adult as it goes on, but the last book is basically YA.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:56 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

It is a tough world. We learn how to deal with it through media content.

Forbidding content rather than working through it with her leads to deception later.
posted by k8t at 12:57 PM on December 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

Literally whenever she wants to
posted by MangyCarface at 12:58 PM on December 12, 2011

We started reading Harry Potter to the kids when they were 4 and 6. They weren't ever scared and they are quite chicken. They listened to some on audio book, we read them some and they've read them themselves.
posted by artychoke at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2011

If we have to talk about the perils of reading above your age, I want to let everyone know that I mispronounced "genre" for at least a decade. "Jen-err". I read it but never heard it out loud.

That is the true danger. Your kid will be the one saying "Bag-EL" in front of her friends.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:01 PM on December 12, 2011 [15 favorites]

The first few books in the Harry Potter series aren't as dark as the later ones. I'm not sure the speed at which your child reads, but I think 1-3 are minimally violent. My 8 yo niece just finished reading the series. I don't think she quite understood the whole concept of death as outlined in the final novel; she had a lot of questions, but they were curious questions not fearful ones.
posted by bluefly at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2011

My 7 year old LOVES the Wimpy Kid books and has read them all (she discovered them at school -- I hadn't heard of them).

We've read the first 3 HPs as a family (then she's re-read them on her own). I'm holding off on Goblet of Fire and beyond since my recollection is that it gets a bit intense from that point on. I'm not sure when we'll start the next few books.
posted by pantarei70 at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

My 8-year-old loves the Wimpy Kid books. If she picks up any bad attitude or language, it's no more than she picks up in the classroom, and easily shut down with a reminder that we don't do that/act that way in our house.

They're certainly better than Junie B. Jones, who is a poorly behaved pain in the ass with lousy grammar.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Why not read them to her instead? When I read to my 6-year-old daughter (who doesn't watch a lot of tv either), she tells me when she thinks a part is "too scary" - she has a low tolerance for dramatic tension.
posted by mogget at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Honestly, the Harry Potter books' background messages -- the whole theme of "you are who you were born to be," the "role model" grownups' total abandonment of the children of Slytherin house, the message that the best thing you can do for someone you love is to die for them -- are more potentially destructive than any of the actual violence described within them.

I'd recommend reading them yourself first if you haven't already and making your own judgement call, as they're all very quick to get through, even the long ones -- at the very least, you'll know what conversations you'll want to have with your daughter about them as she's reading.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

We've read the first 3 HPs as a family (then she's re-read them on her own). I'm holding off on Goblet of Fire and beyond since my recollection is that it gets a bit intense from that point on. I'm not sure when we'll start the next few books.

Goblet of Fire is a good place to pause and make sure she is ready to handle things like death and first kisses and betrayals and such before moving on. It is what we did with my daughter, and she is now 10 and just started Deathly Hallows.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:07 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Wimpy Kid books are fun and actually have what I consider positive messages about family and things like that, parents aren't jokes, big brothers are pains but you can learn to get along things like that. I would offer the suggestion if your daughter goes to school she uses similar language, just not around you. The violence in Harry Potter books not as bad, though the books do get harder to read as they go along, they are still all well within YA reading.
posted by wwax at 1:08 PM on December 12, 2011

Another vote for "whenever she wants." The content of some of the books I read at that age.... yikes.

You haven't told us whether you home school or not, but if you don't I can nearly guarantee that your daughter has been exposed to far worse than Harry Potter (or Wimpy Kid, for that matter). Wimpy Kid is a little more obviously morally suspect, but if you're raising her right -- and it sounds like you are -- reading "moron" isn't going to turn her into an insult-spewing, cigarette-smoking, Harlequin-reading 8-year-old badass.
posted by AmandaA at 1:08 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go against the grain a little here. Are you concerned about what your daughter will be learning and what messages she will be getting from these books, or are you concerned that she may not be emotionally ready to handle them? If the former, I agree with the group and let her read whatever sparks her interest. If the latter, I think it is useful for parents to be gatekeepers about what our kids are ready for, and you can explain to her that these books have some dark or inappropriate aspects to them that she may be better able to handle when she's a little older.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:11 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Should I just step aside and let her read them?

