Reading With and Reading To

In the blogosphere, there’s a thing called Wordless Wednesday. On these days, I shall feature a reading-related photo for you all.

This also gives me a bit of a reprieve since we are in Welcome Night World at Gracepoint Berkeley church and throughout our Gracepoint Ministries! (The smart-alecky students out there have your hands raised, waiting to be called on: “Ms. Kim, you’ve actually included 99 words in this post.” 100, actually.)

Kids build confidence as they read to others. (book: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo)
One way kids build confidence is as they read to others. Here’s a 4th grader reading to a 1st grader. (book: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo)

Harry Potter Books & Movies Age Guide

As promised, I shall tackle the most commonly asked question from the parents of Gracepoint Berkeley church: “At what age is it ok for my kids to read Harry Potter?” One resource I check for age recommendations for books and movies is Common Sense Media, which is pretty fair. However, I’ve learned that I need to read more carefully as to the reasons for their recommendations. And in the case of Harry Potter, we diverge quite considerably, as you will see if you compare my thoughts with their Harry Potter Age-By-Age Guide, which has them starting at 6 years old.

Going by straight reading levels, some kids might be able to read them starting in 2nd grade, but the question is regarding the themes and content. You know your child the best, so you’ll need to exercise judgement, and consider their reading level, their temperament, how scared they get, how comfortable you are with some mature themes, and so on.

So please regard these as general guidelines to help you in making those decisions.


#1 – Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone: 3rd-4th grade (8-9). This is mainly because it’s a slippery slope, and once a kid starts the series, they’ll want to devour the rest!  Harry and his friends are 11 years old in this book. (Each book covers the duration of the school year.)





#2 – Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets: 3rd -4th grade (8-9). Again, this recommendation is mainly because once a kid reads #1, they will immediately want to read #2, but I would caution every parent to be mindful of book 2. While the book overall remains magical and wonderful, the fact remains that Tom Riddle possesses Ginny, and that’s super scary. Parseltongue can scare kids too. I’ve surveyed some of the older kids, and one said, “I actually thought book 2 was the scariest of all of them.”



harrypotter3#3 – Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban: 4th grade (9-10). More of the same, thematically. The Marauder’s Map is nifty. On the scare alert, dementors make their first appearance in book 3. In general, I encourage you to talk with your kids often about fantasy books they read, so they get a clear sense of what is fantastical (i.e. shape-shifting) and what is realistic.




harrypotter4#4 – Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire: 5th grade (11ish). Harry and his friends are now 14 years old. So while the main plot centers around the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the series takes a decidedly “teen” turn in this book. Harry has a major crush on Cho Chang, and Rowling does a good job describing the overall awkwardness of adolescence. But there’s a whole lot of excitement about who’s going with whom to the Yule Ball, and people getting in trouble for kissing and stuff. And while there are deaths in each of the Harry Potter books, this book has the first death of one of the friends. It’s different from a nemesis being vanquished; this death is really sad and upsetting for readers as well as for Harry and his friends.


harrypotter5#5 – Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix: 6th grade (12ish). As I vented about last week, this book has 15-year-old Harry in the throes of of some teenaged angst and anger. This is also the book where Dumbledore’s Army starts, and the kids get serious about fighting Voldemort. Harry has his first kiss in this book.




harrypotter6 #6 – Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince: 6th-7th grade (12-13ish). Harry and his friends are 16, so expect teen drama. There are “love triangles” and lots of “snogging.” (Which the movie makes the primary focus, rather than the entire story line of the half-blood prince, but I digress.) There are two super sad deaths of beloved characters in this book. And you learn about horcruxes and soul-splitting, so that’s pretty scary, and also an opportunity for interesting conversations with your kid.



harrypotter7 #7 – Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: 7th (13ish)Similar to book 6, except more. More deaths. More romance. (And a very memorable, directed swear word that is used to communicate the ferocity of a mother’s love.)




I know that realistically, once a child starts the series, it’ll be hard to stretch it out for five years, if you go according to my age suggestions! So it’s really up to you as a parent, and I strongly recommend having conversations with your child about the books throughout. NOT quizzing them on the books, but just talking about characters and what they’re like, or interesting plot devices — would you want a time-turner? What about Felix Felicis? What do you think about the patronus thing? You could talk about any of the myriad themes around friendship, loyalty, honesty, loneliness, revenge, home, and more.

