A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
J.K. Rowling borrows from many established stories and myths to piece together her magical world. Kids can look up more about centaurs, elves, giants, hippogriffs, boggarts, vampires, werewolves, acromantulas (giant spiders), inferi (reanimated dead), magic wands, flying brooms, etc., compare the author's take with other interpretations, and think about how and why she weaves these magical elements and beings into her stories.
The whole series is full of positive messages about the power of love, friendship, and self-sacrifice. In this book, there's even more about loyalty and dealing with difficult feelings such as loss, jealousy, and the anger of a betrayal. Dumbledore explores why tyrants fear the people they oppress. "All of them realize that, one day, among their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!"
Positive Role Models
In Book 5 Harry is pretty angry and shows his temper -- not anymore. He seems to have a lot more acceptance of what he needs to do to fight his enemy and shows special loyalty to Professor Dumbledore, who is a wonderful mentor to him in this book. Ron and Hermione, on the other hand, are caught up in much more pettiness -- jealousy abounds between them. Professor Slughorn values his connections to the talented and famous above all else, and Harry and friends see him for who he is.
There's a little diversity at Hogwarts. A Slytherin named Blaise Zabini is Black. So is Kingsley Shacklebolt in the Order of the Phoenix. Cho Chang and the Patil twins are more minor characters in this book, but still around. Characters in the wizarding world face lots of discrimination, especially for not being "pure-blood," or in Hagrid's case, for being part-giant. Some diverse family structures are described: Harry lives with his aunt and uncle, Neville with his grandmother, and memories of Tom Riddle show him in an orphanage. Women have prominent roles at Hogwarts: Professor McGonagall and Professor Sprout are both heads of houses, plus there are plenty of girls on the Quidditch house teams. Some negative language around the size of Dudley and his father, Malfoy's Slytherin friends Crabbe and Goyle, plus Professor Slughorn is described as "enormously fat," and a witch named Hepzibah Smith is described as an "immensely fat old lady."
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Violence & Scariness
There's the death and heartbreaking funeral of a major character. Reanimated dead creatures called inferi attack in a frightening scene in a cave. A student is cursed and almost dies, others are attacked and injured in a battle with wands and magic, another is nearly poisoned to death, and when students fight each other there's a broken nose and cuts that are magically healed. House elves also fight and knock out teeth. An adult is disfigured in an attack. Another adult is nearly poisoned and hallucinates, screaming out in fear. News is always bad in the wizarding world with Voldemort back. A student is pulled out of class, told that her parents have been killed. Much talk about others killed or who have disappeared, some were minor characters in past books. News that a 5-year-old was attacked and killed by a werewolf, of a bridge collapse that killed many. Plus they mine disturbing memories of when Voldemort was younger, how he killed many, including his own father, and hanged a rabbit and tortured other children at the orphanage.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of kissing among teens, or "snogging" as they call it in the U.K. Details are more funny than romantic with talk a pair is "kissing fiercely" or that it "looks like he's eating her face."
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"Damn" and "hell" said rarely.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens drink Butterbeer (very mildly alcoholic) at the Hogsmeade pub and what sounds like slightly more robust cocktails at Professor Slughorn's Christmas party; Professor Slughorn serves Harry and Ron mead on a separate occasion. A handful of adults drink and get drunk: Professor Trelawney, the head of an orphanage, Hagrid, and Professor Slughorn. Even the Fat Lady portrait overindulges over the holidays, then changes the Gryffindor tower password to "abstinence." A potion is used by Harry and friends that makes the drinker have good luck for a few hours. The Weasley family drinks eggnog at Christmas, and warlocks are seen smoking pipes in a bar.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series about an orphan boy at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Like Books 4 and 5, a major character dies at the end. This time there's a funeral for the adult in question and many characters experience a deep sense of loss (you will definitely cry, too!). With Voldemort's return, things at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world are pretty grim. News reaches students daily about attacks, killings, and disappearances. Near Hogwarts, a student is cursed and almost dies, others are attacked and injured in a battle with wands and magic, another is nearly poisoned to death, and when students fight each other there's a broken nose and cuts that are magically healed. There are some scares as well when reanimated dead (inferi) attack in a cave and an adult is poisoned and hallucinates, screaming out in fear. Plus Harry is tasked with mining disturbing memories of when Voldemort was younger, how he killed many, including his own father, and hanged a rabbit and tortured other children at the orphanage. Things aren't all grim, however. Love is in the air and there's a fair amount of kissing that's not shown in a terribly romantic light. There's also a Christmas party where the students get to drink something a little stronger than Butterbeer. There's some drunkenness, but only among adult characters. In Book 5 Harry is pretty angry and shows his temper -- not anymore. He seems to have a lot more acceptance of what he needs to do to fight his enemy and shows special loyalty to Professor Dumbledore, who's a wonderful mentor to him in this book. Parents who want to learn more about the series (and spin-off movies and games) can read our Harry Potter by Age and Stage article.
Is It Any Good?
This dark and brooding Potter volume unearths unsettling truths and even more unsettling speculation about Snape, Draco Malfoy, and, especially, Voldemort as a young man. Dumbledore offers Harry private lessons focused on mining every memory of Voldemort he could gather and examining it (with the help of a pensieve that plays thoughts like a movie) for clues on how to defeat him. The earliest memory of Tom Riddle in his orphanage is fascinating and creepy enough that Harry asks Dumbledore, "Did you know then?" The profile of a sociopath slowly emerges throughout Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and then the bombshell. Readers finally know how Voldemort came back to life and much, much more.
In between these revelatory meetings with Dumbledore, Harry still has a school year to complete along with his regular enemies at Hogwarts to contend with. It's a big blow when Snape takes over his favorite class, and now most of his detentions are spent in Snape's rude company. At least there are no lines with Umbridge's blood-sucking quill. And Draco Malfoy is definitely up to something, but nobody will believe Harry. It's obvious Malfoy's not just your everyday bully anymore when he catches Harry eavesdropping on the Hogwarts Express and resorts to violence. This is a jarring moment and a reminder that much more is at stake now than who's winning the House Quidditch Cup. Harry put Malfoy's dad in prison, after all. Even more obvious is that both Snape and Dumbledore are letting Malfoy carry on with his nefarious plans, Snape because of his binding promise to Draco's mother. But what was that promise? The answer will be devastating to readers and will propel Harry and friends to a grim resolution to fight Voldemort with everything they have. Onward to the epic finale.
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