Yep. You and your kid sound a lot like me and mine. She's 10 now and has read all of the series you mentioned. The Potter books started in late first grade and she's read the whole series multiple times. She's still the same sweet, caring, kind, loving, emotionally-stable, thoughtful and generous kid she's ever been. No lasting harm that I can see. Recently a mix-up in the title of a book (a "the" instead of "a"--!) lead to her getting much more of a late-teen themed book. After reading the whole thing she asked a lot of questions--I answered them factually and then asked her how she felt about all this. We had a good conversation about "reality", critical thinking and even literary style!

As an aside, we were on the Harry Potter ride at Universal studios a few weeks ago. (Amazing!) The dementors that pop up freaked her out a bit. Probing a little further, turns out she dealt with it by mumbling some of the Latin phrases from the books...! If you're okay with the kid possibly intoning Latin from time-to-time (!), everything will be fine!
posted by TigerMoth at 1:12 PM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: I am overwhelmed with all these replies. (In a good way). Yes, she goes to public school but she believes in Santa and I admit we have tried to keep her exposed to "quality" media. By the way, some of you are very funny. You have a good sense of humor.
posted by lynnie-the-pooh at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2011

For what it's worth...Junie B. Jones also says offensive things.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, another "whenever she wants" vote here. My aunt was a librarian who was passing me Tolkien, Pearl S. Buck, and Kipling when I was your daughter's age. At 10, I asked what happened to my Grandmother's eldest brother and was passed a copy of Give Us This Day to read by my Grandma who was a teacher. Yes, at 10, I read a first person survivor's account of the Bataan Death March. What I learned about the horrors we can inflict on each other was emotionally difficult but I'm glad I did read it because I also learned about a person's inner strength. Harry Potter's got nothing on that.
posted by onhazier at 1:16 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just finished reading the first Wimpy Kid to 6 yo kiddo, and we both loved it.
posted by H. Roark at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2011

I was always reading my mother's books. I had lots of curiosity and read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I read "The World According to Garp" at age 10 and I think "Do With Me What You Will" even younger.

I think you have the opportunity to have some great discussions with your daughter, as I did with my son when we read Huckleberry Finn together last year. Perhaps if you discussed some of your concerns with her before she begins reading them so she would know she may encounter some unsavory behaviors, and also so she knows that you are safe to go to with questions.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 1:31 PM on December 12, 2011

The rule when I was growing up was I could read whatever but the understanding was anyone else in the family (I was the only child at the time) could read it too - and my grandmother mostly did.

So if there was language, or violence, or odd situations, they came up in the family conversation. I think this was awesome. I learned a lot - about my family's values as well as my own (and how to express/defend my opinions, too). We talked about how we felt about things and how the author or narrator got his/her point across and the motivations of characters. Pretty much anything was fair game. I think it was a great solution.
posted by pointystick at 1:32 PM on December 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was a pretty sensitive, sheltered kid - I think I probably only watched PBS, too . My parents never censored what I wanted to read, though, and I'm eternally grateful. Sure, I read things like Catcher in the Rye when I was 8 (and didn't really... get it), but I also read and loved authors like Austen and Dickens and that had a hugely positive effect on my writing and vocabulary skills

Books have always been safe places for me, even if - almost especially if - the characters and the setting and the action was removed or foreign from my life. Let your daughter read whatever she shows an interest in. If the book seems a little iffy or not quite appropriate to you, plan to have some low-key conversations with her about what she's reading and what she thinks about it.
posted by spectacularicity at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

My movie viewing was highly curtailed until I was a preteen (except for my father's inexplicable choice to rent A Clockwork Orange for me and a friend at 10), but I was allowed to read whatever I wanted to. I just missed a lot of the things that were above my age level.
posted by jeather at 1:41 PM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: My daughter is seven and three-quarters, and she and I are on the second book in the Harry Potter series together - though she's reading all the books your daughter is reading, she's still not up to Harry Potter on her own. Some of the vocabulary words are still foreign to her (not just British, but you know, beyond her) (she gets certain words in context when reading any book to herself, of course - but explaining them thoroughly expands her knowledge and brings them to life) and we have much to discuss about the content so that she "gets" as much of the foreshadowing and subtleties as possible. There's so much to discuss - motivation, behaviour, character portrayal... Plus, there's so much information dumping as a writing style that it's fatiguing for a little kid.