As for the movies, bear in mind that movies #1-3 are rated PG, and #4-7b are rated PG-13. But I would recommend 3rd grade and up for watching even film #1, since there are frightening elements from the get go. There are adults I know who couldn’t watch any of the films because they would keep replaying some of the scarier scenes, and have trouble sleeping. (Personally, I can’t quite look at Voldemort straight on without cringing. The no-nose thing.)

Again, every child is different, so I hope that this helps a little.

I’d love to hear from some of the parents. How did you determine what age was appropriate for the books and/or movies for your child? 

Educational Resource: PBS Parents

I’ll be the first to admit that I am no expert in reading or in child development. I’ve always made it a priority to apportion some of my reading life to books and websites on education and reading. And now, in a more official position of being the librarian and children’s educator at Gracepoint Berkeley church, I plan on using this space to share resources I have found helpful, and hope they’ll be of use to parents, and adults who are working with our children.

PBSParentsEducationThe PBS website has a section for parents & education. In the Reading & Language section, they have a section of “Reading Milestones” broken down into Talking, Reading, Writing, and Activities/Games by age groups, starting from “Baby” to “Second-Third Grade.” They also have sections for Mathematics, Science, Learning Disabilities, Going to School, Music & Arts.

When parents ask me questions, I’m often synthesizing different tips I’ve read about and incorporated into my own reading philosophy. Rather than regurgitate what I’ve been reading on this site, I’ll refer you to just a few of the articles I have found helpful.


Three Strikes Against Arthur

Having taught primarily in high school and then in middle school, I’m in a self-paced crash-course on books for younger readers. This summer at Gracepoint Berkeley church, I’ve been hosting different groups of kiddos for reading hour each day, and so I’ve been getting to know a lot of different picture books and books for early readers.

I received a generous donation of three big boxes of picture books, and among them were a bunch of Arthur books. Even the older kids got so nostalgic and would read and reread them. So I didn’t think too much about them.

I didn’t grow up reading Arthur books by Marc Brown, though apparently they’ve been around as long as I have. And I definitely didn’t watch Arthur episodes on PBS, because I was a senior in high school when they started airing. (Two clues about my age, which is actually no secret, but it’s fun to solve even the smallest puzzle!)

Last week I had the chance to read my first Arthur books. I read them with a particular 6-year-old boy on the T-Rex team (1st-2nd boys) at our Zootopia Summer Camp. I’m sad to report that each book got successively disappointing. Hence the title of this post. Here’s a recap:


First up, Arthur’s Thanksgiving (1984). Arthur is in charge of the class Thanksgiving play, and he can’t find anyone to play the turkey. This is the main conflict, because as they state in the play, the whole point of Thanksgiving is turkey. Without turkey, there can’t be Thanksgiving.

The lesson: Arthur learns the skill of problem-solving in his leadership position, and he ends up doing whatever it takes to make sure the play goes on.

My beef: Maybe it’s my years of teaching inference, but the message of the play-within-the-book that Thanksgiving itself hinges on a turkey struck me as problematic. Nowhere in the book is there a mention of…giving thanks.

Strike 1.


Next was Arthur’s Christmas (1985). While Arthur’s sister, DW, has a mile-long list of all the presents she wants, Arthur’s dilemma is trying to figure out what to get for Santa. Arthur figures out the “perfect” gift, which is rather funny, but DW realizes Santa might actually get repulsed by his gift, so she helps “solve” the problem.

The message: DW is a great sister, because she solves the problem in such a way to spare Arthur’s feelings from being hurt, and will still manage to get all her gifts from Santa.

My beef: I *think* we are meant to find Arthur’s focus on what to give rather than receive as admirable, but it’s stated too implicitly for a children’s book.  So what we are left with is the message that DW is thoughtful and even sacrificial. But she only does what she does because she wants presents from Santa. DW’s greed for presents is dealt with only tangentially and through a passing comment from Grandma when she visits.

Strike 2.


Last but definitely not least, Arthur’s Birthday (1991). It’s Arthur’s 8th birthday (remember this fact — 8th) and he’s going to have a party. But it’s the same day as Muffy’s party. OH NO! Arthur figures out a way to solve this problem of two different parties going on at the same time.

