Fantasy, Reflections
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So Your Kid is Reading Harry Potter…. A Christian Family’s Response

Please note: this is a personal account of one family’s actual experience, NOT a Redeemed Reader staff-wide recommendation that you read Harry Potter. This post is about how to handle books your kids want to read that have potential issues, not a discussion of the merits or demerits of the Harry Potter books in particular.

As soon as my daughter turned 11, she began asking when she could start the Harry Potter books. Why 11? That’s the age Harry is when he first attends Hogwarts in the first book of the series. We’d long stipulated that she’d have to be at least 11 before starting the books.

Our Family Rules for Harry Potter

My husband and I’ve both read and listened to the entire Harry Potter series. We knew how the series ended (a fantastic ending), but we also knew the dark elements that are part of the series, especially in the last 4 books. We had a few stipulations for how our family was going to experience the Harry Potter series:

  1. Oldest child had to be eleven. (Her two younger brothers would be 10 shortly after; we deemed it close enough.)
  2. We had to experience some epic Christian fantasy series first so that the baseline for epic fantasy wasn’t Harry Potter. To that end, we’d already listened to the entire Narnia Chronicles series twice (and the kids had read them), and we listened to the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.
  3. We were going to listen to the HP books as a family: this forced the kids to slow way down so they wouldn’t get to the later books until they’d had a chance to mature a touch. This also gave us, as a family, a chance to discuss things that come up in the books and to intersperse other books if it looked like the kids were too “into” HP.
  4. A firm discussion of the 2nd greatest commandment: love thy neighbor. You see, we have many friends who aren’t reading Harry Potter and that is perfectly fine. Our children were given strict instructions not to discuss these books with other families until they/we knew those families were okay with it. We discussed how to respect the choices of those who don’t agree with our own decisions; we don’t want to cause stumbling blocks by talking about books excitedly that someone else isn’t allowed to read just like we wouldn’t show a movie to someone that he or she wasn’t allowed to watch. Loving your neighbor also includes not spoiling books for someone when they haven’t read as far as you have!
  5. We decided in advance to stick to the original series plus the original movies; we did not dive into the Fantastic Beasts material.
  6. Finally, we have had some very clear discussions of curses, spells, and other witchcraft elements in the books that are most definitely NOT allowed, even in jest, in our home.

All Our Friends Are Reading Harry Potter!

Providentially, it turned out that most of the other kids in our small church were also exploring the world of Harry Potter at the same time. As we heard about more and more kids reading them, the kids would excitedly tell us, “We can talk about HP with so-and-so! They’re reading them, too!” And the Harry Potter book party was birthed.

A Book Party: Games, Discussion, and Fun!

Several of us moms at my church hatched a plan: we needed to have a Harry Potter party during the summer. We would play some themed games, eat some themed food (butterbeer, anyone?!), and, most importantly, facilitate some discussions about the books from a Christian perspective.

The party was a big hit. Amidst cauldron cakes, surrounded by hilarious decorations (an empty laundry basket full of “free invisibility cloaks”), house points, and a Tri-Wizard Tournament (with minute-to-win-it games), we also discussed the nature of sin, the gospel and Christ’s death for us (as opposed to the death of a mere human, like Harry’s mother), what we desired most (the Mirror of Erised), the nature of prejudice, the value of human life, and many more deep concepts. In fact, it was so rewarding, we planned a Narnia-themed party later that fall!

The Takeaway: Strike While the Iron is Hot

The takeaway here is not that you must go out and read Harry Potter. Rather, when you see your kids and their friends starting to engage with a book or book series, especially if it’s a hot topic culturally, seize the day. Strike while the iron is hot. Host a one-time book club. Invite their friends, have some fun, and use it as a chance to talk about the book in light of Scripture and the gospel. If there are potential morality issues in the books (like the later Rick Riordan books) or issues particular to the genre (such as fantasy books with magic) or social issues (racism, environmentalism, and others), this can be a terrific way to casually open up discussion with kids that help them think about our culture and some pretty heavy topics you might not normally broach.

You’re also free to find a different series that’s similar in genre or thematic elements. Encourage your children to read that more acceptable series with their friends and discuss it instead.

Book Party Tips

So, how do you throw a book party or a one-time book club?

  1. READ THE BOOK(S). Not every adult present has to read them, but at least one of you must so you can intelligently put the party on, ask questions, and facilitate discussion. Besides, reading a book your kids want you to read speaks volumes about your interest in them as persons.
  2. Pick a date: find a time that works and put it on the calendar! We hosted ours at 10 in the morning because it was summer and it’s cooler in the morning. We did an afternoon event in the fall.
  3. Choose a location: if you plan your location right, younger siblings can tag along and play outside while folks discuss books inside or vice versa. A house, a park, a room at the library….
  4. Search the web for ideas. Seriously, folks, if you think a book would be fun to discuss, chances are good that someone else has done the legwork. Pinterest is your friend. Good search strings: “[book title] discussion questions” or “[title] book club activities” or “[title] lesson plans” or something similar.
  5. Divide and conquer the tasks. Someone can decorate, a few can bring food snacks, someone can coordinate the games and/or discussion questions.
  6. Divide and conquer the kids: if not everyone has read all the books in a series, have a group that only discusses the first one or two and then a group that can discuss later books. If there are mixed ages, you can separate that way, too. Kids 10 and under tend to be a bit less introspective than older kids and won’t last as long in a deep discussion, especially if there are folks playing outside!
  7. Include some individual activities: word searches, guessing games, coloring pages. If you have dead time or just some kids who are on the quiet side, these will come in handy. They also make great “party favors.”