She's tempted to gobble books up just to know everything in them, and rushing through this series means she'd miss a lot. Have you read them yourself? Because I read them each a few times, once as they came out and then again before the movies, and then again as the last movie was released - but now, reading them aloud, I'm realizing how much I missed every time. As far as the violence, well, I can't speak to that because each family's tolerance is different and your daughter seems, based on what you've written, to have been more shielded than mine. I mean, we watch the news. That said, some elements in the Potterverse are creepy, and reading it with her allows me to make sure we end each night on one of the humorous elements, so that she can get to sleep without some of the little fears that might crop up. Her best friend, who's almost nine, is on the sixth book on her own, and reads at a fifth-grade level.

As for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, my daughter is reading them herself now. As it was said above, she's heard those words at school already. The "Cheese Touch" is a tag game lots of kids play at our school at lunch recess. Even if she's not exposed to it directly, your daughter's likely encountering the book/movie's influence in some form or another. Quite honestly, the characters deal humorously with real-life stressful situations. It's puerile, and that's why it's hysterical.

Which brings me to why my daughter was so keen to read them - because so many of her friends and most the kids in her class (and school) are into Harry Potter (especially via Legos and games), they all had experience in this "world" that she didn't, and she wanted to be included. She was missing out on a lot of things that have now become cultural reference points, in a way. It's like how I finally had to read the True Blood novels because my friends wouldn't shut up about them. Now my daughter spends a good deal of imaginary playtime as Hermione, who is a phenomenal role model (probably the best character in the series). She loved the exhibit we saw - she was fascinated by the props and costumes, and since then she's made her own wands and potions and loves to write with a quill (she's doing it as I type). We had a vintage cauldron lying around, and she makes "potions" with stuff she finds around the house. It's been great for her, really - she's always lived in stories in her imagination, and the Harry Potter series is perfect for this. We've paced her somewhat, letting her experience each book, then the movie, as we feel it's appropriate (essentially, as she ages and as they would have come out in the original run) and as I said - we're only on the second now. This is because while the stories are actually fun reading and great for imaginary play, the rush to consume them in big gulps takes away a good deal of the enjoyment. Savouring them together is a treat for both of us.

Along similar lines, we've loved the Chronicles of Narnia together, but she lost interest part way through the Silver Chair, though we persevered. Same thing though - it's all a wonderful escape, because it's complicated and deep and resonant and there's much to discuss. I don't think any kid that age will "get" all that on their own, but sharing it with a parent at first is a good way to start them off, then they can finish on their own or revisit it when they're older for deeper meaning. I have a shelves and shelves of books for her to discover on her own, where none are off-limits and she can explore at will. I want her to be hungry for books, but I also don't want her to lose too much innocence.

And I'll agree - so many books, including Junie B. Jones series, portray "spunky" in a way that's actually bratty and I disliked them so much that I use them as teaching examples for how NOT to behave. This article on the subject is pretty well-done, and is right that it's you who will have the opportunity to teach what you'd like, but at a certain point, peer influence will be a huge factor that you just can't ignore. It's better to be there right along side her, rather than holding her back, isn't it?

(Sorry for the novel - this is what you get when, while I type, "Hermione" is happy to make her own potion (hot chocolate) and write a spell with her quill (homework) and enjoy the privilege of carrying a lantern into the forbidden section of the library to look up who Nicholas Flamel is (an Ikea lantern, used to read a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book by) - it's pretty great, actually!)