The message: Oh, that Arthur. He’s so clever and so kind, that he figured out a way to include everyone!

My beef: Francine, one of Arthur and Muffy’s classmates, is super excited because they can play Spin-the-Bottle. (Quiz: how old is Arthur turning again?) In separate conversations during the rising action, the boys decide to just go to Arthur’s party, and the girls to Muffy’s, but the boys say, “It won’t be fun without the girls” and vice-versa.  And then the last page is Arthur opening one of his presents, and guess what it is? Yes, a bottle labeled “Francine’s Spin-the-Bottle Game” — yay!

Strike 3.

You might think I’m being too hard on Arthur, and they’re just cute stories after all. True, I’ve only read a few of the books. But my main problem is the Arthur books and television show are touted as educational, in the good PBS way. And they do educate, but what are they teaching? We need to be aware of the implicit messages our kids get from all media.

It’s subtle and might seem harmless enough, but I was surprised to find the 6-year-old boy I was reading the book with already knew what Spin-the-Bottle was. Even with limited screen time, our kids get all sorts of education from their friends, teachers, and just through walking around in our world. If you’re looking for books that are explicitly teaching lessons on how to treat other people (or the point of certain holidays), I recommend bypassing Arthur.

What’s your take on Arthur? Should I give him another chance? Did you read Arthur books or watch the show while growing up?

Favorite Friday: Harry Potter edition

One of the most common questions parents at Gracepoint Berkeley church ask me is, “When do you think my Reginald/Maximilian/Constance can start reading Harry Potter books?”


That’s in the queue for next week (that’s my way to keep you coming back here!), but that question did inspire the first Favorite Friday post. Every Friday, you can expect to find a “favorite” kind of post — Top 10 Favorite Places to Read, Five Favorite Sports Books, Favorite Series, My Forreal Favorite Book Forever…you get the picture.

Since I’m working on lining up guest posts by authors of all ages, I’ll start off with a post about my Favorite Harry Potter book. Like any potterhead, I can’t answer this question without telling you a little of what I think about the other six books! Mind you, these are very abridged explanations.

So in order of favorite-ness:

#6 – Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince. Because, Severus Snape. And crazy plot twists, actually feeling a bit sorry for Draco, horcrux hunting, and of course, Sirius…and then Dumbledore?! Such despair. (Please don’t get me started on the travesty that is the movie for book 6.)

#3 – Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. Like many people out there, book 3 was my favorite for a long time: Sirius Black, so awesome; and though bittersweet, I loved how things finally began looking up a bit for Harry, in the way of a family.

#7 – Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. Despite the epilogue, it is one of my favorites! I remember being so conflicted while reading the book, because I wanted to get to the end and find out what in the world was going to happen, but then wanting to not get to the end, because…it was the end.

#2 – Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets. Like many people, it used to be my least favorite, but after finishing the entire series, I appreciate its significance in the grand scheme of things. I wish I could place it higher, but a 4-way tie for 1st would be a bit ridiculous.

#1 – Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone. Everything was new and fresh, filled with the wonder of happening upon a magical world. Your heart just went out to Harry as he began this quest to find out his identity and his destiny.

#4 – Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. I think my lower-ranking of #4 is influenced by how much I had loved #3. There were aspects of #4 that I found superfluous, but were given a lot of attention: the Cho Chang business, and Yule Ball drama.

#5 – Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. The unbearable pages on pages of Harry’s CAPITAL LETTER teen tantrums. I empathized with Harry’s frustration, and wanted to get out of the house and off to Hogwarts already too. But all the yelling?TOO MUCH!

Are you surprised that book 6 is my favorite? Which book is your favorite? Leave an answer in the comments. Oh, and take the poll! (Unfortunately, you can only choose one, so you’ll have to decide.)

harrypotter1 harrypotter2 harrypotter3 harrypotter4 harrypotter5 harrypotter6 harrypotter7

Throwback Thursday: Reading Memories

TBTThrowback Thursdays will feature posts that are a “Blast From the Past” in one way or the other. The age of the author of the post will determine how far back the blast is coming from. As for today, I’m the author, so the blast is coming from the 80’s, y’all. (1980’s, not 1880’s.)

charlotteswebMrs. Trujillo was my 3rd grade teacher at Cerritos Elementary School, and she read us Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, which was already a classic, having been published in 1952. I don’t remember as much about the book as I do about the whole experience. Every day after lunch, we knew it was reading time when Mrs. Trujillo pulled the brown wooden rocking chair to the edge of the circle rug at the front of the classroom. We would rush to be able to sit on the rug, and to be as close to her as possible so that we could see the pictures. I remember learning “salutations” and “runt” as vocabulary words.

