Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Common Sense Media says

Third Potter is darker, more complex, and fantastic.

Age(i)

2
3
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5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

J. K. Rowling borrows from many established stories and myths to piece together her magical world. Kids can look up more about bogarts, flying brooms, magic wands, 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. See the "Families Can Talk about" section for more discussion ideas.

Positive messages

Friendship, love, bravery, and loyalty are always major themes in the series. This book also tackles more mature themes like conquering fear and a need for revenge.

Positive role models

Harry makes a very difficult and mature choice, showing some mercy to someone partially responsible for his parents' deaths, and realizing that his parents wouldn't want his friends to become murderers. He doesn't behave admirably all the time, however -- he and Ron are cruel to Hermione when she tries to protect Harry, and there's even more rule-breaking than in previous books -- Harry sneaks out to the wizarding village without permission. Besides Dumbledore, Professor Lupin becomes another good mentor for Harry, helping him conquer his fears and save the day.

Violence

Harry believes he is marked for death and stalked by a murderer most of the school year. Children are in peril, often at the hands of magical creatures: Dementors (black-robed floating beings that suck the happiness out of people) attack Harry and others, making Harry hear the sound of his mother dying as he passes out; they almost administer "the kiss of death," extracting someone's soul through his mouth. A hippogriff (eagle-horse mix) is provoked and strikes a student; the same creature is executed by a hatchet. A Boggart in a class demonstration changes shape to match what students are most afraid of (and kids learn to fight their fears with laughter). A large dog breaks Ron's leg. Adult characters threaten to kill another. A werewolf chases Harry and Hermione. Hermione punches a boy.

Sex
Not applicable
Language

One "damn" and "b-" spelled that way.

Consumerism

Chocolate Frogs and other sweets mentioned were at first only fantasy products, but are now for sale.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Harry's Aunt Marge and Hagrid both get drunk. Butterbeer is introduced (a magical-world drink with a pinch of alcohol) and the kids go to a pub in Hogsmeade.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that J.K. Rowling continues her great plotting and pacing, but this book's edgier themes will appeal more to older kids. For most of the school year, Harry believes he is marked for death and stalked by an escaped prisoner. He also battles a creature of kids' worst nightmares: the Dementors are black-robed floating beings that suck out happiness and feed on your worst fears, which is why Harry hears the sound of his mother's last scream when he sees them. While this can be tough for young and sensitive readers, the bright spot is the Boggart lesson in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Boggarts can turn into what a person fears most, but the kids learn to yell "Ridiculous!" and turn it into something to laugh at. 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.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

This third entry in the series is scarier and more intense than the last two -- and even more exciting: When he can't stand his relatives' tormenting any more, Harry runs off, only to be picked up by a magical bus and taken to the Leaky Cauldron Inn. There he learns that Sirius Black, who supposedly betrayed his parents, has escaped from the wizard prison Azkaban, and is coming to kill him. The soul-sucking Dementors, guards from the prison, are dispatched to protect him back at school, but Harry finds that whenever one comes near he can hear his mother dying.  But Black seems to get into the school anyway, Hermione and the new Dark Arts teacher each have secrets, and Ron's rat Scabbers and Hermione's new cat act strangely. When Harry obtains a map showing all the secret passages in the school, he makes discoveries about his parents, Snape, Black, and the new teacher. But what he learns may pit him against the Ministry of Magic.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

J.K. Rowling has sidestepped the usual series-writer trap of sticking so closely to a successful formula that each book is just more of the same. With Harry about to enter adolescence, the series, too, seems to be changing; this entry is darker, more complex, and morally more ambiguous than the first two. As he is forced by the Dementors to confront his parents' deaths directly, Harry -- who was always so cool in the earlier books -- is more emotionally unstable. Unlike the static characters in other series, Harry is getting older, with all that entails.

Rowling is a master of careful plotting, and the author is rumored to have planned out the whole story of the series in advance, for a total of seven books. In this volume, her planning shows, and the complexity is so great that, at times, it even inspires rereading. Rowling knows her readers, but even as she stretches their intellect, she never loses them.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the more mature content in this book, which marks a turning point in the series. Did the book scare you more than the others in the series so far? Did it make you think more? Why do you think the author made this one for slightly older kids?

  • Even though the Harry Potter books are considered fantasy, this book contains a big mystery and lots of twists and surprises. What do you like best about it -- the fantasy part? The mystery? The surprise ending?

Book details

Author:J. K. Rowling
Illustrator:Mary Grandpre
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Inc.
Publication date:January 1, 1999
Number of pages:435
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 13
Read aloud:7
Read alone:9
Award:Common Sense Media Award

This review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 7 years old May 7, 2011
AGE
9
QUALITY
 

9+

TIED FOR FAVORITE WITH FIRST INSTALLMENT! GREAT!

What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written bynoveleater November 11, 2010
AGE
10
QUALITY
 

Scary, but better than the first too, don't be surprised if you find yourself reading over your child's shoulder.

Amazing! Truly, Rowling is one of the best writers of our time. For the first time, the book gets scary, and Harry has to fight the fact of his parent's death face first. The one thing that makes Harry Potter stand out, is the true fact that he is like us, and has his own problems, has to face bullies, and on top of that all... Homework! The plot fallows Harry has he runs away from home to Hogwarts, and a Azkaban break out haunts the wizard world. And if that isn't worst enough, he's going straight to Harry... This book is a lot darker, and the author changes her writing style, but I'm not complaining. I really suggest this for an older crowd. I starting reading this when I was nine, and never finished I was too spooked. I just picked it up because my friends keeps on telling me to reread the series, which as you can see, I am. This book is also longer than the first too, so your child as to be ready for it. I really am pretty surprised how much I'm enjoying this series. Well, enjoy!

What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 11 years old Written bypercyjacksonfreak August 3, 2009
AGE
9
QUALITY
 

Great for anyone 8 and over

Th is my all time favorite Harry Potter book in the series.

What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models

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