And yes OnTheLastCastle, I agree as to the dangers of mispronouncing words for an early unlimited readers - I pronounced epitome as epi-tome for far too long.

posted by peagood at 1:44 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Upon considering the family abuse, bullying and so on, I am reiterating why I read this book with my son. It's not just the language. I really think kids *deserve* to have someone talk about the dark subjects in the book. I think it's appropriate for a 6-7yo, but only if the parent is reading the book with them. It's important to stress to your child that you would never abandon them and that what they are reading about Harry's home life is not okay.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another "let kids read whatever they want to read" camper here. There are probably some limits on real violence or truly nightmarish horror material for kids -- my reading Helter Skelter and The Exorcist back-to-back at age 10 or 11 was, in retrospect, not the best choice for summer fun -- but Harry Potter is light-years away from that.

Definitely read them with her, and expect to have some conversations with her about any concerns the stories might bring up. But don't keep them from her. If her mind and imagination are thirsting for these books, then please let her have them.
posted by scody at 1:51 PM on December 12, 2011

One of the things I appreciate the most about my parents: they NEVER restricted what I read. If it was around the house and I wanted to read it, they didn't care. I think this explains the voracious reader I am today-so grateful to them for this gift. I read The Stand when I was 8 or so-crazily inappropriate, I suppose, but I think much of it went over my head and the rest, I loved. Go for it :). Plus, if you don't, you'll turn it into forbidden fruit and make it seem way more enticing and powerful.
posted by purenitrous at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2011

I'll chime in as another person whose media access was seriously sheltered as a kid - but I was allowed to read pretty much any damn thing I wanted. (One weird exception around Christopher Pike novels, for some reason. But I secretly bought one at a book fair, hid it under my bed, read it, and realized it was terrible. So much for that big rebellion.) I am eternally grateful to my parents for allowing me unfettered access to their bookshelves, and to whatever I wanted to buy at the bookstore.

Coming across new and somewhat scary concepts in books, where I could approach them at my own pace, put them down and come back later, ask questions about them, or miss the point completely and only realize it years later on reread, was a really good way for me to approach things that wouldn't have worked as well if I'd learned about them by movies or in conversation.

Which isn't necessarily true of all kids, but it can be true for some and may be worth considering.
posted by Stacey at 1:58 PM on December 12, 2011

From my experience, parents tend to assume that their kid has been exposed to/understands much less than they really do. I only watched PBS until I was about 9 or 10 years old (and I was homeschooled!), but I had heard words much worse than moron or sissy (I didn't even know people were trying to shelter their kids from words like these).

I think it's better to take a proactive approach to these sorts of things as advocated above. Even if you think "Little Susie would NEVER ______ (say "moron"/hurt someone else/smoke a cigarette/drink beer/have sex, depending on her age), talk to her about it if kids her age are doing it, and she'll be prepared for whatever comes her way.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:10 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do they still read Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller in school? Because those two books are more violent and upsetting then Harry Potter.

To echo someone above, when I read (and seen) things I didn't understand.. I skipped over them. I go back now that I'm older and wiser and can't imagine I missed that mildly adult comment made by that disney character.

(I also echo the whole mispronouncing words like Genre and Guild thing. I did that too!)
posted by royalsong at 2:23 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

let her read whatever. nthing that when i read and saw things i didn't understand i ignored them. so much iffy content flew right by me as a small bee with a voracious and somewhat indiscriminate reading habit
posted by beefetish at 3:03 PM on December 12, 2011

I grew up in a household with tons of books and was allowed to read basically anything I wanted to. I remember reading Lord of the Rings at about age 8. None of it scarred me for life, but did give me a lifelong love of books. I'm still an eclectic reader and enjoy a variety of fiction and nonfiction. I know I would have loved Harry Potter as a kid.
posted by lawhound at 3:04 PM on December 12, 2011

My daughter read all of the HP books when she was 7 or 8. She loved them. My son read the Wimpy Kid books when he was 7 - they were some of his first chapter books - and he loves them. In fact, he asked for the second Wimpy Kid movie (Rodrick Rules) for Christmas.