Postscript:

At this writing, it’s been nearly 3 years since we read the first Harry Potter book together as a family. One child has gone on to re-read them all. She has also re-read the Lord of the Rings multiple times. The other two have since re-read Narnia, and all three love other Christian fantasy series such as those by N.D. Wilson, Andrew Peterson, and Jonathan Rogers as well as well known secular series. HP comes up regularly in discussions, and we all know which house we belong to (3 Ravenclaws and 2 Hufflepuffs). HP is part of our family culture just as much as the other books we’ve read, but it does not dominate (nor should it!). We all love the ending, and we’re glad we listened to them as a family!

What about you? How have you handled controversial books in your own home?

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7 Comments

  1. Cristy says

    I still don’t like mixing my faith walk (or encouraging my children to mix theirs) with books that have characters practicing witchcraft. I can, however, admire the idea of bringing the reading and celebration home, rather than letting the child read the book by themselves. Well done!

    Also, as a self-proclaimed lover of good writing, I can confidently state that Harry Potter does not fall into this category, by all indications of the first 3 chapters. I wish more attention was paid to how it could be better written, and should most certainly NOT be compared to Tolkien, Lewis or Wilson, who were much more mindful of their craft.

    I wish you well.

    • Harry Potter could definitely be better written! Especially those last 4 books–I’ve often wondered where the editor was, but the books were probably making so much money by then that they were just rushed through to publication date. I do think the comparison to other fantasy authors, particularly ones who excel at their craft, is a good one, though. It reminds us that there IS excellently written fantasy–and fantasy from a Christian perspective–out there. You might be interested to know that Jerram Barrs includes Rowling/Harry Potter in his book Echoes of Eden. I found his comments very interesting.

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  3. Mary says

    So all your child’s peers are reading Harry Potter. Rather than sit down with your child and explain why these books are occult in nature you just candy coat it and dive right in? Since the Harry Potter series came out, there has been an explosion of teens getting involved in Wicca and other occult practices. My daughter loved to read at eleven, but thank goodness she had enough discernment to know that HP was at it’s core, centered on the occult. It boggles my mind that Christian parents would even consider allowing their kids to immerse themselves in a book series that is so anti-Christian and demonic, just so their kids can be on the same level as their peers. It’s no wonder there is such a high percentage of youth leaving the church and Christianity once the leave home. Parents no longer teach their kids to be “in the world and not of it”.

    • Thank you, Mary, for expressing your concerns. I agree with you that letting children read books that center around the occult, especially if it’s just because their friends are all reading them, is ill-advised. In this particular case, as I mentioned above, my husband and I had already read the Harry Potter books and decided what our approach would be before our children even knew the books existed. If our children had expressed no interest, it would have been a moot point, but it is good practice as parents to know what’s going on in our culture and have a game plan. The “magic” in the Harry Potter books did not strike my husband and me as dabbling in the occult, unlike books which feature pentagrams, demon-possession, and the like. The HP books are set in an entirely alternative reality, much like Narnia or Middle Earth. I really appreciate the way Jerram Barrs puts it in Echoes of Eden: [he’s referencing Narnia, Middle Earth, and HP as a group in this quotation] “The magic helps us see the battle between good and evil more clearly. Magic is simply a device to unveil the world of virtue and vice to us.” It was only after our family had started reading the books altogether that we learned some of our kids’ friends had recently started the series also.

      This post is not an argument for/against the Harry Potter books, though. Rather, it is my hope that it stands a model for how to grapple with books that might present problems but which a particular family decides to read/engage, intentionally, with an eye to discussing the books with their children. Here at Redeemed Reader, we believe the only required book is the Bible. All others are ultimately a matter of conscience, and we know that Bible-believing Christians have differing standards regarding the books they read. Every book we read, even a “classic,” demands discernment, analyzing the author’s worldview even as we might enjoy the storyline. That’s precisely why we rate books on both their literary merit and their worldview; we hope to come alongside parents and teachers as they strive to help shepherd the young imaginations in their care. We will always point out the presence of magic in a fantasy work (and also include non-magical works on our fantasy lists) because this is a particular area of difference for so many Christians. We will also try to point out pagan worldviews when they occur in realistic fiction, examine classics through similar lenses, and review works like Jerram Barr’s Echoes of Eden that we feel are excellent resources in helping us to develop discernment. And we love to remind our readers that books don’t save; only Christ saves, and we should be always looking to know Him better.

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  5. Gretchen says

    Hi Betsy,
    Thank you so much for your thorough article. It would have been very helpful when my boys were younger. I especially liked the way you talked to your kids about being careful who they talked to about the books, whether it was because that family had chosen not to read the books or they weren’t as far along in the series as your family. Every family has to choose for themselves what books, movies, etc are appropriate for them and should not feel pressured one way or another because of the choices they have made.

    When our boys were late elementary/middle school age they loved the Redwall books. There was another family with three boys in our homeschool group who were also crazy about the Redwall books. The other mom and I came up with the idea to hold a Redwall feast over lunch with the boys. This was such a hit! We started doing it once a month. Each family would contribute a couple of dishes that were talked about in the books. The boys would look forward to this and enjoyed planning what recipes we would make.

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