I moved to a new school for 4th grade, and I chose to re-read Charlotte’s Web on my own. Part of the reason I was drawn to the book was because it reminded me of home, which in my mind, was still in Southern California. It was a familiar old friend anchoring me in a new place. Years later, I took a bunch of kiddos from Gracepoint Berkeley church to watch the 2006 movie version, and I cried like a baby during that one part (I won’t spoil it for those of you haven’t read the book yet.). Each encounter with the story left a powerful memory in me that makes me nostalgic every time I hear mention of the title.

So when I recommend the book to kids and parents today, I realize I’m recommending so much more than the story of Charlotte, Wilbur and Fern, though the story is wonderful in its own right. It’s a book I love for many reasons, and when I recommend parents and kids read it together, I’m thinking about how this is one of those books that just might help them create a powerful, lasting reading memory together. The kinds of memories that are integral to fostering book love that lives on beyond childhood and into adulthood.

Do you have a favorite reading memory? What book evokes a reading memory for you? 

What books should my child be reading? (Part 1)

backtoschoolIt’s one of my favorite times of the year — back to school! This is actually the first year I am not going back to school either as a teacher or a student, and as bummed though I may be, I am excited to celebrate the new school year by devoting posts to addressing questions parents at Gracepoint church ask me most frequently .

These questions often come in passing, while grabbing coffee or in the parking lot, but the answers require more than the 10-seconds we have. So I hope these posts will be helpful. Heads up, I’m going to put them under the category For Parents, so you can find them easily.

The first question is “What should my child be reading?” and it comes in various forms:

  • “Hey, my Reginald is going into 4th grade this year. What books should he be reading?”
  • “What should Maximilian be reading since he’s starting kindergarten? Do you have a list?”
  • “My Constance doesn’t want to read the good books, like classics. She only wants to read her fantasy books.”

My response is usually, “What does Reginald/Maximilian/Constance like to read?” That’s the super-simplified response, and what I’m proposing is a reframing of the question — to focus more on the reader, rather than the books.

If your child is school-aged, his or her teacher will be choosing books throughout the year they have determined to be appropriate or interesting for their class, and they will do a read-aloud or whole-class book study. In that way, your child will be reading some of the “should” books. And these reading experiences are powerful and necessary. But true love of reading is going to develop during your child’s independent reading life. And I believe the growing, thriving reading life is dependent on choice.

I want to encourage conversations with your child about books that he or she has enjoyed. Try to figure out what they liked about it. Was it because it was easy for them to read? Was it the type of story? Was it the pictures? And then you have some clues to help you in the adventure of finding the next book your child might be interested in reading. I always try to assure parents that it is definitely possible to find a book that will spark their interest. This is a great age in which to be a child or teen — there are so many awesome books out there. It’s not like “when I was young”! (you have to re-read that sentence in a granny voice!)

When I tell people I am was an English Language Arts teacher, one of the first questions is, “What books do you teach?” And I usually say, “I don’t teach books. I teach students.” Now, I know what people *mean* when they ask me, but you see my point. We often get stuck on lists of books, and, “Oh, you teach To Kill a Mockingbird in 9th grade? Isn’t that a 10th grade book?”

Don’t get me wrong; lists are helpful. And in fact, I’m going to provide lists for you all. But my lists are by themes/genres, so that you can find the book that your child will be interested in reading. I do have general age guidelines, but that’s mostly for thematic reasons (not unlike movie ratings).

I always try to get parents to think about books they loved when they were in school. What did you love about it? How did you find the book? Did you read it on your own or with your class? How did you respond when given a list of books you had to read? Did you ever re-read books? These are big questions that feed into a person’s reading life.

I know I’ve opened up a can of worms with this discussion, but I hope it will foster conversation. What questions do you have about your child and reading? I will do my best to group like questions and address them here.