I say go for it.

I read my kids "Ender's Game" when they were younger and had great discussions with them about violence, the military, responsibility, etc.
posted by tacodave at 3:05 PM on December 12, 2011

As another kid who was allowed to read whatever I wanted, I say let her read what she wants. Maybe she is too young for it, but kids are pretty good at self-regulating that: if she's too young, she'll just lose interest in the book, or not really understand it at all.

As for the Harry Potter series, I was part of the generation that more or less grew up with Harry as I read the books. I tore through the first four at 12-13, and then with the release dates of the rest, I was more or less growing up with Harry. I don't think I would have gotten nearly as much out of them if that weren't the case, and there would have been a lot that just went over my head if I had read them all in one go when I was younger. But I'd say go ahead and read them with her, because worst comes to worst, she just won't be as engaged in the later HP books. She can return to them later when she's older, or just reread them. One of the great joys of books is that a book changes as you grow older. You return to it and find nuances you didn't see before, or it teaches you things you weren't ready for as a younger reader.

But if you're concerned about violence, be aware that the later Harry Potter books are rather violent. Not gratuitously so, but in the seventh book especially, people are being murdered and tortured in the text.
posted by yasaman at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2011

My son just finished reading "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" aloud, to me, right before he turned eight. There was a bunch of stuff that he hasn't come across yet, and didn't necessarily get, but that we were able to discuss as we went. He has since read the other books (except the newest), and we're about to start working on "Roderick Rules" together. Having him read aloud let me hear how his reading is progressing, explain unfamiliar words or ideas, and talk with him about Greg's self-awareness (or lack thereof). The best parts? Watching him snigger and giggle and laugh as he read, and then seeing him read himself to sleep at night. If it takes the Cheese Touch to make him a reader, then so be it. We all start somewhere.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2011

I really think kids just skim over stuff that is too adult/scary/sexual for them, at whatever age they read something. I try to let my kids read whatever they want, although I do try to steer them away from some of the more sex themed things, and I don't really own anything very violent (and in general, I'm more relaxed about them reading about respectful and mutually enjoyed sexual material, than viewing a lot of violent material). I don't recall my parents ever stopping me from reading anything, although I think their library was way duller than mine is. I read Animal Farm when I was about your daughter's age, though, and The Hobbit (I thought LoTR looked too long).
posted by thylacinthine at 3:46 PM on December 12, 2011

My kid devoured the Wimpy Kid books starting at age 7 and he just got the latest one and liked it too. He saw the first movie but he didn't seem impressed and appears to prefer the books. He just recently expressed an interest in Harry Potter and we've read the first three together but I decided I wanted to wait a little before getting into the death issues in Goblet of Fire. (he's on the spectrum and he tends to be high anxiety about issues around death, so this solution makes sense for him and obviously differs from child to child)

It's a good idea to be familiar with the themes in books that your kids read, so you can talk about fears and curiosity that comes up (if it comes up). Hell, I wish my parents had been interested at all in what I liked to read!
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:01 PM on December 12, 2011

One of the best things my parents ever did for me was not restrict the things I read

Agreed. I learned to read by stealing my mom's Stephen King books in kindergarten. Salem's Lot scared the shit out of me, but that was what made it fun and worthwhile.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:19 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll add to the pile-on. My 9 year old is a voracious reader (he was one of the top readers in his school for the recent read-a-thon), and he took a stab at Harry Potter a year or so ago, in second grade, and he read some, but really it was a bit too hard for him. For a while he was reading only graphic novels. Now he's into Percy Jackson (which I'm reading to him) and the Warriors series, which he's reading on his own.

The only thing I've ever asked him not to read is our library's category of adult graphic novels. The juvenile graphic novels are mostly fine, but some of the adult stuff has some pretty stereotypically sexist portrayals of women that I'd rather he not absorb quite yet. He was fine with that limitation--in fact, he's often let us know when books are too old/mature for him.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:02 PM on December 12, 2011

Wow, better to learn the words "moron" and "sissy" and more as a third person, than be confronted with them for the first time in real life without knowing what they mean.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:53 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have, to my shock and horror, somehow raised an eight year old who doesn't enjoy reading. If she came to me tomorrow and said she wanted to read one of the THREE copies of The Philosopher's Stone she's been given, I'd have that book in her hand so fast her head would spin.

