The Harry Potter franchise is perhaps the most significant thing to happen in children’s literature in the past 50 years.
Ever since British author J.K Rowling released her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone back in 1998, kids (and adults!) around the globe have been hooked.
If your kids are showing an interest in exploring this wizarding world, then look no further. I’ve put together this comprehensive Harry Potter reading level guide to help you decide when they’re ready for each book.
A Bit About Harry Potter
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the Harry Potter series documents the adventures of a young wizard named Harry and his companions.
But if you’re not a Harry Potter fan yourself (gasp!), you might need some filling in on the broader details of the series.
There are seven books in total, all centering around Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione. They are students at a prestigious boarding school named the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
One of the wonderfully captivating things about the Harry Potter series is that the children get a year older with each book. In book one, they’re eager 11-year-olds, and by the time the series reaches its crescendo in book seven, they’re 18.
We get to see these beloved characters grow up as they battle dark forces in a fight of good against evil.
Throughout the series, the children are on a quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. Voldermort aims to destroy both the wizarding world and the ordinary world so he can gain immortality.
The books examine themes of good and evil, love and friendship, and loyalty and corruption, just to name a few.
Learn more about the writer: JK Rowling: Books, Author Facts, Quotes and More
Harry Potter Reading Level Guide by Age and Grade
Below, I introduce all seven Harry Potter books in the series and give each one an age and grade recommendation. I’ve taken into account two factors; reading ability and content suitability.
Generally, the themes within these stories become more mature as the series develops. This allows children to work their way through each book as they mature and grow too.
Of course, all children are different. As a parent or teacher, you’ll know better than anyone what your child or student is ready for. These age recommendations are intended only as a guide to help you decide where to get started.
Without further ado, here is the Harry Potter reading level guide.
Age 8 + / 2nd and 3rd grade
Most children are ready for the first three books in the Harry Potter series by the time they reach the 3rd grade. After around eight years old, children will generally have a good enough reading level to try out these books independently.
If your child struggles with their reading ability, reading these books aloud with them can be a great way to share these stories and have some quality bonding time together. And of course, you’re bound to love the books just as much as your kids do!
• Book 1: The Sorcerer’s Stone
Like all the Harry Potter books, The Sorcerer’s Stone does explore some challenging themes, but it’s done in a gentle way that can promote a healthy dialogue.
There are some potentially scary scenes; for example, halfway through this book, the children come face to face with an evil troll they must defeat together. And at the end of the book, there’s an extended fight scene between Harry and the evil Voldermort.
It’s also worth noting that this book touches upon the theme of parental death. If this isn’t something your child has been introduced to through other books or movies yet, it might be wise to gently broach the subject with them first
• Book 2: The Prisoner of Azkaban
This book explores pretty similar themes to the first book, and the story follows directly on from where the first book left off.
In terms of violence, there’s only one major fight scene, which is at the end of the book, and it’s no scarier than the ones in The Sorcerer’s Stone. If your child did fine with the themes played out in Book 1, they will also be able to handle book 2.
It’s worth noting, though, that the theme of death is also touched upon in this book. This time, it’s the death of a young Hogwarts student who was murdered by a mysterious creature many years earlier. Since she’s not a main character and the reader hasn’t built up a connection with her, most children aren’t phased.
• Book 3: The Chamber of Secrets
The Chamber of Secrets requires a slightly higher reading level than the previous two books and also deals with some potentially challenging themes, although they’re still presented in a very ‘kid-friendly’ way. Having said that, if your child enjoyed the first two books, they’ll likely be fine with the third book too.
Some of the more mature themes include the introduction of a serial killer. Unlike previous murders in the series so far, this killer has no connection to many of his victims. He kills without purpose and on a large scale.
Rowling presents these concepts in an easy to digest way, and most younger readers are likely to gloss over their gravity without much of a second thought.
Age 10+/ 5th grade
There’s a notable jump up in the reading level required for books 4 and 5. The plot becomes more interwoven and complex and is probably too challenging for children younger than around ten years old.
These books are also longer and require more focus than many younger readers can sustain.
By the time most kids are in the 5th grade, as long as they’re capable readers, they’re probably ready to continue their Harry Potter adventure with books 4 and 5 in the series.
• Book 4: The Goblet of Fire
If your child is going straight from book three into book 4, they should be prepared for them to be scarier and more fast-paced than the previous one.
At the very start of this book, there’s a murder scene that takes place in real time. Before this moment, all of the themes of death have been explored retrospectively, rather than described in the present.
Alongside this, there’s the death of a minor character, a fellow student, about two-thirds of the way through the book.
There’s also a plot twist at the end that more sensitive kids may find disturbing. Without giving too much away, the children are betrayed by an adult they thought they could trust, and the consequences are dire.
Many kids struggle with the idea of a grown-up violating a child’s trust, much more than they do with PG themed violence.
• Book 5: The Order of the Phoenix
The Order of the Phoenix moves directly on from book 4, and deals with much of the same themes as the previous book. If your child got through book 4 unscathed, they should have no problem with book 5, especially in terms of comprehension and reading level.
One thing to note though, is that there is another death at the end of this book; this time, it’s a more prominent character. Spoiler alert: it’s not Harry, Ron, or Hermione, but it is a character close to Harry’s heart and something that more sensitive kids may find upsetting.
Age 11/ 6th Grade
In terms of reading and comprehension levels, book 6 continues at much of the same level as the previous two books. There are plot layers and twists to follow that most children with good comprehension skills can handle independently without it being too much of a challenge.
I’ve suggested the 6th book for 11-year-olds rather than 10 year olds, due to the challenging themes that require a level of maturity that many 10 year old don’t have yet.
• Book 6: The Half-Blood Prince
This book explores ideas of the soul and how negative actions can permanently damage a person’s spirit.
It also examines the colossal weight of responsibility that has been placed on Harry’s shoulders. Despite his friend’s support, he is effectively alone in the battle of good vs. evil, and there’s nobody, not even an adult, who can protect him.
These concepts can be pretty deep and emotionally challenging for younger children.
Age 13/8th grade
Most children who grasped books 4, 5, and 6 will have no problem in terms of reading and comprehension with book 7; however, it’s undoubtedly edging into the PG13 category considering the themes it explores.
• Book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Unless your child is particularly emotionally mature, I wouldn’t recommend introducing them to the final book in the Harry Potter series until they’re in the 8th grade.
The theme of death continues but with much more frequency. Characters central to the story lose their lives and there’s some quite gruesome scenes of violence that surpass anything we’ve seen in the previous books.
But since this book is the final in JK Rowling’s epic series, there are also a lot of valuable lessons to learn about life, death, strength, and loyalty that are summarized beautifully by the end of the book.
There’s the Harry Potter reading level guide. I love how this series grows alongside children as they improve their reading skills and gain in maturity over the years.
JK Rowling also manages to captivate not just children but audiences of all ages. We all know adults who adore this series, and perhaps you’re one of them. I hope you enjoy sharing this magical wizarding world with your kids, as generations to come will undoubtedly do.