I read all kinds of inappropriate stuff when I was little. I read Carrie in Grade 4 and it terrified me so badly, I had to wrap the book in blankets and stuff in the back of my closet. And those VC Andrews books. Also in Grade 4! Horrible.

Harry Potter's nothing like that. The themes are generally the kind of themes you want a kid to explore. It's a little tense in parts, but it's not completely outside of the range for a 7 year old. And, arguably, the books have some literary merit.

The other part of it is that kids around her have probably already read them, or at least seen the films. My kid knows the themes and the basic jist of the story, plus a lot of details that, to me, ruin the reading of them. As for the Wimpy Kid books, a friend of hers was really into them, but his mom wasn't impressed and got him onto the Harry Potter books instead because she thought they were a big step up, theme-wise.

Though the word "alias" was pronounced like the name of the restaurateur brothers until well into the sixth grade.
posted by looli at 7:11 PM on December 12, 2011

I think you should read Harry with her, particularly because as previously pointed out the books contain certain background messages that you may want to discuss with her. There are some excellent critiques of Harry Potter out there which point some of them out if you don't want to read through them all yourself first. I'm of the "grew up with Harry" group and I really just enjoyed it as a story and didn't pay much attention to the various messages, but that does get harder in the later books.

The first book is really fine, there's barely any violence and it's mostly kids being clever and solving problems. The second through fourth I think would benefit from parental supervision during reading it, for a 7 year old. I would wait on the fifth and subsequent, if only because I read the fifth book at twice your daughter's age and Umbridge's "special" quill (and Harry's powerlessness in that situation) still creeped me right the hell out and gave me nightmares. Also, the seventh book, aside from not really being very good in my opinion, has quite a lot of death and certain parallels with Nazi Germany that I probably wouldn't want to give to a 7 year old to read by herself.

I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, generally in favour of kids reading what they want to, and I certainly read much more 'adult' content at not much older than your daughter. But it sounds like she's relatively sheltered, and so I think you should ease her into it and read it with her.
posted by lwb at 10:03 PM on December 12, 2011

My kids can read whatever they want, but once in a while I will tell them not to waste their time on something that's simply bad when there are so many great books out there. I mean, why use up a couple of hours of your life on an R.L. Stine book when you could try the Penderwick books by Jeanne Birdsall?

(And yeah, the later HP novels do have torture, murder, lies, betrayal, threats, and adult/authority figures who behave Very Badly Indeed…but I still let my kids read them. *shrug*)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:59 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work at a library and have kids this age. Your question is essentially, "My kid wants to eat vegetables. SHOULD I ALLOW THIS?" This is the good stuff. It's appropriate and spurs development. Just because Wimpy Kid is frank about childhood and has spawned some terrible movies doesn't make it a negative influence. Anecdote: last week my 9yo boy was reading Wimpy Kid for the whateverth time. Today he asked me if he could take Carl Sagan's Cosmos to read at school because "it's just so interesting." Let it happen! It's our job as parents to shelter their little bodies... not their little minds.
posted by ulotrichous at 6:58 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

We are reading the first Harry Potter with our 8 year old son. I'm not worried about much in the first three books.

After that though I have a lot of reservations, until he gets a bit older. I tend not to be very overprotective and am not a wimp. At least I didn't think of myself as a wimp until I saw how tough this group is. You guys didn't find the end of book 4 scary? I was scared out of my mind and I was 29. And book 7 has torture, which I found chilling.

I loved the books, but was not prepared for how dark they get.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 3:41 PM on December 13, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone who responded.

I've decided to let her read them............with me. Either I will read out loud or she will read out loud, and then we can talk about what we read.

I think your comments were very insightful.
posted by lynnie-the-pooh at 4:55 PM on December 13, 2011

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